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Experiences: Letting Go

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nicola_sanna-840x560My name is Nick Sanna and I have been involved with the EoC here in North America since 2005, when I was invited to one of their annual meetings. Anne Godbout, in sharing her recent experience as an EoC entrepreneur, asked me to share one of mine.

Typically, one would recount the experience of how a new business came about, but this time I feel that I should share my experience of last year, where I let go of the business that I was leading.

I was interviewing a possible new recruit, when I realized that I had lost the passion for the business. For the first time, I had to ‘force’ myself to come up with arguments to make the opportunity look attractive to the candidate, as if I were an outside recruiter versus the CEO of the company.

This was unlike other inevitable moments of crisis that I had encountered during my 12 years with the company. Those were growth crises, that helped me realize that we had reached a plateau in our company growth and that we needed to challenge our status quo to find new and better ways to reach the next level.

This time it was different. Something had to change in my life, on the personal and family front as well on the professional side. Not sometime in the future, but at this very moment of my life.

2015-06-26 19.24.58My wife had been talking about wanting to go back to work, to feel an active part of the community and not to lose touch with her culture (she’s French) for a few years now. I had been supportive in words and intent, but suddenly I realized that this had to become our decision, not just her decision, and that I needed to make time to be with her for that. My oldest son would soon go to college and suddenly I realized how many family moments I had sacrificed because of professional ‘obligations’.

At work, we were faced with important decisions such as re-writing our software product to expand our addressable market. I had lost my drive and felt that it would be wrong to continue just because I had a good position and salary and came to the conclusion that it would be best to come up with a transition plan, pass the baton back to the company founder and take some time off.

My wife understood that I wanted to make this change for good reasons and was supportive throughout, but nervous nonetheless. My children were hoping that I knew what I was doing and that things would turn out for the best. My friends of the Focolare had been good listeners along the way and encouraged me to go ahead. I was turning to God frequently. I wanted to do all this for Him and to be a better husband and father. I was asking Him to guide me along the way and I confess that there have been moments were I doubted and felt as if He was not there. What would follow was unscripted.

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College visit at JMU

Brainstorming with my wife Corinne led to her realization that she didn’t want to go back to her old line of work (she’s a Computer Science Engineer) and that she might have a knack for teaching to teenagers… A year and a half later, she managed to complete her teaching degree and she is now happily teaching French language and culture in a new local high school. Without me re-taking my fair share of home tasks like cooking, washing, looking over the children and just being there for her, that wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t realize how demanding teaching is, but I have not seen her this happy since we moved to the DC area.

“Really?”. This was my oldest son’s reaction when I accepted his request to play a part in his film club’s new short movie, Escape. I must have said no too many times before. We had a blast shooting it and being part of this project with his friends. Also, the trips to visit colleges together allowed for much needed quality discussion time. To top the summer off, learning how to kite-board with the boys while enduring many crashes, salt-water drinking and muscle sourness strangely felt like a big reward.

For years I had been complaining about the spoiling of our kids as we lived in a privileged suburban environment. As I was out of a job and living off a separation agreement and no immediate job prospect, we had to pay closer attention to our expenses and live a bit more simply. For the first time in years, a ‘no’ to a certain expense or activity was assumed by all as a family, including the children. The children internalized that extras are not a given and started managing their budget much more carefully, incl. looking for discounts or selling items they were no longer using.

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With Paige Pilarski of RiskLens after a customer meeting

On the professional side, I am now a partner in RiskLens, a software start-up that quantifies cyber security risk. This too, has been a providential development as the job appears to be better tailored to my skills and aspirations than my previous role. One of my colleagues is also involved with the EoC, which helps us to look at every tasks through the lens of the culture of giving, to continuously re-focus on what matters and to achieve a better balance with our lives outside of work.

There would be many more episodes to share but I hope that these few provide a glimpse into our dynamics of this past year and a half. This Thanksgiving weekend in the US appears to be very fitting for sharing this experience, as my heart overflows with gratitude to God for giving me the courage to ‘let go’ and follow Him in this phase of my life.

