Being a Christian in the Commercial World
Being a Christian in the Commercial World
Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30
For those of you who don’t know me I am Tim Tustin and as a lay member of this church I have been invited to speak about my Christian faith as I experience it in my work, i.e. outside the confines of the community of this Church and my family. (So that gets the family off the hook and the rest of you as well.)
By way of introduction I should say that I am Managing Director of the Export business of a pharmaceutical company called Shire. It is a FTSE 100 company currently lying about 80th in value on the London Stock Market. Its market cap is about £2.6Bn (more than BA at the moment but we only have about 1 employee for every 30 of theirs). Pharmaceuticals is a high risk, long term investment business that is very competitive. My job is to commercialise our intellectual property (get our medicines sold) in countries where we do not have our own subsidiaries. So I build and maintain a network of distributors in many different countries. Currently I am selling medicines to 30 countries and getting royalties from about 20 others. I cannot reveal the financial details but I am responsible for turnover and profits that are measured in millions of pounds. It is rather like managing a professional football team: you are judged on your latest results. It is very much a sharp end commercial job with hard end points: delivering the numbers - and it involves me in many aspects of the business.
By the way, to set the scene I thought I would turn up in full battle dress as though I were going into a business negotiation.
What I am going to cover
It has been suggested that I cover what difference being a Christian makes to me at work, what challenges and opportunities it presents, how being a Christian has helped me, what are the frustrations, and what help and support I need.
I was given some advice about preaching by one of our Church Wardens (I didn’t ask for his advice but he gave it to me anyway). He said two things: first that I might find it comforting to know that the Church Wardens have the authority to evict disruptive members of the congregation from the Church building (so you’ll have watch the level of heckling) and secondly that he wasn’t aware of having similar powers with respect to the preacher (so I can say pretty well what I like and you can’t shout me down). He also asked me to tell the story of the naked dancing girls at which point my wife suggested that the tale of the suckling pig might be more appropriate whilst I, myself, prefer the story of the stuffed cow. I’m not sure, however, that we’ll have time for these, illustrative though they are of the industrial life that I have led. My children gave me advice as well (and I didn’t ask them for it either); this was primarily not to preach at all, as a father who dances at their parties is embarrassing enough but one who stands up and speaks in public is even worse.
Actually there are so many things that I could talk about after 27 years in the industry that I cannot give you any detail in a 10 minute sermon and I don’t want to give a distorted picture by concentrating on just one or two issues. So I’m going to skate – over a wide range of issues and aspects to try and give you an idea of their range and the general nature of the work and being a Christian in those circumstances. I also realise that some of you will be very familiar with the business and medical worlds and others will not. So it will be tough luck if you have already lived a similar life and you’ll have to keep alert if you haven’t because I will be racing ahead.
Personal point of view
The first thing that I should say is that I am going to speak from a personal point of view. I am a Christian but I am particularly this individual Christian. You don’t have to read much of the New Testament to find out that we are called to a personal relationship with God, to realise that salvation is for us personally and that the response to this love that we make has to be a personal one. As we are all different, the ways that we do this are all different. So please bear in mind that what I say today is solely about the way that I respond and particularly the way that I respond in the world of work. I do not intend to imply that anyone else should respond in the same way, take the same decisions or hold the same opinions for example.
Choice of what we do and how we do it
I think that being a Christian should influence our choice of what we do and how we do it.
Now our choice of career is likely to be influenced by many things: how we are brought up, what qualifications and skills we have, what sort of personality we have, our general interests, what we find fun, what we find boring, what opportunities we have and so on.
Importance of the commercial world
At school I was interested in the sciences and especially chemistry. I chose to read chemistry at university just because I liked it. Whilst at university I found that while the concepts fascinated me, the process of doing research I found very boring (it’s mainly washing up glass ware). In my final year, when I had to decide what career to go for, I became interested in industry and particularly in marketing which is right at the heart of business.
It seemed to me then and it still seems to me now, 28 years later, that the essence, the whole thrust of our society when it is not at war, is about the creation of wealth. (This was not such a popular view in the 1970’s as it is today.) The Old Testament is packed full of stories that illustrate the importance of the creation of material wealth. Right from the instruction to go forth and multiply to all the rules laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, governing the structures for the ownership, growth and distribution of material wealth. There is no doubt in my own mind that mankind is better off for being better off. In fact material prosperity was thought so good that wealth, health and the size of your family were thought to be signs of God’s favour, even to the point at which – by the time of Jesus – you were thought to be a better person morally and spiritually if you had more of these things than if you had less. So that poverty and ill health were associated with sin.
The Jews are indeed famous for understanding the importance of material wealth. This trait has become the heart of many a caricature and joke about Jews. But despite the jokes they are right: it is better to be richer than poorer. It does matter whether we create wealth or destroy it (or in business language make a profit or a loss).
