by Mark Russell
In the midst of trying economic times, people are often faced with difficult decisions. These pressures reveal what is deep in our hearts and souls and what we truly value.
There have been other economic recessions, downturns, and slowdowns, and we can learn from those who have traveled through them. Particularly during the first half of the 1980s, many people in the US heartland went through painfully stressful and turbulent economic times. This period is now known as the farm crisis of the 1980s.
One North Dakota farmer named Howard Dahl found himself in a particular pinch. His agricultural company owed money to 230 different suppliers. Consultants came in and said that in order to protect his assets, he needed to declare bankruptcy.
The consultants told him if he were to let his suppliers know what a difficult spot he was in it would prompt them to take legal action against him, which would cause him to lose more of his assets. Eventually, the bank called in Dahl’s line of credit and told his company that they too wanted them to declare bankruptcy.
The logical, reasonable business decision was to declare bankruptcy and count it as a lesson learned. But Howard Dahl operated by a different set of values. He took to heart verses like, “’The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18, ESV). He knew that it did not profit a man to lose his soul for wealth. He was committed to keeping his word and paying everyone everything back.
He wrote a letter to every single supplier explaining his financial situation and communicated regularly over the next two years. He personally answered the phone when an angry supplier called because he didn’t want his staff to suffer their abuse.
Slowly but surely, his company worked itself out of the hole and believe it or not, he was able to pay back every single supplier. Contrary to what he was told, only one of the 230 suppliers ever took legal action against him. I suppose people appreciate an honest, straight shooter even when the message is unpleasant.
What is even more impressive is just a few short years after this painstaking turnaround, in 1996, Howard Dahl was able to sell his company for millions to the Case Corporation. A transaction he never would have enjoyed had he filed for bankruptcy.
Upside-Down Kingdom Values Prevail
The moral of the story for me is that you don’t have to put money first to be successful in business. Had Howard Dahl only cared about the money, he would have gotten out when things were bad. Instead he cared about biblical values and he cared about doing what is right. In the end, he was blessed for it.
Mark Russell is a widely respected voice in the missional community. He has lived in Russia, Chile, and Germany, and has traveled to more than 70 countries to carry out a variety of business, educational, humanitarian, and religious projects. He is the author of The Missional Entrepreneur.
All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.