Posts tagged with: entrepreneurship

Today I’m at the Caring For the Common Good: Why It’s Important To Integrate Faith, Work, and Economics one-day symposium at Cedarville University. As I have opportunity, I will blog regarding the lectures and panel discussion.

First to speak was Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide on the topic of Caring For the Common Good. He spoke on three basic areas: do the poor have stewardship responsibilities, subsidiarity, and protest & invest.

On the first, Rudy noted the poor have stewardship and justice responsibilities. In addition, they are included in the charge of the Great Commission. Finally, they are empowered through Christ. The poor has intrinsic dignity as like the rest of society were created by God.

On the second, it is important to realize those connected most closely to the problem will oftentimes have the first responsibility to solve the problem. John Cowperthwaite, former Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971 has said, “In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if it is often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”

On the third, we must be knowledgeable when applying our good intentions to poverty. Sometimes our good intentioned efforts can unwittingly deprive the poor of justice. For example, a church in the US wanted to help provide relief to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and gathered jars of peanut butter and sent them to Haiti. Though good intentioned, these efforts impacted a local Haitian entrepreneur.

I hope to update this more as the day continues.

Update: Second to speak was Matt Zainea of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Matt spoke on the topic: Theology and Economics: Seeing the Whole.

Economic terms are woven into the Scriptures. An example is the usage of “redemption” in the context of salvation. Another illustration is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. God designed us to be producers and are considered wicked and lazy when like the third servant fail to do so.

Oftentimes a fractured Biblical understanding of economics is communicated as one of more aspects are left out. The complete Biblical understanding starts with us as image bearers being called to work thus able to own property within community operating in shalom. As image bearers, we are called to work and through work our image and calling is shown to the world. Udo Middleman says, “Only in creativity do we externalize the identity we have as men made in the image of God. This then is the true basis for work.”

The externalization of work creates property. Property rights exist, but what is really protected is man’s creative mental activity – his ideas which are externalized into things which he owns and has a right to possess and enjoy.

Work and property are essential elements to create community. One person’s creative activity is to be qualified by other people’s creative activity. Creativity is to be mutually stimulating. Community should be marked by a healthy interdependence.

Shalom is God’s vision of how he wants His people to live together. Shalom is a Christ-centered community flourishing through the interdependent usage of His resources. This is the best model to use even in a broken world.

Update: We ended the day with a panel discussion on the topic of social justice and Scripture. Panel members include Cedarville professors Dr. Jeff Haymond and Dr. Bert Wheeler along with Mr. Zainea and Mr. Rudy Carrasco. Audio for the discussion will be posted in this post and on the Acton website within the next couple weeks.

In his commentary this week, Acton Research Fellow Anthony Bradley looks at the phenomenon of a black president whose policies have “not led to significant progress for blacks.” Bradley is the author of the new book, Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development. Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

Despite Economic and Social Ills, Blacks Give Obama a Pass

By Anthony Bradley

With the approach of Black History Month we are reminded of the historic presidency of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president. Some black leaders, however, believe that Mr. Obama has let the black community down. For example, prominent voices like Dr. Cornell West and PBS’s Tavis Smiley, former supporters of Obama, believe that having a black president has not led to significant progress for blacks. The truth is that blacks are not only worse off under Barack Obama’s presidency but are grappling with deep-seated economic and social issues that the President himself has little or no expertise in solving.

In spite of these realities, some leaders are asking the black community to support Obama for odd reasons like race. For example, Tom Joyner, host of one of the highest rated morning shows in America, said in an October 2011 column, “Let’s not even deal with facts right now. Let’s deal with our blackness and pride — and loyalty. We have a chance to reelect the first African American president … And I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that as black people, we should do it because he’s a black man.” The historic enthusiasm is understandable but we must deal with facts that tell us race-based voting is futile.

Take unemployment, for example. According to a January report by the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, black worker unemployment steadied around 15-16 percent in 2011, while unemployment for the rest of the workforce dropped below 9 percent. That is, in 2011 the unemployment rate for African-Americans stayed almost exactly the same and declined for everyone else.

Second, with respect to family issues, it is well known that blacks continue to lead the nation in single motherhood. According to 2008 figures, the most recent year for which accurate data is available, 72 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers compared to 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of Native Americans. By extension, then, fatherlessness continues to undermine black progress in America. According to FathersUnite.org, 90 percent of runaway children, 85 percent of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders, 70 percent of all high school dropouts, and 85 percent of all youths sitting in prisons are from fatherless homes.

