Excerpted from The Good Book on Business by Dave Kahle
Mike Lanser, CEO of Innotech, credits the owners of the Prince Corporation to planting the idea in him that a company could have a purpose larger than just making money. The family that originally formed the Prince Corporation saw the business as a means of generating income which they could then give away to fund charitable works.
He and his brother, Brian, were engineers at the Prince Corporation when they saw an opportunity to outsource some of the manufacturing processes to a company that they would start. Prince gave them a contract, and, in 1992, Innotech began with Mike, Brian and their father at the helm.
Before starting the business, each wrote a one-page document detailing their ideas as to what a business could be, and why they wanted to form this business. Out of that came a consensus that the business should be built on biblical principles.
What exactly that meant is an understanding that has evolved. Originally, the concept was just to use some of the company’s profits for charitable causes. To this day, a fixed percentage of the company’s profits are donated. As the company evolved and grew, so did its view as to what constituted a Biblically-based company.
Their unique employee benefits grew out of that conviction. For example, every employee gets three weeks vacation and can take an additional two weeks if they donate that time to a charitable cause. Every seven years, every employee may take a three-month sabbatical devoted to personal development.
As their understanding of what it means to become a Biblical business evolved, it eventually became codified in their “14 dimensions” statement.
Culture of Character [“being”]
Wellness [physical, emotional, relational]
Loving and caring for others
Growing people [impact and ability]
Where we chose to do business [BLB vs. LLB]
Choice of products and services [visors, orphans, bullets, design…]
Investing our reputation
Sharing what we have learned
Inside > Great Operations
External > Impact
In a backyard discussion among the three principals of “how do we play big and still feel small?” Brian came up with the concept which was to multiply the company’s impact – to create a matrix of compatible companies, all connected in some way to Innotech – but with independent management.
With that concept, the first company, Ventura Manufacturing, was started in 1997 to take on some manufacturing processes that were not in the heart of Innotech’s strengths. That first company established the pattern that was repeated a dozen times. Innotech would provide the business seed and a degree of supervision while retaining a minority ownership in the new business. Today, the eclectic group of for-profit and non-profit enterprises includes Inno-Versity, InnoGroup Foundation, iCademy Global, Innocademy, Vortec Tooling, Ventura Manufacturing, Inontime, and Venture Source. As a group, they estimate they employ around 1,000 people and do a couple of hundred million dollars of annual sales.
Not that their growth has been uneventful. The recession of 2008 was brutal for the companies. As Mike tells it, the company had invested heavily in three areas of growth. They were not fully developed when the recession hit. The banks refused to lend, and the company’s cash flow was severely restricted. The company got behind with its vendors, and the bank put them in a work-out program. “It costs us about $2 million in extra fees when we could least afford it,” Mike said.
There was no choice but to double-down and bring the three efforts to fruition by hard work. And they did, but at a big cost of stress and energy. “The after-effects are still being felt around here,” Mike reflected.
One of the issues that is on the top of Mike’s list these day is business succession. While the company is 25 percent ESOP-owned, the questions of how to pass on the principles and values to another generation and provide for an eventual leadership transition occupy a large portion of his time.
As they look ahead, the companies continue to refine what it means to be a Biblical business and together pursue a vision of creating “128 points of light that help 10,000 people impact people’s lives.”