… As for the next experience, I would like to hear from another EoC member and video producer: Edward Roy…

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Meeting New EoC Member Andrew Gustafson of Communion Properties

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vegasWe’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.

asm_100_0690I 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?

11709731_10206235699403986_429014817643093876_nThe 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.

EoC featured in Leaders in Development Seminar at CUA on Nov 4th

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“The Economy of Communion: Social Entrepreneurship Fostering Integral Development”

Cruz-Zuniga, Martha C.
Martha Cruz-Zuniga, Program Chair

The Chair of Integral Economic Development invites you at the Catholic University of America on Wednesday, November 4th, for a seminar with Nick Sanna. Mr. Sanna is the COO of RiskLens, a cyber risk management software company.

Nick is a regular lecturer at universities across the US on the subject of social entrepreneurship. He is a board member of the Economy of Communion initiative in North America and is an advisory board member of the school of business and economics at CUA. Nick received a masters degree in Economics and Trade from the University of Rome La Sapienza.

Food and drinks will be served afterward. Our seminars are free and open to the public!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015
5:10 – 6:30 PM
McMahon Hall, Room 201
The Catholic University of America
620 Michigan Ave NE
Washington, D.C. 20064

Please RSVP to allenmm@cua.edu

EOC Meeting 2016 | June 10-12 | Mark Your Calendar

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The dates and venue for our annual conference of the Economy of Communion (EoC) have been set. So please mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information as we get closer to the event.

University of St. Thomas

  • The University of St Thomas in St. Paul, MN has kindly offered to host the event, following last year’s presentation of the EOC as part of the Higher Calling series.
  • The meeting will be held on June 10-12, 2016. 

Experiences: Relocating to a New Office, Together

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Anne_NIC_100My name is Anne Godbout and I started Spiritours, a tour operator specialized in spiritual journeys and pilgrimages, in 2003, as an EoC business.

Before the end of last year, we had to find a new office space as our lease ended December 1st, 2014. I gave birth to my first born in May 2014 and was on maternity leave. Up until October I found very little time and energy to visit office spaces for rent with my little one, therefore employees started to worry since I hadn’t confirmed anything… I started doing more visits, then rumors started to go around in the office that I was looking for a space close to my house and some employees didn’t like this idea because it was far from their home.

header-english-v11I was actually looking for a location near my house (and close to a subway station), but I was also looking in different areas of the city, including the area where our office was at the time. My assistant convinced me I should come and speak with the employees to clarify things. At first I didn’t want to consult them because I thought i would become an endless debate since each probably had their own criterias and priorities.

However, because she asked me, and I knew she was doing it for the best interest of everyone, I scheduled an appointment and took the time to prepare a power point with pictures of the top 5 spaces I had found and details on where it was located, how far it was from a subway station, the office layout plan…

Spiritours-1Before I showed them the power point, I asked them to fill a short survey (individually) to know what their priorities were. I explained to them I didn’t want a debate nor a vote, but wanted them to be able to express what they thought was the most important and give them an idea of the options we had. At the end I asked them by email to tell me what were their top 3 places among the options we had and why; this helped me know what they really thought.

My first choice would have been an office close to my house that was brand new, but I had to give it up, because it was the most infamous for its location, so I picked my second choice which was the first choice of most employees, even though it needed important renovations. I negociated the terms with the owner and got him to take care of some renovations that he started almost right away since we only had about one month left to prepare everything…

Spiritours-3I hired a general contractor and a decorator for the renovations I had to take care of. They all did such a great job and respected the delays. There were so many things to do, I didn’t know how I was going to manage with the baby, daycare in Montreal is hard to find, there are long waiting lists and my baby was only 6 month old. I remembered my neighbor had a home daycare, so I asked if she had space and if she could take my baby part time, she had one space open, so she accepted right away, that was for me a manifestation of God’s love for us.

We managed to do everything on time. When the moving company finished to pack their truck with our boxes, we hurried to the new office and I surprised them with a beautifully decorated reception hall with new sofas and… pizza! We had a lot of fun together that day, we goofed around and ended the day with some beers, feeling exhausted but proud and very happy.

