Christian Business Leader Draws Economic Lessons from Pearl Harbor

The date that has lived in infamy for nearly seven decades can provide lessons for Christian companies facing the same economic realities as their secular counterparts, according to the head of one of the largest Christian products and services provider in the world.

"People did not know if they could recover from Dec. 7, 1941," said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, referring to the date Pearl Harbor was attacked.

"I am not saying the economy can compare to the loss of lives, but, like then, many are asking if there is hope," he said during a recent meeting of trustees, according to a report by the company. "They are asking where God is in this."

It was billionaire Warren Buffet who first referred to the turmoil in the markets as an "economic Pearl Harbor," later predicting on "Dateline NBC" that the nation would come through as it has in the past.

"[B]ut it's not always a smooth ride," he said in the interview aired on Jan. 18, three months after he first coined the phrase "economic Pearl Harbor."

Building off Buffet's comment, Rainer listed eight lessons that can be learned from the World War II attack, starting first with the importance of being prepared for surprises.

"Last year, we (LifeWay leaders) were looking ahead to what we saw as a devastating economic trend and we had to make some hard decisions regarding personnel deletions," Rainer recalled. "We wanted to be prepared for this economy. We look back and can see it was not our collective intellect but God's wisdom. We can say we are not perfect but we have been prepared for what's happened."

Secondly, adjustments need to be made quickly. LifeWay's leadership, for example, has been constantly engaging in conversations to determine whether adjustments are needed across divisions and throughout the company, according to Rainer.

Next, a company should learn to be totally open and transparent.

"We constantly ask if our trustees know about particular issues so you can hold us in trust," Rainer said.

The LifeWay leader said his hope is that trustees understand there is "nothing we won't share" with them and said he never wants them to be surprised.

The fourth lesson is to be open to opportunities.

"If together we had not made some of the strategic moves we've made over the past few years we would not be in as good a position as we are in now," Rainer said.

During the Feb. 9-10 meeting of trustees in Nashville, LifeWay CFO Jerry Rhyne reported that the company is well positioned to weather the economic downturn, citing a strong balance sheet, no debt, a healthy reserve fund, a growing revenue trend, a strong and diverse customer base, and a steady stream of theologically sound resources.

"We know there's a rough road ahead," acknowledged Rhyne, according to the company's report. "We must continue to remind ourselves that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model, and our business model must be adjusted as church practice, the economy and the marketplace change."

However, as it has done in the past, LifeWay plans to continue scrutinizing new opportunities that arise and move accordingly and strategically.

"We look at those opportunities closely because the margin for mistakes is small," Rainer explained.

The fifth lesson from Pearl Harbor that Rainer shared with trustees was the importance of having the best leaders lead. The LifeWay executive said he sees people across the organization contributing great ideas to see LifeWay through the tough times.

The company has "the best employees around, hands down," he affirmed.

The sixth lesson Rainer highlighted was to stay true to core values. Rainer said that in times like these, organizations feel pressured to compromise their vision and values. LifeWay, however, sees its vision and values statements as guiding principles to navigate treacherous times.

Next, Rainer said, do not fear. Citing Joshua 1:9, Rainer firmly stated that now is the time to be strong and courageous in the Lord.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go," the Bible verse states.

And lastly, trust in God.

"We need to go back to the endless promises of Scripture and draw confidence from what God says," Rainer told the trustees at the semiannual meeting. "We are facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and possibly greater than that according to some. But we do not face that alone.

"The Lord our God is with us wherever we go. God is in control," he concluded.

During the Feb. 9-10 meeting in Nashville, LifeWay's executive leaders also updated trustees on the progress of its many ministries, including B&H Publishing Group, LifeWay Christian Stores, and LifeWay's church resources, finance and business services, technology, and executive communications and relations ministries.

LifeWay's trustees will meet again Sept. 14-15 at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

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