Seeing a need and filling it

November 9, 2011 | Young Voices
Aaron Epp | Special to Young Voices
Winnipeg, Man.

Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) made headlines earlier this month when it launched its new Redekop School of Business, made possible through a donation from the Redekop family of B.C.’s Fraser Valley. Brothers John and Peter, their nephew James and the extended family have pledged a minimum of $6.5 million to found the school.

“We see the need to educate the next generation in commerce, marketing and finance, and to do this in a university that inspires and prepares future leaders with skills complemented by Christian ethics, integrity and service,” Peter says in a news release.

For many young Mennonites with an entrepreneurial spirit, doing business—and asking what it means to do business as a Mennonite—is a daily reality.

Nick Ewert, who graduated from CMU in 2010 with a bachelor of arts degree, majoring in business and organizational administration, works as an executive assistant at Remco Realty, a commercial real estate firm in Winnipeg owned by his father. He is in the midst of earning his real estate licence. The 23-year-old attends Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, and says he was drawn to the real estate business because his father and grandfather work in the field, and because he likes the job’s flexibility. “I don’t have to clock in at a specific hour and clock out,” he says. “I can work hard for a certain amount of time and then go on a vacation without any real repercussions.”

“It’s also nice that I don’t have to sit in an office the whole time,” he adds. “I usually go into the office in the morning, make some calls, then in the afternoon I’ll go meet people or run errands as needed.”

Ewert feels there is a tension in the Mennonite church when it comes to how people view business. “Honestly, sometimes it feels a little chilly,” he says of the attitudes some of his peers have demonstrated towards business. “It just seems that often occupations such as teaching, medical professions and trades, and those sort of things, are often seen to be at a higher moral level than, say, office-based business.”

Andrew Loewen has not experienced that tension, and, in fact, feels the Mennonite church is open and welcoming to people who own their own businesses. The 29-year-old attends Douglas Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, and has founded, co-founded and managed three entrepreneurial start-ups. He is the co-founder and chief operating officer at Priceline Partner Network, an affiliate of Priceline, which helps Internet users obtain discount rates for travel-related purchases. The firm currently employs 16 people.

“I always thought [the church was] pretty open about business,” says the married father of three. “[Growing up], there were a lot of self-employed, entrepreneurial people that were part of the commu-nity that I was involved with. . . . I feel like there was a positive environment in which to think about business.”

However, Craig Martin, assistant professor of business and organizational administration at CMU, agrees with Ewert, that often there is a tension in the church when it comes to business. Business is a part of life, though, and he states on CMU’s website, “We can operate businesses and take our beliefs to work with us and still make a profit. A strong moral and ethical background is an important part of how we do business.”

Unpacking those moral and ethical issues in the classroom is a key component of CMU’s business program, he adds in an interview. Christian business people have a responsibility to their shareholders, employees, customers and suppliers, as well as the greater community. “Those people are made in the image of God and, therefore, are to be respected as such,” he says.

Ewert says that as he moves forward with his real estate career, all he can do is live out his Mennonite beliefs to the best of his ability. That includes being honest and fair with everyone he deals with. He also believes that for some Christians, business is a calling. “Certain people see a need and they want to fulfil it,” he says. “Really, that’s what business is: it’s seeing a need and filling it.”

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