One thing my employees didn’t like about the former place was the layout, they were 4 in one office and 3 in the other one and when they were all on the phone at the same time, it was hard for them to concentrate, so they liked the idea of individual offices in the new space, but at the same time they feared to be isolated from the rest of the team and lose the family spirit, so I arranged it with the owner to make openings the size of a window between some offices so they could see and talk to their team partners and exchange files (they work in pairs). We also have lots of communal spaces like the kitchen, the living room, the welcome hall and the meeting room where we can meet and chat to keep building relationships everyday. We even have an oasis of silence (prayer room).

Spiritours-4The next Monday after the moving, each employee found a little cactus in bloom and a welcome note handwritten from their boss on their desk.

I keep hearing from the employees that they really like the new office and I can feel the atmosphere is very positive! We did the inauguration in February and a priest who leads pilgrimages for Spiritours blessed our new headquarter. They even talked about this event in the medias.

Next I want to hear an experience from Nick Sanna…


Greetings from Montreal

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Anne Godbout sent us a few pictures of their latest EOC meeting held on Oct. 11, 2015, along with this note:

“Local EOC meeting over a delicious brunch at Spiritours’ office today in Montreal, Canada. We had a wonderful time! Then we went to visit Francois Luc’s new shoe store in Boucherville, another EOC business.”

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Meeting New EoC Member Kathy Troxell of Turning Point Benefit Group

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kathy-troxell1We’re happy to welcome new EoC member Kathy Troxell, of Turning Point Benefit Group in Frederick, Maryland.

We recently had the chance to interview her.

Tell us about your business and its mission.

I co-founded my company, Turning Point Benefit Group, in 1994 with my business partner, Tom Pignone.  Our mission is to help people make better financial decisions through our financial planning and investment advisory services. The question we asked ourselves at the outset was, ‘How can we add value to people’s lives?’ From the beginning, we chose not to follow the prevailing advice to build our business by pursuing wealthy clients. Rather, we chose to accept clients of all sizes, while remaining sustainable.

How did you learn about the EoC?

I was watching a program on EWTN and there was a couple being interviewed that referred to the EoC and the work of Mundell and Associates. My first thought was, “There’s an organization doing this?!” I was excited to learn that there were people out there who sought to run their business in the same way we did. I had to find out more. I found the EoC website and emailed Nick Sanna. He invited me to a summer family retreat called the Mariapolis in Virginia a few weeks later and I had the chance to go and learn more about the EoC and its core values. It was an incredible experience.

Why did you decide to get involved?

There are lots of resources available for building businesses (like coaches and industry experts), but none focused on the ‘why’ of business, just the ‘how’. We held similar ideas to the Focolare and the EoC before hearing about these organizations. We had always strived to build human-centered principles into our business, but we were looking for a more structured and concrete way to accomplish this. We sought to build charity into our business and the EoC seemed like a great way to do this. Up to now, our charity work has been separate from our core business activities and took the form of sponsorships and volunteering. We see becoming part of the EoC as an opportunity to change the fabric of the business to reflect our values.

I really appreciate that this is not just an opportunity for myself, but it involves a commitment from our entire business. This is a great chance to engage all of our employees. Our younger employees have a strong desire to connect with the deeper mission of our work. They realize that life is not about making it to the finish line with the most money and they are truly driven by a desire to help others. As a result, they are championing the EoC initiative internally.

What do you hope to contribute to the EoC?

Being quite new, I’m in the process figuring that out. I’m starting with an attitude of being present and open, and going from there. Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I hope to contribute towards helping the needy and sharing my experiences with others and helping them incorporate the principles of the EoC into their own businesses. I am really excited to meet other EoC entrepreneurs and I hope to connect with the others in my region. One initial idea is to have an event where entrepreneurs host other EoC members in their places of work to demonstrate what they do and talk about why they do it. It could be a really great opportunity to share ideas and build relationships!