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Financial Stewardship

by Alan E. Hall.

LDS Business College Devotional
Sept. 29, 2009

Brothers and sisters, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to be with you today. I have looked forward to this great opportunity, and I feel deeply honored that I would have this moment to speak to you about things that are important, and some things that are deep within my heart. I appreciate Brother Wall’s introduction, and most of it’s true. You’ll find out that some of it is not. No, I’m just teasing you.

I come today fasting, not so much for me or for you, but for many of the people in the Roy North Stake. Lat night, I was at the McKay Dee Hospital, participating in a priesthood blessing for a man who had been my executive secretary when I was a bishop. This good brother has major heart problems, and they were going to perform open heart surgery on him this morning. So we were in a hospital room with family and friends and priesthood leaders and laid our hands on this good brother. You could feel the power of the Lord there, and you could feel of the love that was present in his room.

And on my way down here, my wife called and said, “Alan, I just received word from the hospital that the open heart surgery went extremely well. Instead of taking many, many hours they were able to do it very quickly and fix this brother.” And it looks like he is out of the woods now. And she said to me, “It’s the power of God, isn’t it, that blesses our lives.” And I said, “It is.”

If you have your scriptures with you, I would like to have you turn to Mosiah 2. If you don’t, write this down. It is the beginning of what I want to share with you around financial stewardship here today. I’ll give you a little background to this particular scripture. This is King Benjamin. He is speaking to all the good family members and all the good citizens of this great community that he oversees as king, and he recognizes that his time is about coming to an end and he’s about to announce that his son Mosiah will become the new king. But he wants to make it very clear to these good members of the Church something that is very important. And it is the basis of everything I do.

This verse represents the foundation of my life, in terms of my relationship with my Heavenly Father and the Savior. So let me read it to you. This is King Benjamin speaking, and he says, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him”—speaking of Heavenly Father and the Savior—“who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day,”—I want you to make special notice of that phrase, that God preserves us from day to day—“by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to our own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another...” Now, what I have recognized throughout my life is that is exactly the case, that the Savior is part of our life every moment of our day. He is there with us continually to keep us going, to give us breath, even, to that point.

And here’s the conclusion of that particular scripture: “I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (verse 21) For me, that is the key, then, to how we should behave. We keep God’s commandments, but we are here to be servants, to represent him. And so, for me as a stake president, I realize that I have a responsibility to oversee several thousand people that make up our stake, and the non-members who live there as well. The desire of my heart is always there, to be able to take care of these good people.

My presentation today, as you’ll see on my slide deck, has to do with financial stewardship, so I look at my financial responsibility is to help people, and that is what I want to talk with you about today. So let me go to the next slide. There is also a scripture found in the Book of Mormon that then is kind of an extension of the one I just read to you in Mosiah. Let me read this out loud to you. We are business people, and there is counsel, then, being given to us here in Jacob: “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:18-19) So, my brothers and sisters, today I give you a business talk with this as the theme, that we who will engage in business in one form or another, no matter what we are about, no matter how much money we make in business, that those riches that come to us, those financial blessings that come to us, have a unique purpose.

First of all, I think we need to take care of ourselves, we need to take care of our families. And then there will arise surplus, if we have been good managers of our money. And what then, should we do with that money? We should use it as we’re counseled here, to take care of those in need.

So this morning, for a few moments, I want to give you a little background about who I am, and how I try to follow that principle in the scriptures. So a little bit of a background about myself. I was born in Ogden, and as Brother Wall indicated to you, I served a mission to Guatemala, a place I loved. I loved the people of Guatemala, and there I learned to enjoy the Spanish language, but also to appreciate the good people that are there in Latin America, and to recognize the good people all over the earth. I graduated from Weber State in psychology, and I tell you that because I was not a business major. That, however, has served me very well in all that I do, because psychology is about the study of people and how they behave. So it has helped me a great deal.

I went to BYU after the Peace Corps, and received an MBA, so I did start to focus in on business. But at that point in time, I chose not to have a career in one particular discipline, so I didn’t go to work for Proctor and Gamble, or I didn’t go to work for Mobile Exxon, I chose to do things where I could have some leadership and I could have many personal experiences that would help me to do a better job as a leader, no matter where I might be.

So over the course of my life, I’ve had numerous jobs, and they’ve all been very gratifying to me. One of the most interesting was, I was the president of Ballet West here in Salt Lake City for a number of years, and led a dance company. It was a most unusual experience for me, but it gave me, again, leadership opportunity and always serve. I didn’t wear my tutu today.

