By J.D. Newman
Over the summer, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Zambia with the Baylor MBA program. Baylor University is building a partnership with Northrise University, a young private Christian school in northern Zambia. Our purpose as MBAs was to partner with business students at Northrise and each group work on a consulting project with a business or organization headquartered in Zambia. One such project was working with a billboard company who held a monopoly on the market of outdoor advertising in its city.
When we arrived in Zambia, we left the airport and were met by a large fluorescent billboard that straddled the road and read, “We are everywhere! Advertise with us!” Then a few hundred feet away another brightly colored billboard, and another, and another, all owned by the same advertising company. These billboards peppered the roadside all throughout the city, and even some of the roads out of the city. A couple of the traffic circles were fenced in by five or six billboards by this company, all painted bright colors, and all loudly proclaiming the benefits of advertising with them.
The striking thing about these billboards was not the massive number in the city, or even the brightly painted metal poles that held them up, but the fact that the large majority of them were not occupied by a local business. Almost all of these billboards were unused, and instead advertised for the billboard company, claiming enormous business growth if a young entrepreneur or business could get their hands on one of these spaces.
The student group assigned to work with this company did their research and felt they had some good recommendations and were excited to share how they could help this business gather more customers and utilize all of its wasted space. When the presentation finally came around, the owner was not interested in their insights. He felt that since he owned about 99% of the market share with virtually no competitors that he was doing everything right; it didn’t matter that he had so many unused billboards. In the end he wanted to keep things the same and believed businesses would eventually flock to him when they realized all the benefit he could give them.
The sad thing is that this owner’s billboards could add value to local businesses if he were willing to adjust his model. He couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t come to him when he had something great to offer, why should he go out to the community? If his focus were to shift from himself to others it would be mutually beneficial.
And here we are with great churches in needy communities wondering why people won’t come in.
In Matthew 5:14, the gospel writer recalls Jesus saying, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Perhaps today the analogy might go “You are a bright billboard, your fluorescent painted poles can’t be missed!” We have something of great value to offer to others. If we allow ourselves to get too caught up in how many of us there are, or how few competitors we see, we can lose our focus, which is to serve others and meet them where they are. Let us not sit back, so confident in our value offering that we expect others to come to us.
J.D. Newman is a CBF Leadership Scholar in his final year of the joint M.Div/M.B.A program at Truett Seminary and Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He currently serves as a Resident Chaplain in Martin Residence Hall on Baylor’s campus.