How would voting again for Barack Obama — simply because he is black — fix these problems? Barack Obama is not an entrepreneur nor can he be a father to the fatherless. The best thing that President Obama could do if elected for a second-term would be to remove all the barriers in the way of entrepreneurs so that they can do the things that they do well, such as provide the sustainable employment opportunities that allow adults to take care of their families and permit the marketplace to meet the needs of all of us. Government is neither designed nor equipped to create and sustain jobs. Thousands of years of experience show clearly: Only entrepreneurs have the gifts and expertise to create jobs. We need to encourage them because sustainable employment is the only long-term solution to poverty and unemployment.

With respect to family, one important thing President Obama can do is to continue to provide an encouraging example. Even if you do not agree with Obama’s politics, the president is certainly a model of a man who is committed to his wife and children. In fact, if more black men were committed to their children and their mothers in the way that President Obama is through the institution of marriage, many of the statistics listed above would plummet. However, there is no political solution that President Obama can promote because fatherlessness is fundamentally a moral problem. If we want to make a better black history – and leave a better legacy for our youth — we have to morally form black men so that they remain committed to loving women and children within the context of marriage.

If blacks want to chart a new course reversing these statistics, we should look not to politicians for answers but ask them to get regulatory barriers out of the way of entrepreneurs and moral institutions so that they can do what they have proven the best at for centuries — namely, create the conditions for virtuous human flourishing.

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Thursday, January 12, 2012

A recent study by Millennial Branding reveals that

“Owner” is the fifth most popular job title [listed on Facebook] for Gen-Y [i.e., Millennials] because they are an entrepreneurial generation. Even though most of their companies won’t succeed, they are demonstrating an unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit.

The study does not speculate on the causes of this upsurge in enterprise and creativity among 18-29 year-olds, but no doubt “Mother Necessity” has her hand in it somewhere. Our country and world are facing serious financial crises and offering us little assurance of any positive resolution before we are handed the reins of the world. This last summer’s gridlock in Congress over our looming default was a case-in-point, and the Eurozone crisis continues to cast a gloomy shadow on our economic future.

That Millennials are becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial in light of this, however, is a glimmer of hope. While it will surely take key contributions from members of every generation in their various callings to steer clear of economic disaster (or recover from it), we can at least take comfort in the fact that with the increase of Millennial entrepreneurs (even if “most of their companies won’t succeed”), there is good reason to hope for future job and wealth creation so vital to economic stability and recovery.

In my post “The Church, Vocation, and Millennials,” I examined a recent Barna study’s analysis that one major reason that Millennials are leaving Christianity behind has been a neglect to link vocation and faith in much of their religious upbringing. This most recent Millennial Branding study highlights a specific vocation that ought not to be neglected: entrepreneurship. As Fr. Robert Sirico writes in The Entrepreneurial Vocation, the “chosen profession” of entrepreneurs “deserves to be legitimized by their faith.”

Christians once believed that their faith was a way of life (the Way, in fact). Assuming that this study is accurate, if Church leaders want their community to stop hemorrhaging Millennials, an increased focus on how that Way of Life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, permeates their vocations—especially entrepreneurship—would be welcome.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Monday, December 19, 2011

With its subject, use of Scripture, and majestic soaring choruses, George Ferederic Handel’s Messiah is easily the most recognizable musical piece in Western Civilization. It is also perhaps the most widely performed piece of classical or choral music in the West. After hearing a performance of the Messiah, fellow composer Franz Joseph Haydn simply said of Handel, “This man is the master of us all.” Not to be outdone, Beethoven declared, “Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.”

The text of the Messiah, compiled from Scripture, was sent to Handel by his friend Charles Jennens and begins with Isaiah 40, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” Part 1 of the Messiah deals with the prophetic pronouncements of the Virgin Birth, and the actual birth account taken from Luke’s Gospel. Part II deals with Christ’s passion and his atoning death, his resurrection and ascension, and sending out of the Gospel. Part III is a celebration of the general resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment, the victorious nature of Christ and his triumphant reign. It is a bounty of Christian doctrine packed into an English oratorio. Amazingly, Handel composed the work in 23 days. Quoting the Apostle Paul, Handel said, “Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.”

