Friday, November 19, 2010

Graham Power: Making Millions and Ethical

Business is business, or so the refrain goes. The subtext is that while Christian businessmen should pay their taxes, perhaps hide money in the Cayman Islands or a Swiss bank account, even tithe, under no circumstances should God be allowed to interfere in the running of a business. In short, the ethics of how a business should be run is not God's business. Business is about making money regardless of the cost to people. The name of the game is profits, profits, and more profits. If it means cutting a few corners here and there to enhance profits so be it.

For 27 years, that was the basic philosophy of Graham Power, 55, a South African businessman who was then a nominal Methodist. "I started making money and the first part of my life was about chasing success. I started numerous companies, saw more turnover, established more game farms bought more boats and had all the material things of life including a loving wife."

Power began his working career working inauspiciously at a construction company. He launched out on his own in 1983 and started what became one of the most successful highway construction and real estate development companies in South Africa, now doing approximately R1.5 billion Rand turnover per annum. No small achievement indeed.

Power discovered he had the Midas touch. Within a short space of time, he had 1,700 employees and was making money hand over fist. His business expanded across all the provinces in South Africa, and now expanding into Kenya, Ghana and other Southern African countries.

What hung over him as a white man was the changing political face of South Africa. Apartheid was drawing to an end, and, like many of his business friends, he felt it prudent to stash funds offshore in case South Africa collapsed. This involved millions of Rand.

By putting money in an offshore bank account beyond the allowable limit amid the snooping eyes of tax agents in South Africa, Power accumulated enough to buy a luxury home and a boat in Majorca.

It didn't. South Africa transitioned peacefully out of Apartheid. Life went on.

But something happened to Power. He found that the good life wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He had become enormously successful. He was rich, had a loving family and much more. But an emptiness gnawed away at him.

"I was a nominal Christian. My father was a Roman Catholic, my mother was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. I went to a Methodist Church, but my heart was not in it. Once married, I was merely a Sunday Christian."

All that changed one day in 1998 when he was invited to a Christian breakfast meeting to hear Michael Cassidy, a well-known South African evangelist, preach. Power was introduced to the Scriptures at a level he had never experienced. For the first time, he heard the Good News of God's salvation and, also for the first time, he heard about the power of the Holy Spirit.

"It was a sort of return to my spiritual life but at a deeper level. My life began to change. In Feb. 1999, I made a 24/7 commitment of my life, my family and my business to serving God.

"And so in my study, late one evening, I went down on my knees and surrendered my life to Christ."

It was a powerful and defining moment for the hard bitten, super successful businessman. His life and his business would never be the same again.

Power found himself transitioning in his thinking about how one should be a businessman who was now a deeply committed Christian. One day he discovered something he called Biblical Principles of Business. He came to believe you could have ethics in the work place and there was no need to cheat to win.

In 1999, he began to clean up his act. His highway construction and real estate development company was, by any definition, a success.

With his new found faith in hand, Power set about asking critical questions about how he should live. "I said the first thing in my business was how we would conduct ourselves ethically. I challenged all our company directors and told them we could not collude with competing contractors, price fixing and tax evasion.

"The second thing I did was to say to our competitors that we were no longer prepared to discuss these issues that involved in participating in any form of price fixing. That was not a popular thing to do at the time.

"I then challenged our Board that we would start our meetings with prayer and that we would pay our fair share of taxes. We would no longer put our personal gardening services through the business and many other smaller things. We had lots of debate and discussion and then I made one of the toughest decisions of my life. As a majority stock holding 80% of the company's stock I told them I would step aside if in the Board were not to agree to this new direction. I told them I was firm in my decision and there was no turning back."

The directors agreed to go along with Power even though some were skeptical that one could do business with such transparency. Power's honesty paid off.

Now, more than a decade later 8,400 individual signatories, and some 1700 companies have signed on to the Unashamedly Ethical campaign. People are doing business across the board across all racial divides in a biblically ethical fashion.

"Since 1999 when I committed my whole life to Christ in 1999 I had done my best to clean up everything that I was aware of that was sinful. With this done I still had one thing that I realised was illegal. I had established an overseas bank account during the Apartheid years. I had a fear of the country collapsing like Zimbabwe. I had bought a holiday home and boat on Majorca on the Spanish coast some 12 years earlier, and then I end up sitting at a gala dinner and we were doing a fund raiser for the Global Day of Prayer and sitting at this function was Bruce Wilkinson who was a keynote speaker. He challenged us to contribute funds for the event. I told my wife we needed to sell and contribute money to the Prayer Day if it meant so much to us.

"Some months later, at a similar dinner in Johannesburg, I felt convinced to share a challenge and testimony with the 600 people present, telling them how God had led me to clean up my act. I had taken $2 million out of the country illegally, and the Lord had convicted me to set that right.

On the Wednesday before the Friday function, the Minister of Finance announced an amnesty. They were giving South Africans an opportunity to bring back the money that we illegally taken out of the country, paying 10% and all would be forgiven.

"So, on that Friday night, we were at the gala dinner and I talked about accountability and about our overseas accounts. I wanted to challenge my business hearers to do the right thing, as I had already done. On Monday morning the headlines in the local newspapers screamed, 'Christian Businessman Rapes Country of Millions.'

"The deal was to pay 10% and keep the properties there, or pay 5% and sell everything up and bring the money back. My wife and I opted for the former and paid the 10%.

"It has become part of my testimony. Businessmen did not know what prompted us to come clean. Eight years later everyone knows why I did it."

From here.

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