I did recognize early on that I am an entrepreneur. And entrepreneurs, we’re a strange group of people. We’re driven to come up with ideas and commercialize them. And I would report to you in a happy way that I have had four failures in my entrepreneurial endeavors. And all four of those experiences have been costly, but they have been most valuable to me. I have learned a lot about what makes business succeed and what makes it fail. And I would just say it in one term, so you all understand it. Businesses that fail do not understand their customers. They don’t know how to sell to those customers. I’ll come another time on campus, and I’ll give you a lecture on entrepreneurism, but I want you to know that, for those of you in business, you must always take care of your customer. And in a related way, that’s what the Lord expects of us as well, is to take care of His children. So the principles you learn in business should always reflect back on the people that you serve.

I did have one great success, out of those miserable failures, and it’s a company that we’ve noted here today, called MarketStar—something that I started in my basement. I have to tell you that my blessed wife is the reason I am standing here today. She allowed me, after all these failures and ups and downs, to second mortgage our house to start a business called MarketStar.

Now, had the business failed, the six children, cat and dog, and my wife and I, would have been living in a park, in a tent, eating government cheese. The risk was huge for us, at that particular time. But she was twilling to let me engage in this business opportunity, and she had faith that I would do it. And I worked very hard to make sure I didn’t disappoint her, because I didn’t want to live in the park either. MarketStar has been a great success, but I would tell you it has come because I have asked Heavenly Father to help me with the business. We read in the scriptures that we should pray over our flocks, pray over our pastures and our gardens and our orchards. Again, the Book of Mormon gives us great counsel. So, brothers and sisters, I would tell you here today, it is okay to pray about going to school and help with your academics. It’s okay to ask your Heavenly Father to help you in such a worldly thing as a business, because it goes back to why we’re in business and what we’re going to do with the wealth that’s accumulated. So I’m grateful Heavenly Father answered my prayers and let this business succeed, and as you note, today it has become a very large business. Last year we did on behalf of our customers, thirty of the largest technology companies on earth, around seven billion dollars. We are the outsource sales and marketing team for these large technology companies around the world. So I have learned how to conduct and operate a business successfully, and there came a time back in 1999, ten years ago this fall, that I sold MarketStar to a large, publicly traded company called the Omnicom Group, and I experienced a financial harvest beyond my wildest imagination. The money that came to us was, without going into great detail, more money than I could imagine anyone would make. But I now hearken back to what the purpose of making that money was, and I hope I’ve described that well for you. It was, for me, it was to give away.

You know, to be honest with you, Sister Hall, who made a great sacrifice, got a little pot of money, and I thought that was important for this good sister to have some money, because at the end of the day, she was the one that sacrificed everything so that I could succeed. So today, she has enough to survive. She has enough to take care of all of her wishes. She doesn’t every have to worry about me again, bringing home a paycheck or failing at some business enterprise. She has, to herself, enough money to make it through the end of her life. Now, sisters, did I do a good job taking care of Jeanne Hall? I did, didn’t I. So is she the first person on the Lord’s list to take care of? She was. I think Heavenly Father would not have been happy with me had I not thought about her first.

Then, we decided, you know what? We’re going to give the rest of the money away. We won’t need it. And I’ll teach you a principle here later about that. So the first thing we did was we formed a foundation, called the Hall Foundation. And our theme is that there be no poor among us. I think that if you’ll reflect back on your scriptures, you’ll know that that’s a statement from one of our scriptures. It comes out of the Pearl of Great Price, that there be no poor among us, that we be of one heart. So that was our theme that we chose—we were going to do everything in our power with the monies that are now available to us, to bless the lives of people everywhere. And it gives, actually, more joy to me to give money away than it does to make it, because I see the great benefit that comes from it. You’ll see here, this is a list of donations, or donors, that we gave money to this year. You’ll see that LDS Business College is right next to BYU. But you’ll also notice on there, there are non-LDS groups that receive money—St. Benedict’s, Catholic Community Services food bank, St. Anne’s homeless shelter. What I have found is that it doesn’t matter what our religion is, there are good brothers and sisters out there of other faiths who also have needs, and so where we can, we try to help those.

Let me just speak briefly to this one on here, the Catholic Community Services Food Bank. We were fortunate to create and develop a warehouse, if you will, out of an old school. I served as the fundraising chairman of the campaign to raise several million dollars, and Jeanne and I also gave some money. Today, in Ogden, because there are some folks there that need special help, this year they will serve over 106,000 people meals. Well, that’s fantastic. I look at that money—the Lord would be happy that money went to feed the hungry, right? The LDS Church, through our fast offering program, will take care of the members of the Church that are hungry. But there’s another way we can help those who are less fortunate as well.

The Hall Foundation has turned out to be something that is a great blessing to us and to the people that receive these donations.

