Faith and business, centuries long tradition still continues
Ralph Gatti is an American who is helping local entrepreneurs in the world. Throughout his career he worked with many businesses and established his own companies and projects. One of them is the Navigators whose mission is to help small local faith-based businesses to develop and function well.
Ralph is married to Bonnie. In the interview, we discuss career, business and how they are connected to personal life.
What do you do through the Navigators?
One thing that I do is that I´m responsible for the Navigators’ work in Central and Eastern Europe. All of the projects and staff in the 14 countries are under my supervision. I´m here in Bratislava partially, because of its central location.
Another part of my work involves working with businesses through a part of the Navigators’ work called the Global Enterprise Network. It focuses on business projects – “business with mission projects” – and we´ve recently developed a training center here in Bratislava, called the Agathe Center. In January we moved here from Sofia, Bulgaria.
What did you do in Bulgaria?
R: It was essentially the same but without the training center component, working with our people, projects, and enterprises around the region from a base in Sofia. A lot of making visits to locations, providing coaching and consulting. Now with the training center we will be able to bring people to us and give them experiences and facilitate interaction with the local projects we cooperate here with.
What kind of businesses do you help?
R: It´s pretty broad, as far as the different sectors they´re involved in – the hospitality sector, the services sectors, and even some light manufacturing are just some examples of them. Generally, they are small businesses and social enterprises and the people who run them are young entrepreneurs, people that wouldn’t have access to training resources just on their own. Small businesses usually don’t have the resources to invest in the training and development. They have to learn everything the hard way. And then we help people who want to be missional and want to impact the society and people around them spiritually and socially.
Many times, people who already have their own established businesses come to us and ask, how to do their businesses better because they are looking to deepen the impact of what they do. They want it to be about more than making money. Even successful business owners will get in touch asking us to help them find more purpose in what they do
Bonnie: Also, I think you see more and more people who want to do business and want to integrate the business they do into their spiritual life. They do not want their life existing in separate compartments that are competing, but they want to find what connects them.
How can a small business help other people?
R: One thing is that the vast majority of jobs are actually created by small businesses. The big companies get all the attention, but for every big company there are hundreds and hundreds of small businesses that are creating one, two, ten jobs. So there´s a big impact on the society. If we have a healthy economy with entrepreneurs and it´s growing, it certainly has an employment impact.
All the businesses that are being created, they always start because they want to fulfill a need. Just the very fact that the business exists is benefiting the society if it is meeting a need. And then when a business is run ethically, when people doing this business have good values, that also helps the quality of life in the society in general. And you can create opportunities for people who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise. If you choose to employ someone that might not get an opportunity in the normal corporate environment, because they have some situation in their life that doesn’t make them as employable as someone else, you are benefitting that person and society
In the beginning, you had your own company. How did you decide you want to do this?
R: Well, I could say it was decided for me. There were some circumstances with my own company that made it necessary at the time for me to sell my ownership, step down as the CEO and invest my resources in something else. So, after some years I came to the point, when circumstances created a change of career. From my perspective, it was the God moving the pieces around in my life to make me available for the work I´m doing now. What I´m doing now is exactly what I always wanted to do, going back forty years. But the way I got here is not the way that I´d planned. When I´m looking at it now, it´s great to be here, even though it was by a rough road.
Was the decision your own initiative?
R: It was a combination of things, but mostly my own experience. And through the years as I was running my own company, people would come and ask me for advice and help. So it was natural for me to share what I´d learned with others. So the main thing was availability and having something to share.
How is the NGO environment different from the business environment?
R: There are some subtle differences. But I would say that both types of organization have the same basic needs. You do need to recognize the differences in governing structures. An NGO typically has a board of directors, where a business would have a group of shareholders that control the activities. The shareholders decide what will happen with the profits, but in NGO all resources are dedicated solely to the mission of the organization. NGOs by definition exist to benefit the society, where businesses by definition exist to benefit the shareholders. But the way it works in practice is that almost everything you need to do to be successful is similar. NGOs exist to meet needs, businesses exist to meet needs and if they do that successfully, they get the funding needed to operate either by the sales of products or from grants and donations. Money comes in and you have to manage your expenses.
Is the attitude of the people who work in the NGOs different than the attitude of those working in a corporate business?
