Learning Lessons From Losing $4.5 Billion

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You are called to be a faithful steward of every area of your life, including your business.

Q: I was fascinated by stories about the embattled founder of the medical testing company Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, who lost $4.5 billion – BILLION – and it is really hard to understand how someone can go from the top of Forbes richest people list to the bottom. Is there Biblical advice on how to avoid that kind of rise and fall? I have a business that I operate and I want to avoid that kind of disaster.

A: Thank you for the question. I was fascinated by the story as well, which had all the drama of a Greek tragedy, and some lessons for those who want to create their own “unicorns” – an industry term for start up companies valued at over a billion dollars. Perhaps the whole tragedy could have been averted if a little more of Biblically recommended caution had been applied by those who first heard about the venture. 

As Christians we are urged to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes told the world that she has built a better medical mousetrap – claiming she could revolutionize the world of blood testing, which impacts many people. But according to lawsuits, words and deeds did not match up. Blind faith is never a good thing in investing. I pray that all the people whose lives have been impacted by this will be able to find resolution, but I do believe that the scripture offers advice to consider when launching a company so that your business does not experience this kind of controversy.

Make it your first priority to market a reliable product.  Always be truthful about your products and services.  

Proverbs 21: 5-6 advises: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.”

It is important as a Christian in business to represent your work honestly and accurately and to work diligently to deliver on your contracts and products. The courts and government regulators will decide whether this company and its leadership are at fault, but each of us engaged in business must consider whether we are offering the best we can or whether we are protecting our own selfish interests. False claims about our work or products will not result in long-term success, even if they can work in the short-term.

Make sure that earning money for yourself is not your sole purpose – Be careful to serve your customers. 

Proverbs 23: 4-5 notes: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” 

While the money poured into this company, it flew away just as quickly when the product claims did not perform as expected. Making a profit is certainly one goal of any business owner, but just as important is the reliability of your products. A focus on profits that undercuts quality will ultimately collapse your enterprise as people discover that your business is not meeting their needs.

Make sure you remember whom you really report to – and it’s not the government or the stockholders. 

Colossians 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly as though you were doing it for the Lord and not merely for people.”

Remember that God, Who will ultimately evaluate us all, sees everything we do, knows what is in our hearts and understands our motivations. In business, honest mistakes will be made, and the economy can carry a business both up and down. But there will be no lawyers standing between all of mankind and our ultimate Judge. We cannot tell the Lord God we don’t recall or hide our true intents. Be sure that you have run your business in such a way that when you are called to give an account, you can honestly say you’ve done your best with what you had. That doesn’t mean your business will turn in a “unicorn,” but it does mean that you can be blessed for your efforts. 

Your work is an extension of your testimony, qualifying you in God’s eyes for greater responsibility and reward. In Luke 16: 10-12, Jesus says:  “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

Your honest service to others at work, your diligence in managing the details, and your commitment to providing something worthy of purchase will not only set you apart in the marketplace, it will earn you the praise of your Heavenly Father, Who knows when we do our best in all things – big and small. 

We are called to be faithful stewards of every area of our lives, including our businesses. And we could all use some encouragement and biblical insights on living as a wise steward.

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