Workplace Issues and Faith
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Faith in Good Supply

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written by Stephen Caldwell
powered by www.WorkLife.org

The Apostle Paul is better known for spreading the Gospel than for his ability to make tents; but according to Acts 18:3, it was as a tentmaker that Paul made his living.

Alain de la Motte is known among his friends and associates as a businessman, a veteran executive who has worked in a variety of entrepreneurial ventures all over the world. At their most basic level, the companies de la Motte now controls are in the grocery business. But he sees himself and his employees in a different way. They are tentmakers.

"I keep telling our people that we are not in the food business per se," de la Motte said from his office in Portland. "First and foremost, we are in the ministry. Whether we win or lose in a business sense is not the primary issue; either way, we win if the focus is on God's work."

De la Motte, 48, has spent most of the last six years building International Trade Group LLC, Integrated Food Resources Inc. and their subsidiaries into an international food group with one underlying objective: To spread the Gospel around the world. His companies operate in countries such as China, Indonesia, and Israel that normally are closed to missionaries.

"We have a very clear vision for this company," said de la Motte, "and it has to do with announcing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

International Trade Group is a privately held central buying consortium that supplies such clients as The Kroger Co., Safeway Inc., Western Family Foods Inc., Aldi Inc. and Dollar General Inc. with private-label food products. It's a cradle-to-grave service, with the group handling production, quality assurance, manufacturing, banking, logistics, warehousing and delivery. With the buying power of the consortium and a global intelligence technology that de la Motte developed with a former company to track trade flows around the world, ITG is able to greatly lower the cost of these "store brand" products without sacrificing quality.

Integrated Food Resources is a holding company that is publicly traded on the OTC Bulletin Board and soon will be on NASDAQ (symbol: IFGR). It invests in food manufacturing projects that vertically integrate the process from raw materials to finished products in retail distribution.

This presents opportunities to do business with - and to witness to - people all across the globe. For instance, when some followers of Christ failed to honor a commitment they had made to two Muslim businessmen, de la Motte and a board member offered to make amends by providing free consulting. The men wanted to launch a shrimp farming and harvesting business in the Republic of Guinea, and de la Motte gave them a financing structure that would allow them to fund the company. The men worked out the arrangements according to de la Motte's advice. Then, much to de la Motte's surprise, they came back and told him they wanted his companies intricately involved in the business.

"They transferred to us 35,000 acres of prime agricultural and aquacultural land in Guinea," said de la Motte. "That was the hand of God. Guinea is 83 percent Muslim. And though it is French-speaking, it was the last place I would have thought of. Yet it offers some incredible business and spiritual potential."

In addition to shrimp and other aquaculture projects, IFR eventually plans to export pineapple and fruit juices through this operation. And in doing so, de la Motte will send technical advisors, managers, quality control experts and others to Guinea.

"The vision is simple," said de la Motte. "As a businessman, I can witness about the Lord in a way that would be very difficult for a missionary to do. I can easily go into countries that we call difficult access countries, like Indonesia and China. ... We can go in as businessmen, especially if we are buying products from the country, because that means we are bringing foreign currency, employment and all kinds of benefits to them. We are welcomed with open arms."

De la Motte's openness about his agenda hasn't closed any doors. That's because he also makes it clear that he's running a business first, not a ministry, and that the business is good for everyone involved.

"In any project we do overseas," said de la Motte, "the competence of the people we hire, their professionalism, their education level and their track record must speak for itself."

He wants people with a command of the local language and a heart for the people. And he wants mature believers who can impact the lives of non-believers (he created Sower Ministries, a non-profit organization, to help with this task). But, he said, "the first focus is on business, not ministry. They may meet the second criteria, but if they do not qualify on the first level, they will not be selected. This ensures that we present a solid business front, not a facade for evangelistic work. We expect our people to be examples in their daily work - exemplary conduct, ethics and professionalism. They must earn the respect of the people they work with daily."

De la Motte operates on some simple assumptions regarding those who take on overseas assignments:

· They should follow the Lord's direction and trust in His sovereignty.

· They must have time for God's work.

· They must be able to support their families strictly from work-related income.

· Their work and ministry should be out of love for the Lord.

· Their ministry focus should be on equipping locals to spread the Gospel.

· They must be a positive example in every sense of the word.

On the business front, he believes that:

· The company must provide markets for products and financing.

· The business and all its projects must be run professionally and profitably, thus assuring that the business itself, the local community and the business' customers all profit from the business.

· Local workers should earn a competitive wage and share in the profits.

It took years to build de la Motte's intricate web of businesses with dual missions. It started on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, took him all over the world, and back to that tiny island before he really began to see God's plan.

"You see, God ... doesn't give it to you all at once," said de la Motte. "He takes you through a process of revealing His plan. There is a learning process that evolves over time that includes failures and successes. It involves redirection. It involves a lot of things before you are brought to a point where He can finally use you to be effective. For me, it was a process."