Messiah is so masterful and celebrated it overshadows some of Handel’s other stellar work. Concerning the Messiah in particular, there is quite a bit of information out there about Handel the entrepreneur. Below is an audio story about Handel’s entrepreneurial endeavors and his charitable work tied into the Messiah that aired on PBS in 2009. You can watch the video version of the story here.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Tim Slover, author of Messiah: The Little-Known Story of Handel’s Beloved Oratorio adds this note,

The Royal Family, fellow Germans from the same region of Hanover, were staunch supporters of his work, but this did not translate into financial security for Handel, as the Crown only sporadically underwrote his opera seasons. When weddings or other occasions called for it, the Hanovers commissioned music from him, but this was never enough to live on, and, anyway, Handel was no court composer. By temperament he was an entrepreneur. He spent several months of every year striking business deals with theater owners, auditioning and hiring singers, and rehearsing and performing instrumental music, operas, and oratorios. His fortunes rose or fell with the public’s reception of his music, and there were lean times as well as prosperous ones.

Messiah, while popular at the time, was certainly not as beloved as it is today. There was controversy surrounding the performance, specifically that such a sacred piece of music would be played outside of the Church and in secular music halls and venues. And while Messiah was composed for charitable purposes, it showcased more of Handel’s entrepreneurial skills and willingness to take risks.

Handel, a devout Lutheran, loved sacred music and believed every word of what he wrote and composed. As mentioned earlier, Handel took a lot of risks with his music because he liked to perform what he loved most. He was bankrupt at various times in his life and had fallen out of favor with the public. Just a few years before the Messiah was composed, Frederic the Great declared that, “Handel’s great days are over. His inspiration is exhausted.” Handel himself was even close to being sent to debtors prison. Before Messiah, Handel conducted what he thought would be his last performance and retired for a time. When Messiah was first performed in 1742, it raised enough money to free 142 men from debtor’s prison so their sons and daughters would not be orphans.

Many readers have of course seen the Messiah performed and may have attended a performance this year or selections may have been performed in their places of worship. It was originally intended as a Lenten piece, but is now largely played in the Christmas season. What is so remarkable about the Messiah to me is not that it is just such a majestic and beautiful work of music, but that it is impossible to separate Christ from the performance. While many sacred works are embraced by a secular world and secular music performers, the meaning of the Messiah is so plain it cannot be overlooked. In fact, Jennens selected the text of Messiah to counter the rising arguments of the deists and secularists of his day.

Messiah thunderously crushes the secular agenda and goals of today or of any period. Theologian Tom Oden offers some profound words on the Western world and Christ in his systematic theology The Word of Life. “It would be strangely unhistorical if the historians accidentally ignored him [Christ] or decided to study all figures except the one who has affected Western history most,” says Oden. He adds that “Western history would not be Western history without him.” Later on Oden observes, “Deeper even than the mystery of his astonishing historical influence is the simpler, starker question that rings through Christian reflection: Cur Deus Homo? Why did God Become human?” Handel answers that so thoroughly, beautifully, and triumphantly with his Messiah.

Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Our good friend at the Seven Fund (and Acton Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship) Andreas Widmer, has released his book, The Pope and the CEO. Andreas tells stories of his journey from a Swiss Guard for John Paul II to an entrepreneur and business leader.

Andreas tell of lessons he learned from the life and leadership of John Paul II that have shaped his life, his family, and his vision of work. The book is filled with practical advice from working with teams and building your career to living a balanced life and incorporating faith and prayer into your daily tasks. Each chapter ends with action items and exercises to implement the lessons. I know Andreas well and have benefited many times from his insight and advice.

There are great stories throughout — beggar, down and out priests brought to see the pope, countless examples of the John Paul’s kindess, and perhaps my favorite — when Andreas met Pope John Paul as a young man on Christmas Eve, his first Christmas away from home and his family. For anyone who wants to improve his career, integrate faith into his daily work and most important, improve his life this book highly recommended.

You can also see a clip about entrepreneurs from an interview about I did with Andreas in Ghana at Andreas’ PovertyCure Voices Page

And take at look at his website — especially the galleries for some great pictures.

  

Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Thursday, October 6, 2011

Acton has been heavily involved in developing a new initiative called PovertyCure, an international network that promotes entrepreneurial solutions to poverty rooted in the dignity of the human person.

We are excited to announce the launch of PovertyCure this week. Acton has joined together with over 100 organizations to encourage people to rethink charity and development.

