In the Trenches

In suicide cases nowadays, police often find a book lying beside the body. It's Final Exit, a best-seller by Derek Humphry giving practical instructions on how to kill yourself. Over the past several days, we've been talking about principles of the work ethic like taking care of employees and putting customers' needs first. Those principles are based on a simple idea--that all workers are valuable to God. Let me tell you a story from the book that Jack Eckerd and I recently wrote. The book is called Why America Doesn't Work, and the story is about one man who put his workers first throughout his career. When Frank Brock was 29 years old, he took his place in the family business. Frank had no experience in business and knew it was mainly his last name that equipped him to become an officer of the Brock Candy Company. Frank also knew that he had to act fast, because the business was in trouble. Then he remembered the advice of his Air Force commander: "A general can't fight a battle from the War Room. He's got to get down into the trenches with his troops." So Frank assembled his troops--his bakers, candy boilers, and assembly operators--and asked for their help. He found that his workers weren't happy. The packers had been ordered to add broken candy to each bag to bring the weight up. The line operators worked all day in rooms without windows. Frank immediately started making plans to improve working conditions on the line. As Frank gained his employees trust he learned more. One man was nursing a sick wife in a home with no running water. Serving his employees was a personal as well as a business conviction. So Frank gathered some helpers, bought piping and hardware, and installed a water line into that man's home. Frank Brock's changes cost money and effort. But his employees repaid him a hundred times over with their loyalty and hard work. And the fortunes of the Brock Candy Company were turned around. Frank eventually left Brock to become an officer at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, where today he is president. The principles he learned in business made just as much sense at a university. One of the first things he did was to go out and meet the students--and he found the same kind of discontent he'd discovered among his workers at Brock. For years, students had been asking for new furniture in their lounge. But all they heard from administrators was that there was no money in the budget. To Frank, the solution was obvious. Why should administrators enjoy clean comfortable couches, while the students sat on stiff plastic chairs in cold halls? Yet it was true--there was no money in the budget to redecorate. So Frank walked down the hall to the President's office and announced that he would be moving all of the furniture in his own office into the student lounge. He hoped that the President, and other administrators, would follow his example. "After all, why does this school exist," he asked. "For us or for the students?" The furniture was moved. The same principle that made Frank a good manager at Brock's Candy Company made him a good university administrator. It's down in the trenches that a general finds out what it is his troops need. And where a manager learns how to run an organization. The way to restore the work ethic is to show workers that they are important to the company's well-being. The way Frank Brock did.


Chuck Colson



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