De la Motte's parents were French, but he was born in Mauritius (rhymes with delicious), a 787-square-mile former volcano in the Indian Ocean. He lived there until he was 13, when his family returned to France.

While in college, he founded an air charter service for other students. And after working in sales and marketing for Norwegian American Cruises, he developed a business plan to start his own cruise line in Hawaii. He sold that project to Sea Containers, which put him in charge of its travel and leisure division in London. And when Sea Containers (which today has assets of $2.1 billion) decided to revive the Orient-Express luxury train, it put de la Motte in charge.

"That was my baby from beginning to end," he said. "Well, I can't say `to end,' because I was probably 90 percent done when my wife became terminally ill."

At age 30, de la Motte was living in London and working on the Orient-Express project when he committed his life to Christ. Two months later, a brain tumor left his wife with just a few months to live. After considerable soul searching, he left Sea Containers and moved his wife and two children to Mauritius in search of a more peaceful environment for his family.

June Roberts, a governess hired by Sea Containers to help de la Motte's wife while they lived in London, agreed to move with the family even though de la Motte no longer had the income to pay her. "As I think about it," she told him at the time, "the Lord told me to come to work for you. He didn't tell me where. If you want me to go with you, I'd be more than happy to. Just give me an airline ticket, give me food when I get down there, and you don't have to pay me any salary. I would be happy to go with you." It was in Mauritius, in part because of this governess, that de la Motte became a tentmaker.

In working with the handicapped, who often struggle with time-consuming projects, the governess had learned a quick process for making greeting cards and bookmarks with real flowers. While de la Motte thought it was interesting, he said, "As an entrepreneur, this project had none of the qualifications of what I would be looking for in a business." He had 10 other ideas, and he was mulling those over while doing ministry work with the people on the island.

"I began to realize that the biggest problem for the people of Mauritius was work," he said. "Idle hands meant all kinds of problems. Family members also rejected them when they became Christians, [because they left] the Hindu or Muslim faiths."

As de la Motte thought about those unemployed believers, he began to notice all the flowers that grew on the island, most of which were free for the taking. And he began to think about the process his governess used for making flowers into greeting cards. "There were a lot of tourists coming to the island," he said, "and I basically decided that this was a great opportunity for the people."

The next thing he knew, de la Motte was in the greeting card business. "I realized what was needed was someone with the entrepreneurial drive to make it happen," he said. "They just needed someone to help them through the process, which I did. So, we started a little company with 18 unemployed Christians. A week later, the products were absolutely the worst things you have ever seen. How they sold it, don't even ask me. Gradually the process was improved, and we ended up hiring in excess of 700 people."

As more non-believers joined the company, the opportunities to witness increased.

"In one day we had the joy of leading 150 [factory employees] to Christ," he said. "As they saw the power of God at work to free up other demon-possessed employees, others were touched. I am talking about extreme cases where they all saw and witnessed what was going on. ... Believe me, I was not equipped for that. I was a baby Christian, and I had read about it in Scripture but never expected I would have to deal with it personally."

Three years after his wife died, de la Motte remarried and moved back to the United States to set up a company that would handle the distribution of the greeting cards. Eventually, the company was reorganized and he helped the islanders purchase the manufacturing company. He left the greeting card business to work as a consultant on international trade.

It was in this capacity that he discovered a dated and little-known law that said all ship manifests that went through U.S. customs were public record. He founded Trade Reporting and Data Exchange (TRADE) to take advantage of this opportunity. "We set up an organization at all the customs houses for people to go into the customs houses, take the ship manifest and scan the bills of lading," he said. "We would then convert it into very powerful databases. It is a very powerful, global intelligence system. In a matter of minutes, I can tell you all the suppliers around the world that can supply a particular product and who their customers are in the U.S. So we could develop not only market share by supplier, but also market share by buyer and actually put links between the two."

De la Motte developed a vision for how to use that information. After controlling interest of the company was sold to a group of investors headed by Dun & Bradstreet, he eventually resigned as chairman of the board of TRADE (although he still owns a share of the company) and founded International Trade Group. He felt private-label foods was a growth industry and the perfect niche market for combining his experiences and expertise with his personal mission of running a business that also spreads the Gospel.

"The vision goes back to Mauritius," he said. "When I was there I had a very powerful and effective ministry in the lives of the people I worked with and, by extension, with their families. I find it to be the same case here with what we do in business.

"The opportunities are just now being created to do that. On the buying side, we have the markets for the products, because we act as the global sourcing and procurement arm for the largest U.S. food retailers. On the supply side, the Lord has opened the doors in various parts of the world."

And wherever the Lord opens a door, de la Motte is more than happy to pitch a tent.

Title of article: “Faith in Good Supply.” Life@Work Vol. 2, No. 1 E-Spirit January/February 1999. Written by Stephen Caldwell the managing editor of The Life@Work® Journal. Used by Permission. lifeatwork.com. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > used for non-profit teaching purposes only.

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