In the last three years I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over a hundred people from all over the world—religious and political leaders, small business owners, development experts, people working with orphans and the sick, and entrepreneurs creating jobs and prosperity in their communities. It’s been inspiring and eye-opening. You can watch clips from some of those interviews at the Voices page of the PovertyCure website.

Watch the 3 Minute Promo (below) and a clip from Fr. Sirico on Charity and Enterprise. You can “Like” PovertyCure on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

And please encourage your church, business or non-profit to join the PovertyCure network.

I’m at the “Whole Life Discipleship: Integrating Faith, Economics, and Work” conference today at Regent University. As I have the opportunity today, I’ll blog (and tweet) some of the lectures. First up is Stephen Grabill of the Acton Institute, and here are some highlights:

He focused on three basic questions: What is political and economic freedom? How do we use Scripture in our approach to social life? What about natural law?

On the first: A Christian anthropology is anti-revolutionary in the sense of van Prinsterer and Kuyper. In this sense Groen was a protestant Lord Acton. The spirit of human autonomy manifest in the French Revolution is at odds with the spirit of Christ manifest in all areas of life.

On the second: The missing theological piece of the puzzle is that the Bible is only part of the revelation of that we need to get to concrete positions on various social questions. The distinction between special vs. general revelation is critical here, as is the place of natural law in relation to general revelation.

On the third: If we can figure out what to do with  natural law, we will have taken a critical first step in articulating a vigorous public theology. The natural law tradition acknowledges both special and general revelation. Natural law is a forgotten legacy of the Reformation, and it’s one that we have to recover to connect faith and economics today.

I hope to update this post with more as the day progresses.

Update: The next session is a talk by Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riano of Regent University.

His lecture focuses on explicating the following question:

What is a humane economy, and how does this relate to enterprise and entrepreneurship?

First, he explores a theory of humane economics, rooted in a robust moral anthropology. Economics is a theory of human action, production, distribution, consumption. Economic action is fundamentally moral in nature, preferring some goods to others, some ends to others. Insufficiency is a natural, basic fact of human existence: every human being needs other human beings. Perhaps the chief tenet of the natural law is human insufficiency (assuming relations to neighbors and God). A humane economics is one that enshrines natural limits to economic activity, accepting the natural hierarchy of human goods, guarding against the commodification of everything.

Second, a culture of enterprise is to be understood as one promotes entrepreneurship.Empathy as an essential part of anthropology, is an essential part of enterprise at the heart of an economic system. Moral ecology (Novak) and culture address the climate of a person’s socialization, a person’s relation to others. Human beings are born needy and wanting. This reality of insufficiency must be recognized. Self-awareness calls human beings to recall their lowly state and contextualizes their expectations. The moral consequence is that there must be an empathetic orientation toward the other, focusing on the needs, the lack, of other people. Enterprise, the focus on innovative responses to human needs and wants, is therefore a moral consequence of empathy.

Finally, the role of entrepreneurs in an entreprise culture must be explored. in a humane economic system. To support human flourishing a culture of enterprise  must have a holistic account of human insufficiency, the principle that human beings have unattainable non-economic needs, as well as attainable economic needs. Entrepreneurs have a critical social role in addressing the latter: attainable economic needs. Since these needs are so variable, actual embodiments of entrepreneurship are equally variable. There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs, focused on many different kinds of goods. Creativity, however, seems to be one of the characteristic features of entrepreneurship. Only when entrepreneurs become wisdom-lovers, and wisdom-lovers become entrepreneurs, can we hope to move to a culture of enterprise that promotes a humane economics.

Further reading: Gerson Moreno-Riano, “Democracy, Humane Economics, and a Culture of Enterprise,” Journal of Markets & Morality 13, no. 1 (Spring 2010).

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

AEI President Arthur Brooks answers the question from MSNBC’s Matt Miller, “What do we do when huge forces beyond our control shape our destiny?”

Judy Hill with her son James

A few weeks ago I made a phone call to Judy Hill at High Cotton Ties simply because I had a strong feeling she had a compelling witness to offer about entrepreneurship, vocation, and creativity. Picking up the phone was a wise decision. She agreed to an interview for readers of the PowerBlog. I had ordered a few bow ties from High Cotton Ties and was extremely impressed with the unique design and high quality. I had no idea of any of Judy’s values, or her beliefs about vocation and entrepreneurship. I didn’t know her at all. At the same time, I was not surprised to find that so much of her thinking aligned with Acton’s ideas and principles. Simply put, Judy is easily among the most gracious, kindest, and spirit-filled ladies I have ever conversed with. She has a radiant personality and a great story to tell about turning a passion into a business success. Below is the interview:

How did the idea for High Cotton develop and what are a few things that make this product so unique?