R: I think it can be that NGOs have a more specific social purpose. Oftentimes the people who are attracted to work in an NGO share the vision and purpose and they might feel a little that the work has more worth. I think you can create that in for-profit businesses as well. This is what we are trying to do, help create businesses that have the same kind of worth and purpose. We want to help people understand that what they´re doing in a for-profit business can contribute much to society. But it takes a little bit of enlightened leadership and business owners with vision. Also, the business owner has to be in it for more than just themselves and their own personal benefit. They have to want to make a difference in the world through their business.
How does an ethical profit-oriented business look?
R: Profit for a business is like oxygen to your body. If you don’t get enough you get sick. So businesses have to make profit. But they should earn that profit ethically, by adding value to the goods and services it offers to a society that values and pays for them. The market dictates pricing, so there´re limits on how much money you can make. There´s also limits on how little you can pay to people who work for you. So market constraints that limit the amount of profitability you are trying to achieve definitely exist. An ethical business just chooses to do things legally, chooses to put the needs of its customers and its workers before the needs of the shareholders. Taking care of the needs of the customers and employees creates the bottom line for making profit. An ethical business can look a lot of different ways, but one thing for sure, if it doesn’t make the profit, it won´t look any way.
How do you feel when you see the change?
R: It´s exciting to see people making progress and developing also personally. Being in business requires the exercise of a lot of faith and a confidence that you´ll have success.
Bonnie, which business is your favorite one? (23)
B: It is definitely hard to choose one. But, we have this package delivery business in Sofia. Ralph has worked with this young man whose business had been already going, but was having some struggles. Just to see how excited the man is and how things have turned around for him, how God blessed him, is very special for me. And also, just to see his family and the people around his business thriving is amazing. He has learned to be excellent in what he does and in other ways as well. Even big companies call his company to do their deliveries because he is very effective and fast.
How can you determine who is motivated and hardworking enough when investing in a business? And how do you keep the leader motivated?
R: One thing is perseverance through the challenges and that is a critical characteristic. If you´re not willing to persevere through the tough times, you won´t make it and business is not really for you. But that is true for the whole life.
How to maintain balance between business and the personal life?
R: Work balance is a tough one. I tend to think of it like seasons. In business development, you can have seasons, like summer – sun is shining, days are long and you´d better work all day long, sometimes even all night long if you need to. But then there are seasons when things are just slow and quiet. During those times you need to take advantage of it to give yourself some rest and pull back. That’s also one thing that is different in business versus in a corporate environment, where your work is more regulated by working hours and 5 days of the week. Business is little like school – those periods can get very busy and then all of the sudden, there´s summer and you can relax for several weeks.
I think it´s also important to have the right partner, a person who understands you and what you´re trying to achieve. Someone who is supportive and doesn’t see business as competition, but sees it the same way you do – as your mission and purpose – and stands with you. So it´s very challenging and this is very different for everybody.
B: We have times when we know that they´re going to be hard, but we try to prepare for them mentally and spiritually. It helps to know that the business intensive time is coming, knowing we will have less time together as a family, as a couple. So it is important not always being driven, but sometimes the time to pull back has to be scheduled.
R: It´s probably the hardest part in making anything happen. You need to understand yourself, understand the people in your life and make sure their needs are met and your own needs are met as well. It might be very challenging. Even more so now, when we live in the 24/7 world, when we are never switched off. I see that as my personal challenge, also.
What would you advise to young entrepreneurs?
R: I think enthusiasm for the task is critical. Whatever the task is, the enthusiasm is crucial. It is interesting where the word enthusiasm comes from – it comes from being inspired by God. To be enthusiastic about your pursuits is very critical. One employee asked me once, “Ralph if you´re not proud of what you do and your products, how do you expect us to be proud of them?” It was a reminder to me that I have to be upfront leading with enthusiasm and I think for young people having a passion is a big part for success.
Starting a business takes a lot of confidence. It has a faith component in it and it´s not something everybody has. Many people have great ideas, but sometimes they don’t have the confidence to be able to deal with risks. Part of starting a business is a certain level of risk tolerance you have to have. Some statistics say that 80% of businesses fail. When you find out it isn’t for you, then go and do something else. There´s a lot of other things you can do besides running a business. They have to be confident enough. But there´s a fine line between confidence and then falling over into pride. There is this interesting combination of humility and confidence without falling into “I just cannot do it“, or falling into pride. We have to avoid the extremes.
B: Many people are just natural entrepreneurs and it´s easy to see it in them usually because they have so much vison and are able to express that vision.
Thank you for the interview