Seizing Opportunities and Becoming a Work of Art
By Herb Buller Share page


In his book, Finding Flow, author Mealy Csikszentmihalyi talks about the tension between our work and our times of leisure. The conundrum is that many people don’t find joy (flow) in either one. How do we find flow? He says,

it is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art”.

Clearly, all of us want our lives to be a work of art that is pleasing, but too often our work of art is a blur. As followers of Christ we must do our best to emulate His teaching in our daily lives. And this is the only way to be sure you are creating a work of art!

HERB’S FIRST BUSINESS VENTURES
My parents were immigrants from southern Russia, now the Ukraine, arriving in 1924 in Manitoba. My father was a maintenance man all his life and it was his dream to own his own machine shop. It never happened. I fulfilled my parent’s dream of getting a University degree and entering the teaching profession.

I had financed my way through University by running a small business with a friend pouring concrete sidewalks and driveways. Even after we graduated we maintained the business in our spare time.

However, I was restless. Even though I enjoyed teaching, I felt restricted working in a very controlled environment. I loved the outdoors, the independence and the challenge of business. I had also learned the power of multiplication on the bottom line when one has employees.

OPPORTUNITIES
And then an opportunity appeared. A small precast concrete manufacturing plant which included a 30 by 40 foot building, a cement mixer and some moulds was for sale. I took that opportunity to quit teaching and go full time into business. Together with one employee we manufactured concrete lawn ornaments, flower pots, bird baths, concrete laundry tubs and sidewalk blocks.

The risk was minimal; I had my permanent teaching certificate so I could easily get back into teaching if the business failed. My wife Erna was a registered nurse, so of course she could keep bread on the table if our earnings were meagre. My partner continued to teach, working in his spare time on sales without his salary affecting our overhead. It was perfect. We just knew we would succeed and yet we were cautious.

Our business grew quickly and within one year my teaching partner joined the business full time and we took the opportunity to purchase a well equipped precast concrete plant that was for sale just down the road from us.

Around that time I established my business philosophy:

I will glorify God in my business. I will do that by applying Biblical principles in everything I do.

This was certainly an idealistic goal. I failed often; blurring the picture I was painting making it plumb ugly. You can imagine the blur with poor colors, jagged lines. I think it is called dissonance.

Since then I have come to realize that the best principals to run a business really are Biblical, be the business secular or Christian.

I cannot understand the present lack of integrity and the deceit that is so prevalent in government, business and so called religious enterprises. Yet at the same time I can see how easily it can happen. The temptation to stretch the results to please the bank or shareholders, the ego that must be fed, the fear that bad news will ruin your reputation with loss of employment. The greed to earn exorbitant profits motivates us to compromise what we say and what we believe. “After all,” we say, “we’ll correct our little lie in the next quarter.”

I quote Alan Giagnocavo from his article in the latest Marketplace magazine published by MEDA. He says the following,

“I love making money honestly and with integrity. I love the results money can bring.”

I resonate with that.

INTEGRITY
I’m reminded of this example from our early years: we were calculating our hourly wage as the day wore on. In the first hour we already knew that we were earning twice the salary that we had earned working in our hourly job. As the day passed it only got better and as spring turned into summer we were into big dollars. Life was good.

And then one morning the supervisor showed up. He was livid. His face was red, he was gesticulating wildly and of course he was shouting almost incoherently but the message came through loud and clear. “If you guys do one more shoddy job like this one, you have lost the contract for the rest of the project!”

You can imagine our shock and concern. This was our only customer. He had given two teenagers the opportunity of a lifetime by giving us the contract to pave all the driveways and sidewalks for all his houses. The loss of this contract could mean disaster for us.

And now we had an opportunity again, this time to prove to our customer that we were worthy of his business.

The next driveway was a new ball game. We paid no attention to the time it took rather we paid detailed attention to the quality of the work that was expected. We watched Willy the foreman’s face as he inspected our work. He smiled his approval and walked away. He became our greatest fan and steered more than one customer our way after that.

I have never forgotten that lesson. Do what you say you will do. Under promise and over deliver became our motto. Since that lesson in integrity (because this really was an issue of integrity) we would hear the compliments again and again about our workmanship and when we did falter we were told that we were the only sub trade that responded to service calls. We always made sure that we corrected the problem.

The concrete business was good but the problem was the winter months. That business is dead in winter and the only thing we could do was to build inventory stretching our bank loan to the limit. Of course it was a good time for holidays as well but we were aggressive and wanted to keep on growing our business.

ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY
A friend in the furniture business suggested an opportunity in manufacturing kitchen cabinets. We jumped at this opportunity. It made a lot of sense. We had experience in business, we had gained some confidence in our business skills, the customers who used our concrete products also needed kitchen cabinets, one of our new partners was building apartment blocks so he would be a captive customer, and our other partners were in furniture manufacturing They could give us all the help we needed to learn about wood.

Thus in 1971, Kitchen Craft of Canada Ltd. was born and today even though we sold the business it continues to be a leader in supplying quality cabinetry in Canada and the United States.

PICTURE OF YOUR LIFE
In a letter to his son, Theodore Roosevelt said,

“...without hard work you certainly cannot make a success in life.

I agree, and it has been my experience that hard, focused and intelligent work makes a huge difference in the success of a leader.

Hard work is another word for sacrifice and leaders do sacrifice much to make the organization successful. Erna and I remember the planned trips we had to cancel because of business pressures, the events we had to forgo due to other deadlines, the late meals while waiting for me to come home because an emergency had kept me much longer than we had planned and the numerous times Erna had to miss her events because of me. But the greatest sacrifice was the trips I made leaving Erna with our teenage boys for more than a day and sometimes even for a week. Those were the toughest of times for her and for me as well when I phoned home and heard about the latest escapade. Too often success comes at the expense of family and our society is strewn with the wreckage of broken homes and delinquent children because of it.

I must say that we are blessed with a strong family and great relationships. Thank God and thanks to my wife Erna who kept everything together.

OPPORTUNITY TO GIVE BACK
In the spring of 2002 we were invited to an HIV/AIDS conference in New York. It was sponsored by World Vision and we were challenged by the speakers and interactive discussions to do our part in helping to alleviate this terrible disease. This was again an opportunity for us. It moved us into a brand new arena of experiences.

We came home determined to do our part. We thought we could organize a fund raiser. Erna’s idea was to have a small group of people, let’s say 40 or 50 hear the challenge and get involved. My idea was to host a large banquet to raise a substantial amount of dollars. For a change I won and we planned a gala dinner which was sold out with more than 500 people in attendance.

The speakers included an HIV positive lady from Zambia and Canadian Stephen Lewis, the special envoy to this epidemic for the UN. We raised more than 1 million dollars that evening and all of the money is being used very effectively in an African village called Nanoko in Zambia.

A clinic has been built, health care workers have been trained, schools have an HIV/AIDS prevention program, houses have been repaired, clean wells have been drilled, animals have been purchased and the people are learning trades like carpentry, welding, tailoring and agriculture. It’s a 15 year project and because of the partnership with World Vision and the local leadership it is an ongoing success.

We have been blessed with the ability to help others. Giving brings us joy, for as I said before. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

I am now officially retired, as I have turned sixty-five. I wonder what my work of art looks like at this point in my life. Is it a fine work of art or is it a meaningless blur? I think my dad would be happy and proud even if my painting does have the odd smudge.

The challenging and more important question is this. Does the work of art please my Creator?


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