Of course we should not envy others their wealth (reference the tenth of the Ten Commandments) and we should beware lest we think that material wealth is everything (the love of money is the root of evil, not money itself you note). We are born into the material world and we should try and flourish in it, enjoy it, share it, do good things with it but, of course, we must remember that it is not the wealth itself that should be loved but God and people. I sometimes think, however, that Christians are so conscious of this caveat/warning that we forget that it was given in a context that assumed that wealth is a good thing. In other words we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Parable of the talents
I asked for today’s Gospel reading to be the parable of the talents for two reasons. One: for its core message that we should make the most of whatever we are given and leave the world richer than we found it and its observation that those who do use their talents to good effect will also find that that benefits them. It’s what we should all be doing (and on this point I am generalising to everyone). The second reason is that the choice of this story illustrates that Jesus and those to whom he was talking (the disciples) were fully conversant with the main concepts of business. Of investment, rates of return, risk, delegation, reward for good performance. (I just wish that Jesus had said what would happen if a servant took a risk that did not pay off and lost money.)
I find this parable a driving force in that it places an instruction on us to get on and use our talents and to take risks when doing so. Playing safe for a low return is not right. We should leave the world richer than it was when we came into it and be prepared to take risks to achieve this.
Choice of pharmaceuticals
Now for the choice of which industry to work in: pharmaceuticals. Initially I looked at fast moving consumer goods because that was what you were directed to if you expressed an interest in marketing but nothing there really got me excited. And then I looked at pharmaceuticals and everything clicked into place: a combination of wanting to work in an area that makes a big positive difference to many people’s lives (opposite to the tobacco industry), technically interesting, high risk, competitive, many ethical issues (which is attractive to me as I think we need Christians in the front line on such issues). It is a wonderful combination of being able to improve health and increase wealth at the same time. And wherever you get a mixture of health and money you get potential ethical issues to deal with as well. Examples of ethical issues are: animal experiments, methods of promotion, decisions on what claims and warnings should be made (interpretation of the data), types of clinical trials, bribery or sponsorship, even some pricing decisions can come into this, plus the general clashes you can get in commercial life when there is the possibility that greed tempts you to do wrong things, overstep the mark in some way or distorts your judgement.
Along the way I have often been in leadership positions and my Christian faith has been a big help here. We have the perfect example of leadership in Christ and the Christian values of service, integrity and constancy are just those that leaders need to concentrate on in dealing with people fairly and getting people to follow you to achieve various objectives.
Keeping to the right values under pressure
I have also been involved in and sometimes led acquisitions and divestments of products where the judgements you make can involve millions of pounds a time and you are taking decisions that will have a long term effect on the business. Which products to buy. Which molecules to develop. Where to focus the marketing budget. And so on. I have also been involved with start ups when the business is especially vulnerable and the people concerned have a lot at stake.
When you are under pressure, perhaps in danger of missing your targets, perhaps entering an area of business or a situation that you are unfamiliar with, going to a new country to do business there for the first time or providing a lead and steadying the nerves of those in your team when things seem uncertain, then it can be particularly helpful to have a faith that anchors you. For those are the times that you need the guidance of sound values to keep your decisions and actions on the right lines. Those are also times when prayer or simply remembering that you are a Christian can help you to get things into perspective and keep you on a good path. And sometimes the forces involved can be very large, millions of pounds for the founder/owner of the business and sometimes pretty substantial amounts for employees with stock options, bonuses, etc.
So I think that while there are others who manage to get along in business without a faith in Christ, I certainly find that it helps me.
In my case I also find that the knowledge that we start each day with our guilt washed away can be a big help. That helps me to overcome the negative aspects of personal failure when I have made mistakes, done the wrong thing, let people and God down. That’s a lot to handle without salvation.
I also gain a lot spiritually from my work
While on the one hand I find that my Christian faith helps me at work, it also works the other way round: I have gained a lot spiritually from my work.
I have, for example, worked closely with people of other religions, such as Muslims, Hindus and Jews, which is particularly interesting when they are devout. I do see a difference in approach when people have a faith as opposed to those who have no consciousness of a spiritual life at all. Sometimes we have had informal moments together when we can discuss our different religions and this can be fascinating.
I have also been able to visit different parts of the world and work closely with people from many different countries. The operation that I lead sells to 30 countries and on average I visit 14 different countries each year from Western Europe such as Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Greece to Central Eastern Europe such as Estonia, Poland, Czech, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, to places further afield like Turkey, Israel and South Africa (which I have not visited yet) and Brazil (which I have). I also visit the larger EU countries and Canada and the USA for internal meetings. When you are negotiating and then working closely with people from these different cultures, you get quickly into the heart of at least part of their culture. It helps in my work to look for the common ground and the things that we can work on together and to omit or minimise the negative/destructive differences. My visits to other countries have made me appreciate the importance of a good, uncorrupted civil service, medical service (relatively uncorrupted), reliable infrastructure, law and order, stable currency. This makes me value the strengths that we have in the UK in these areas.