High Cotton Ties was born out of prayer and the financial needs of our family. Our family had just moved to Charlotte in 2007 after 22 years in the D.C. area. Upon moving, the recession hit our family hard and we found ourselves searching creatively for ways to provide for our family of five, two sons in college and one son in high school. I took a year off from teaching a young women’s Bible Study to devote myself to thinking creatively of ideas for work. Eight months later, it was Christmas time and, having sewn most of my life, I decided to make a pattern and sew a few colorful bow ties for my son Cameron, who is a medical student at the University of Virginia.

Not able to find any silk to my liking, I chose four colorful cottons with which to make the ties. Cameron thought this was a great idea because he would be able to wash the ties so they would be clean to wear when seeing patients in the hospital. I had no idea until then that a study had been done which showed the presence of germs such as H1N1 on the silk neck ties of doctors nor did I know that wearing silk ties was already being discouraged in the hospital.

My middle son, James, took the same bow tie to his fraternity at Carolina (UNC Chapel Hill) and it received an even more enthusiastic response. The college students immediately took to the idea of a comfortable, cotton bow tie. It was preppy, smart, and had its roots in the South. It began to take off on the college campus and that is where the High Cotton Ties culture eventually developed.

Our product is unique in that it is made of high quality, washable cotton and is the first line of bow ties and cummerbunds made exclusively of cotton. Our line is made in the South by Southerners to precise standards and specifications. Our designs are “Southern Mainstays”: traditional patterns and fabrics such as tattersalls, ginghams, madras and seersucker as opposed to novelties and tiny prints. Our bow ties and cummerbunds are hand cut and hand sewn here in North Carolina.

How does your faith or your own concept of a “calling” play a role in your business?

I believe that God has given me a gift in High Cotton Ties, to be able to create the bow ties, to work hand in hand with my sons and to put my mind and abilities toward the work He has given me. Because I see my vocation as a gift and calling from God, it definitely brings more satisfaction to my work. It helps me to see that I am not doing this alone, or even just with my boys, but I am in the process of creating something with the help of the very God of creation and that brings joy, excitement and pleasure in my work.

What do you think are valuable character traits and virtues needed for entrepreneurship?

Creativity, vision, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Focusing on the needs of others is an essential trait of entrepreneurship and that is a crucial aspect for building relationships.

Do you feel like any of these qualities have helped to make High Cotton Ties a success?

High Cotton Ties is still a young company and so if we are considered a success, it would be because we had a vision from the start that was unwavering and clear. We decided early on that we wanted to be the best cotton bow tie on the market, to make a genuine product through a genuine process and we have done everything we can to stay true to that mission with integrity and honesty.

How has it influenced the actual product?

We have worked hard to perfect and improve our bow ties and cummerbunds. In fact, just last week, after a very successful first year and significant praise for our product line, we decided to redesign our bow tie pattern to make it truer to size at the urging of two friends, one a trusted mentor in the apparel industry, and the other, a store owner whom we greatly respect. The product was slightly off in actual neck size and so we made the necessary changes to the pattern, losing valuable time, money and inventory, but the end result was to have as fine a product as is on the market today. We always say we want to be able to sleep at night knowing that we have made a good product and the recent changes to our ties have helped us get that good night’s sleep.

You have said you want to help bring a revival to the North Carolina textile industry and your business is very organic. What does that mean?

Growing up in North Carolina around textiles, I have seen and felt the devastation that industry experienced in recent years. When we outgrew the individual seamstresses we were using, we began to look in North Carolina for a manufacturer, determined to keep true to our mission.

After a state-wide search, we found a textile manufacturing company in a small North Carolina town (population 1200). The owner had returned to North Carolina to open the factory after working with larger international textile firms and experiencing first hand the difficult conditions in the factories overseas. It was a perfect match for our mission. So, now our ties are produced on the still vibrant main street of a “three stoplight” North Carolina town using North Carolina seamstresses.

