Meeting New EoC Member Andrew Gustafson of Communion Properties
We’re happy to welcome new EoC member Prof. Andrew Gustafson, of Communion Properties in Omaha, Nebraska.
Pete Benedetto recently had the chance to interview him.
Please tell us about your work in academia:
I have been a professor of business ethics at the Heider College of Business at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska for the last 10 years. Although I teach business courses, I have my PhD in philosophy and so that affects the way I teach about business, ethics, and society. Philosophy asks the questions “what are you doing?” and “why are you doing it?”, which are questions that every person should ask themselves, not least of all people within business. I believe that every function of business – from marketing to finance – has the power to transform culture and society. I have found a small way to do this with my own business.
Please tell us about your business and its mission:
I have a real estate business buying, rehabbing, leasing and managing residential properties. I created this business in 1999 while I was studying for my PhD at Bethel College. My first real estate project came about when I had a ‘mid-life crisis’ of sorts, because I was nearly 30 and I felt all I had ‘created’ was a stack of research papers. I needed to also do something less cerebral and more connected to physical reality, and I was looking for a way to maintain ties with my hometown of Aurora, Nebraska.
I bought a house for $15,000 in Aurora and transformed it into my first rental property. I really enjoyed the process and reward of restoring a decrepit building into a home. There is a ‘redemptive’ quality to the work—and I do see my work renewing these buildings as being in line and in the spirit of God’s desire to renew and redeem creation. I went on to purchase, rehab and manage seven more rental homes within my hometown. After completing my studies, I moved to Omaha for the position I now have at Creighton. My wife and I decided to live near school, Gifford Park, which was known 10 years ago as a not-ideal neighborhood, with occasional knife-fights, prostitutes, and shootings. The first house was a Triplex I lived in which had been previously known for drugs and dog fighting in the basement. One thing led to another and and we now have 22 homes in Omaha.
One of the most rewarding things beyond the redemption aspect of rehabbing buildings is that owning this business has given me the chance to provide employment to homeless people and others dealing with various struggles. This is not always easy, but it gives me the chance to provide work and dignity to those in need. These folks have also become some of my close friends. We’re lucky to be in a walkable neighborhood where we know our neighbors, many of whom are our tenants, and to be directly invested in the community we live in. I feel blessed to have a well-integrated life where my day job and my ‘hobby’ of transforming homes are aligned.
How did you learn about the Economy of Communion?
I was at a conference in the Philippines on business solutions to poverty where I met John Gallagher and Michael Naughton. John and I had a series of really good conversations and when John heard about my interests and work, he told me about the EoC and recommended that I look into it. I did. Then he invited me to the EOC conference at Catholic University in Washington D.C. this summer, and I went to it and loved what I heard.
The conference in the Phillipines had inspired me to launch an MBA class at Creighton entitled Business, Faith and the Common Good, which then led to the formation of an institute of the same name. The Institute was created to “to promote discussion, collaboration, and research which help understand the relationship between business and faith, and how business can contribute to the common good.” I had begun a symposium by that name in 2014, and so for this year’s symposium in October of 2015, I invited John Gallagher to present, and also to speak in my MBA class and discuss his new book Structures of Grace, which is a survey of the business practices of the EoC in the U.S. So now we have a class, a symposium, and an institute aimed at the integration of faith and business, and EOC is a good fit for that concern.
Why did you choose to get involved?
The EoC’s focus on gratuity and reciprocity really stood out to me. The values and the vision of the organization fit with the work I’m involved in. The idea of connecting with like-minded people who I could learn from, be encouraged by, and, in some sense, be accountable to, really appealed to me. When making decisions within my business, I can now ask myself ‘How would others in the EoC look at this? What would they do in this situation?’ I wanted to connect with people who are intentional in running their businesses in a certain way. Other EoC members are model exemplars for how to do things better. The EoC helps help me to be more structured in putting into practice the ideals I’ve been trying to run my business by.
Tell us more about how the EoC’s philosophy affects your work:
Through reading the EoC’s literature, I gained a deeper understanding of the principles of gratuity and reciprocity – looking at the marketplace as a place of “gracious exchange”. The emphasis on the humaneness of business transactions – the fact that every business exchange involves and affects real people – provides a needed perspective that is often overlooked in our society. The EoC embodies and gives structure to the concept of what business is supposed to be about. I attempt to put this into practice when dealing with my tenants and others I encounter through my business.
What do you hope to contribute to the EoC?
I can start with what I personally have to contribute: First, I can promote EOC and help people learn about it through my classes and institute events. Second, I am a thinker and communicator, and I teach philosophical concepts to business students– which involves making complex concepts understandable. I’d love to help the EoC communicate with various audiences and be a sounding board for how to best convey our mission and work. I’d like to help other EoC entrepreneurs spread the word about what the EoC is and through this to inspire others to think about the role and potential of business the way the EoC does.