Capitalists get a bad rap in popular culture. In the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko infamously said, “Greed is good.” It’s also easy to cite more recent, and non-fiction, examples of greed and avarice in the corporate boardrooms: Enron, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Big Short,” Bernie Madoff.
However, a closer look at the vocation of entrepreneurship reveals these examples to be outliers. The real story of entrepreneurship is one of innovation, creativity, and service.
Take, for example, the story of Bryan Owens and the story of Unclaimed Baggage.
In 1970, Bryan’s father Doyle Owens bought some unclaimed bags from a bus company and sold the contents on folding tables in a rented house in Scottsboro, Alabama. The idea was an instant success. Doyle Owens and his family started working with other bus lines, and then with the airlines. Unclaimed Baggage grew to be one of the largest retailers in Alabama.
Bryan Owens bought the business from his father in 1995, and today Unclaimed Baggage Center takes up a city block and attracts more than a million visitors a year to northeast Alabama, making it one of the largest tourist attractions in the state. Unclaimed Baggage puts about 7,000 new items into its inventory every day, and it gives away thousands of items to Christian and other charities each day as well.
Like his father before him, Owens is a committed Christian, and in part because of his participation in the Colson Center’s Centurions Program – now called The Colson Fellows – he has carefully thought out ideas about how a Christian worldview should inform the running of an entrepreneurial venture.
“First and foremost,” Owens said, “I want my identity to be in Christ, and not as a businessman. I am a Christian first. My vocation is entrepreneurship. And for that reason, we talk a lot about stewardship here. Everything belongs to God, and we have the privilege and responsibility of being stewards of God’s resources.”
Owens continued, “Chuck Colson introduced me to Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper said, ‘There is not one square inch of creation over which Christ does not declare “Mine!”’ Owens said that famous quote from Kuyper had a profound impact on him. “All aspects of creation, including our business and my vocation of entrepreneurship, are under God’s sovereignty”
Because of that “Kuyperian” understanding of the world, another concept important to Owens is the idea that there is, as he puts it, “no divide between the sacred and the secular.”
To explain what he means, he tells a story. “We have an employee in Scottsboro named Margie,” Owens said. “She’s about four-foot-seven and works in our housekeeping department. She’s one of the most important members of our team.” Why? Owens explained that because Unclaimed Baggage Center has become a tourist destination, people often travel long distances get there. Typically, one of their first stops when they arrive is the bathroom. That vital first impression often defines a visitor’s experience, Owens said, so Margie’s work is vital to the overall success of the organization. “I make it a habit to tell her that, because it’s true,” Owens said. “And Margie loves her job because she knows it’s important.”
Owens said his understanding of Margie’s role in the success of his company comes directly from his Christian worldview. “[Martin] Luther wrote about the importance of the common laborer and how that work is as sacred as that of the priest, if the work of the laborer is done in faith,” Owens said. He then cites another writer studied in the Fellows program: “Francis Schaeffer wrote a book called No Little People. That’s true and we try to run our business that way.”
He added, however, that being known as a Christian entrepreneur carries with it an increased responsibility. “We do our work as unto the Lord,” he said. “But if we don’t do our work with excellence, people don’t care about what we believe.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s much more to the story of Bryan Owens and Unclaimed Baggage Center. To hear more from Bryan Owens, including a discussion about generosity and passing on your values to your children, listen to Warren Smith’s complete conversation with him at the BreakPoint podcast, found here.
Also, Robert Sirico of The Acton Institute, will speak at The Colson Center’s Wilberforce Weekend May 18-20. His topic will be “The Vocation of the Entrepreneur.” To find out more about The Wilberforce Weekend, go to www.wilberforceweekend.org
If you know of someone “restoring all things” by exercising their gifts in unusual and effective ways to the glory of God, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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