Our distribution/fulfillment center is also located in another small North Carolina town, Cherryville.

In June, we are releasing our first t-shirt that, again, has the common theme of High Cotton Ties: Made in North Carolina. The cotton for our t-shirts is grown on local farms and picked, ginned, spun, woven, dyed and sewn, all within the borders of North Carolina. In committing ourselves to a local product, we are encouraging jobs in the industry, hopefully for years to come.

Our business is organic in that we have used our own resources to build the company because of a long term commitment to growing High Cotton Ties.

What are you excited about for what the future holds for High Cotton Ties? What would you ultimately like to see develop out of this idea?

The future of High Cotton Ties is all about growing our product line, creatively using 100 percent cotton fabrics to make high quality products for our customers. We are looking at a variety of apparel and accessories to add to our line in the near future and, most importantly, of finding ways to manufacture cotton fabric once again in North Carolina.

We would ultimately like to see our product line continue to grow and be produced in North Carolina, bringing jobs to the textile industry of our great state. And, we would like to earn the respect of our customers, for unparalleled customer service and quality products.

Earlier this month, I spoke at the commencement of Trinity School at Meadow View, a truly impressive private high school school in Falls Church, Va. Most impressive was the valedictory address given by the graduating senior Beau Lovdahl, who is on his way to Princeton in the fall. The story he relates here underscores the philosophy of the Acton Institute in many ways and I wanted to share it with PowerBlog readers. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Beau Lovdahl
Valedictory Address
06/11/11

Mr. Zwerneman; Father Sirico; Trinity faculty; parents, family and friends of the Class of 2011; I thank you for making this day a reality. I would like to congratulate my fellow classmates for finally completing six years of hard work in the classrooms and on the athletic fields. I would especially like to thank our loving and supportive parents for helping us and holding us accountable to get through our schooling. Finally, I would like to thank our faculty for giving us an excellent education. Now I would like to give a brief history lesson on a man that has inspired me the past seven months of my life.

On June 6th, 1884, a talented electrical engineer by the name of Nikola Tesla arrived in New York City from Serbia. All he had was a letter of recommendation from his former boss to Thomas Edison, with the words: “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.” So Tesla began to work for Edison Machine Works company. He quickly rose from working on simple engineering matters to working on the company’s biggest problems. Edison offered Tesla 50,000 dollars to redesign the company’s inefficient direct current generators. This sum was worth 1.1 million dollars in today’s money. The very next year Tesla had redesigned the generators and asked Edison for his bonus. To this Edison replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor,” thus refusing the promised payment.

Having been refused a raise in pay, Tesla resigned his position and left the company. Tesla was forced to dig ditches to make ends meet. Yet while he was doing this he began planning a new system of power distribution, one that was based on alternating current, not Edison’s direct current. In 1888 Tesla showcased an alternating current induction motor to the American Institute for Electrical Engineering. This device would be the answer to the world’s energy needs. Tesla subsequently was hired by the industrialist George Westinghouse. Westinghouse saw great potential in Tesla’s alternating current technology for long distance power distribution. Once Tesla and Westinghouse began work, a “War of the Currents” erupted between Westinghouse and alternating current on the one hand, and Edison and direct current on the other.

Despite being slandered in a propaganda campaign by Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse proved victorious when they won the competition to power the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 with alternating current. Then Tesla designed and built an alternating current power plant at Niagara Falls that successfully powered the city of Buffalo over 15 miles away. Tesla’s alternating current proved far more efficient than Edison’s direct current, and it allowed power to be sent over long distances. This system of power is still used to this day. The way it works is that alternating current electricity is generated by a power plant. The electricity is then stepped up to a very high voltage that allows it to be carried long distances with very little power loss. Then local transformers stepped the voltage down where it can be used to light lamps or heat homes. Thus power is efficiently distributed from the power plant to the common man.

The victory of the War of the Currents cost Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company a great deal since they had to overcome Edison’s propaganda campaign. By 1897 the company was near bankruptcy. So Tesla tore up his royalties contract, freeing Westinghouse from having to pay Tesla for the use of his technology. Had Tesla not done this, he could have been the world’s first billionaire. Yet for the good of the Westinghouse Company and his vision of free energy for the world, Tesla sacrificed this fortune.