I have also been able to learn more about how different Christians think and behave in different circumstances and in different traditions: the Roman Catholics and Protestants in both Northern and Southern Ireland, mid-Western Americans who are members of well organised evangelical churches yet wish colleagues a happy holiday at Christmas because the PC rules and the local culture do not permit religious expression at work, selling to a Christian dispensing doctor who seems only interested in how much money he can make, dealing with a Christian retail pharmacist who is frosty and unhelpful. You have to learn to accept the fallibility of all people. You may have to make professional decisions on the basis of their behaviour but it is also helpful to remember that we are none of us perfect and God has forgiven us all for this.
Other things that I have gained from my work that help my spiritual life
Part of being a complete person is to be able to be the same person at work, at home and at Church: with the same values and character – but behaving appropriately for different circumstances.
Work has also given me skills that are helpful in other areas such as the Church. And here too the parable of the talents applies and I think these skills should be used to help our Church.
The best and worst things
The best things: making things work, success e.g. hitting targets (because that is what I am employed to do and it is bad to let down the master), giving people jobs, promotions, bonuses, receiving bonuses oneself, working as a team (especially a multidisciplinary one).
The worst things: having things fail, firing people, laying people off, having your advice rejected (especially if things then go wrong as a result), internal politics, sub-optimisation, being instructed to do things that you think won’t work or are wrong.
Overall I count myself fortunate to have been able to have had and still to be enjoying the career that I have had - and still to be in the thick of it. There are other things that I would like to do as well but I really am grateful to God for having given me the opportunities that I have had in the pharmaceutical industry.
Support of my family and church
In conclusion I would like to say that the influence of the Talents Parable tends to make me feel that I should press on with ever higher levels of responsibility if I am given such opportunities but I have to be careful not to get this out of proportion. There is more to life than work. The support that I get from my family and church helps me get a better balance in life. On your own you can get things out of perspective and end up with a mono-dimensional life. Family and church help to show me these other things.
Help from the church
From the church point of view (as my family hate me talking about them) teaching is important, especially on what we should be focusing on in life and in helping me to make the right decisions and behave in the right way.
Ethical issues/Topics for sermons
For practical advice and help from the church, I suggest the following titles for future sermons/discussion groups:
|The ethics of selling|
|The role and rules of advertising in medicine|
|The ethics of economic models (socially planned economy versus jungle of capitalism)|
|The degree to which the topic of faith should be raised in the workplace|
|Ethical dilemmas in clinical trials (the welfare of the individual patient versus the gain in knowledge to help others and the profit of the pharmaceutical company)|
|Commercial sponsorship of scientific meetings|
|Ghost writing of research papers, right or wrong|
|How much influence should the pharmaceutical industry have with government and NHS purchasers?|
|Social responsibility of companies (and should this alter according to the ownership of the company)|
|Charitable giving by companies (is it their role, should it be publicised or kept secret?)|
|How far should an individual challenge his company on ethical issues (how much disruption to the organisation is justified and when should he resign? i.e. when to stand up and where to draw the line)|
|Pricing policy for medicines|
|How to get affordable medicines in poor countries while providing incentives for companies to take the commercial risks involved in developing better medicines|
|The responsibility of Christians to try and change structures/systems to get better results (i.e. more creativity, quantity and distribution of wealth)|
|The ethics of the profit motive (whoever has the most when he dies wins)|
|How to provide financial incentives without making money a god|
|Applying business skills in the church|
|To what extent does and should church provide a holiday from work|
|What constitutes fair competition?|
|Handling internal competition (with colleagues)|
|Loving your neighbour while firing him or taking his customers from him or the reverse: being fired by him and losing your customers to him|
|Conflict between personal and corporate goals|
|Bribery, reasonable payments for services rendered, competing in corrupt markets|
|What to do when things go wrong, handling errors and failure|
|Hermits and closed orders versus the being the yeast or the salt|
I think you can tell that I think that my place is very much as salt and yeast; that is very much mixed up in the rest of the world. It would be easy to settle for a quieter life but I feel that I should take the opportunities presented and keep going in the main stream as long as possible or at least for the moment. To do otherwise would be self indulgent and wasteful of those opportunities. I am sure there will come a time when I will do other things but until then I feel that I should be prepared to press on taking the risks and assuming responsibility in the business environment.
Other aspects of church life
In addition to teaching, the church has other important roles to play in supporting me: particularly communal worship and fellowship. These help to provide balance. They make me think of other aspects of life that I may have missed. It is sensible to stay as physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy as possible and when work is stressful and hectic, church has an important role to play in helping the individual achieve this. This is an area where we all help each other. It is where you all come in. For at the end of the day an individual who goes out from a loving community to a challenging and stimulating job in which he can make a tangible contribution to the health and wealth of the world and who can return each evening or weekend to that loving community is a rich man indeed.