Perkins examines the role of faith in business

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Editor’s note, Sept. 30, 3:00 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout.

Co-founder and CEO of Ambit Energy Jere Thompson, Jr had a strong message for those in attendance at the Faith & Business luncheon on Monday: “be the finest and most respected and never sacrifice integrity for growth.”

The motto was the focus of the luncheon, which provided a forum for business professionals and community leaders to discuss how faith influences their decisions and professional life.

“This is not only for Christians; this is for anybody of faith, of whatever faith,” said John Martin, Director of Development at Perkins School of Theology, which sponsored the luncheon.

The luncheon takes place twice per semester and was held in the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Great Hall, which was filled with more than 100 people. Among those in attendance were speakers Jere Thompson, Jr and Bruce D. Marshall, Lehman professor of Christian doctrine at SMU.

Thompson co-founded Ambit Energy in 2006 with Chris Chambless. From the beginning they set out to be the finest and most respected company and adopted the motto “Never sacrifice integrity for growth.” Ambit performed as they’d hoped, growing exponentially and expanding from Texas to New York.

It wasn’t long before Ambit’s motto would be put to the test. Four consultants moved customers from New York-based energy company Con Edison over to Ambit in order to get commission. When Ambit began receiving emails and calls from customers who didn’t remember switching energy providers, the guilty consultants were identified and terminated.

Rather than sweep the incident under the rug, Ambit sent emails to every consultant in the company informing them of what happened. Ambit also called the New York Public Service Commission as well as Con Edison.

“We knew that this was a cancer,” Thompson said. If nothing was done to stomp out the dishonesty he feared the company would grow out of control.

The decision paid off. The New York Public Service Commission and Con Edison thanked Ambit for their honesty and said they were the first energy company to ever volunteer that information. Emails from consultants thanking the executives for protecting their reputations poured in.

Thompson mounted the motto, “Never sacrifice integrity for growth,” on the wall outside the Ambit executive office and continues to live according to it.

Thompson equated exaggeration to quicksand and said that a long-term sustainable business can’t be built on quicksand. “Build your foundation on rock,” he said. “Build it on truth.”

Bruce D. Marshall, professor of Christian Doctrine at SMU, built on Thompson’s story of the Ambit motto by exploring whether integrity and business could exist together from the Christian perspective.

Marshall explained that for Christians morals are only good if they foster love for God and neighbor. Principles only have integrity if they intend benefit of the neighbor above all else.

It is for this reason that Christians are skeptical of whether business occupations are compatible with the pursuit of holiness, Marshall said, using himself as an example to argue against that assumption.

Marshall explained that being a theology professor demands that he put the good of his students above his own. “If I fail to do that I’m not acting with the integrity my vocation demands but I still expect to be paid for it,” he said.

Marshall emphasized that acting for the benefit of a neighbor doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from that action. As long as the benefit of the company is not being put before the benefit of the customer the business is sound.

He warned to never put the good of the business over the good of customers and public at large. “It’s not just good business,” Marshall said. “It’s good faith.”

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