Do the Right Thing

By Roy Goble

April 1, 2020

De Pree Journal

*This post is part of De Pree Center’s Finding Our Bearings in a Crashing Economy series. 

Roy Goble is a business owner, author, philanthropist, and De Pree Center board member. He is also the reason why I’m curating this entire series. When the world turned upside down, he reached out wondering what we might do for business owners. Roy has a keen eye for seizing opportunity and creating value in the face of risk. He’s also refreshingly honest at every turn.

Michaela: Roy, I’ve talked with a lot of people in the last few weeks who are reeling. I’ve tried to capture all that I’ve heard into some different scenarios. As a business owner yourself, I’m hoping you’ll speak directly to this one:

I’m a business owner. I can read the writing on the wall.  It’s possible that we’re not going to have the cash to pay our vendors or our people. We could have to do layoffs. We could lose the business. What wisdom do you have for me? How does our faith inform this moment and my decisions?

Roy, will you help those of us who are motivated by our faith to respond well in this time, get our bearings?

Roy: The question is good, but every single situation is different. In moments like this, some people want a 12-step process for challenges. But, in my experience spiritual advice is rarely prescriptive. Every single person is different, and that means every business, church, company, industry, and freelance situation is different. Like you, I’ve been talking with so many business owners who have a lot of tough decisions to make.

I’m pretty good at offering her wisdom about specific situations. But offering generic answers, a sort of one size fits all ounce of wisdom, that’s harder. My point is this: there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

I talked with two business owners this week who needed radically different wisdom. Tina, the coffee shop owner was adjusting fast to the crisis and adjusting well. I applauded her for ramping up digital communication, cutting prices, and supporting her team. Steve, on the other hand, was reluctant to do take-out at his restaurant because the profit margins weren’t promising. He needed to hear the hard truth that if he doesn’t serve his customers well now, they won’t come back when all this passes.

My input was actually prescriptive, not spiritual, and yet…are the two really at odds? I think we in the church get too carried away with orthodoxy at the expense of orthopraxis. We get caught up in thinking the right way, less emphasis on doing the right thing.

Michaela: You’re so right. It’s easy for the church to get caught up in the right thinking. In my experience business people are much more doing focused. That’s not a criticism on anyone, just an observation. My husband tells a great story about how his grandparents started their ministry. They were hosting an old fashioned tent revival one night in Kolkata. A man in the audience stood up and said, “Preacher, feed our bellies before you try and feed our souls.” In other words, our practical needs ARE our spiritual needs. The next day the ministry pivoted from tent revivals to a food program that still feeds 25,000 people a day. It really is so much about what we do.

Roy: Richard Rohr captures how this thinking vs. doing thing came to be in the church. Here’s something from him that I shared on my Facebook page recently. 

Michaela: That’s good. Right now, it doesn’t really feel like we have the luxury of slow, perfect ideation. Just the opposite. I really appreciate how you’re focused on what business leaders can and should do in their specific contexts. And, that it differs from person to person, sometimes quite a bit. Any final words for people?

Roy: I’ve got no clue. God I wish I did. Life would be so awesome if we had some 12-step process to help right now. But I don’t. And honestly, I’m not sure one exists. Perhaps what we need to do right now is lean into this challenge and wrestle with it. Because in that wrestling we will find God. And God is truth. And that, my friend, is what we need right now. Sorry, that sounds lame. Even stupid. But it’s all I’ve got. So to the person wanting to talk their situation through, I’d say, call me, and let’s talk specifics about what you are facing. Sound good?

Roy Goble

Author and CEO

Roy Goble is the CEO of a real estate investment firm in Silicon Valley, and he is the author of the new book, Junkyard Wisdom Rebuilt: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts. Roy Goble grew up working in his father’s junkyard, where he learned to take apa...

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