Tesla then moved to Colorado Springs where he began research on the wireless transmission of energy. In the 2006 movie The Prestige, Tesla’s assistant shows Hugh Jackman’s character a field of light bulbs that are not connected to any wires. The light bulbs are then illuminated, being powered wirelessly by a generator 15 miles away! This event actually occurred in 1899. After much research in Colorado, Tesla moved back to the east coast to Long Island, where he would test his theories of wireless energy on a larger scale. With $150,000 of funding from the industrialist J.P. Morgan, Tesla constructed Wardenclyffe Tower. Here Tesla hoped to transmit energy across the Atlantic to Paris. Yet four years later, Guglielmo Marconi made a radio transmission across the Atlantic and was credited with the invention of radio using 17 of Tesla’s patents. As a result, J.P. Morgan saw no need to continue funding Tesla’s work, since he believed Marconi had achieved what Tesla was trying to do. Tesla failed to convince Morgan that his research was for something much greater than radio. So in 1905 Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower project died and his dream of a large scale test of the wireless transmission of energy was shattered.

Tesla spent the rest of his life doing research in the fields of radio, remote control and electro-mechanically powered aircraft. He was also reported to have been working with the British government on a “Death Ray” but he never completed a prototype. The Death Ray would have been some sort of particle beam that would charge particles to a very high voltage and then shoot them at enemy armies or airplanes. Tesla hoped that this weapon would be a deterrent to war.

Tesla lived the last 10 years of his life alone in the New Yorker Hotel. He lived on a small pension from his homeland in Yugoslavia and worked on his research. Many thought he was insane. He was reclusive and was probably afflicted by an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The modern world that he helped build had forgotten him. He died alone in 1934 in his hotel room. His belongings were seized by the federal government, and his remains were sent back to Serbia.

This was an ignominious end to such a remarkable life. Yet by no means should we consider his life a tragedy. Tesla’s legacy was tremendous. All electricity from power plants today is generated and brought to us by Tesla’s innovations. After his death, the Supreme Court upheld Tesla as the true inventor of radio. He invented the spark plug device in car engines, and Tesla’s work in the wireless transmission of power brought us inventions such as the Tesla coil, which is used today to generate artificial lightning, and tuned circuits which form the basis of wireless communications today. He exemplified the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Tesla also can show us how we should view the world and the life that we graduates are about to enter. First, Tesla demonstrated us how we should view money. Second, he showed us how we should pursue our goals and interests. Thirdly, he showed us why we should pursue our goals and interests.

Tesla never saw money as an intrinsic good. He did not work for the sake of money but he used the money earned to further his work. He once said,

Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.

He used money as a means to the end of advancing his research. He did not use his research as a means to the end of gaining money. Money was of course necessary to all his work and it was the lack of money that prevented him from bringing many of his ideas to fruition. Tesla could have been the world’s first billionaire had he not sacrificed his fortune for the good of his company’s success and the furthering of his technology throughout the world. Rather, he sought greater things than money, and only used money as a means to pursuing greater goods.

Tesla pursued his ideas and interests tirelessly despite being criticized or forgotten. After resigning from Edison’s company, Tesla conceived of today’s power distribution system while he was digging ditches in New York. Before working for Westinghouse, Tesla tried to start his own company, but his investors would not fund research in his idea of an alternating current system. So instead of giving in, Tesla went back to digging ditches. In his later years, Tesla was forgotten and deemed a mad scientist. He continued his research despite this. He did not work solely for the recognition of others. Instead he worked with resolve for something greater. As the Gospel of Mark says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life.”

Tesla wanted men to live better lives through the use of his technology. Tesla’s goal in the long distance distribution of his electricity and the wireless transmission of energy was to bring men closer together in friendly international relations. Even the goal of his Death Ray was to make a weapon so potent that wars would be put to an end. While these goals may sound cliché, they were what drove Tesla to take part in the creation of the modern world. Tesla showed us that a genuine pursuit of one’s interests for that sake of interest itself and for the sake of the betterment of mankind will lead to great things. He also showed that one should be ready to sacrifice things such as financial success and fame in order to achieve one’s goals. As we go off to start our independent lives we should ask ourselves two things. First, what truly interests us? And second, why pursue that interest? The answer to these questions should provide us with the motivation to pursue our interests with resolve. Tesla has showed us that pursuing one’s interest for a great good will lead one to complete a meaningful life. He found his answer in the pursuit of happiness for the betterment of mankind. The question is, where will we find ours?

May God be with us as we enter upon our life long pursuit.