Another thing that I thought was appropriate was, let’s take some of the money to put it in the foundation, but what I really believe can happen is, if I help other entrepreneurs succeed, and they can grow their businesses and at some point in time they can have a successful financial harvest, then those entrepreneurs should do likewise. They should become charitable. We can be charitable all of our lives. It doesn’t really matter when. We don’t have to wait until we have substantial money; we can do it at any time. So I would tell you this—when Jeanne and I were Peace Corps volunteers, we were paid 11 cents an hour. How many of you make more than 11 cents an hour in here? Eleven cents an hour is not a lot of money. We paid our tithing on our 11 cents an hour, but we also found that we could take some of those pennies that we had left over and help the people of Ita Juipi, Brazil [COULDN’T FIND THIS PLACE ONLINE] So, you don’t have to wait until you’ve accumulated wealth; we’re wealthy already. We have it within our means to begin to help people already.

So I say to the entrepreneurs that we help—and we help many—that if we’re going to be a support to you financially, and we’re going to give you investment dollars, our expectation is that when you succeed, that you will repeat the process, and you will use the money as the Book of Mormon describes, to bless those in need.

So what do we do, in terms of the economic development mission that we have in helping entrepreneurs? We have a number of things that we’re about. These are our goals, if you will. Our objective is to invest in 100 Utah technology companies. To date, we’re at about 60, so we have about 40 more companies that we are trying to support. We’re in the process of educating literally hundreds of entrepreneurs in how to be successful, and what the principles are to achieve that. We are in the process of creating around 4,000 new jobs, so that people such as yourselves will have a company where you can go to work, and you can continue to grow in your abilities to contribute to your customers, your business, and the needy.

We are in the process of investing well over 15 million dollars into Utah’s entrepreneurial companies, so that we can see that they will rise. Now, we do this as individuals. We do this—we’re not connected to the government, or any other institution. This is a private initiative, where we think individuals should step up and grow our economy, and not wait for governments to do it.

We’ve been in the process over the last number of years, of organizing other Angel Investors. And those Angels, then, support the companies that we put money into. We have a program that we call Seed Utah, where we go into every community in the state of Utah, from St. George on the south to Logan on the north, and every town in between, where we talk to community leaders. We talk to the mayors, the city councils, to encourage them to support the local entrepreneurs in their community.

You’ll see in the paper from time to time that we sponsor an event called “Concept to Company.” We’ve just recently concluded one in Vernal, Utah; a new one will happen up in Ogden. The assignment in Ogden is, we look for any entrepreneur who comes up with a new, creative, innovative, outdoor recreational product. We invite you to apply, to participate, and if you win the contest, we give you $35,000 to then launch your business to make it into something successful. We don’t require anything more than just that you go out and work hard. We don’t ask to have any ownership in your business; it’s a grant to you to run your business.

We do these things in Salt Lake and throughout the state, where we invite bright individuals with good ideas to step forward and to help them.

And lastly, we have established incubators. We have one in Ogden, Logan, one in Kaysville, and this coming year, in 2010, we hope to have two here in the Salt Lake area. So if any of you are entrepreneurial or want to start a business, we’ll have a way for you to do that.

This next one is a continuation of how I can make more money. And you might think, “My goodness, don’t you have enough?” But there’s an interesting principle here that I share with you. As long as I live, if the Lord will continue to bless me, and I have the wherewithal to make money to bless the lives of the needy—remember the scripture, “If ye seek riches...”? So what I have found out is, that with the formation of another company, this is a venture capital corporation, we call it Mercato Partners. Mercato is Italian for market. So we have gone about raising 52 million dollars, we operate on a national basis, we invest in great technology companies, we focus on accelerating the sales of those particular companies. A small team of five of us, headquartered here in Salt Lake City. But the objective is this: if we do this well, we will continue to make money.

Now, I’m going to take the money that comes to me, and I’m going to turn around and you can imagine what I’m going to do with it—I’m going to turn around, and I’m going to give it to the Hall Foundation so that we can bless the lives of more people, and we’re going to take other portions of that money that we receive, and put it back into helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses so the entire state of Utah and the economy will come up where, hopefully, other entrepreneurs will continue to be charitable.

I think I know Heavenly father will bless me in this enterprise, because He knows the intent of my heart. He knows I still have to be smart, I still have to practice good business principles, but it’s my belief that He will indeed bless my endeavors so that I can do exactly what I intend to do—bless the lives of people.

A couple of these are companies that we have invested in. How many of you have Skull Candy headsets? Raise your hand. Thank you very much. We’re making money on you guys. MediConnect is a great little company here that does digital retrieval of medical records. Symphonics has a way to monitor the internet. Fusion IO [??] has a new technology for computers, and Control Four makes remotes for your home.

These five companies are, every one of them, successful. None of them are going to be a loss to us; they’re all going to make big money for us. Because we continue to grow our business around this model of being charitable first, we believe it will continue to succeed. So this next slide, I think, will continue to make sense to you as I summarize for just a moment what we’re all about. And I think it is this: if we’re going to manage the Lord’s money, and have a stewardship—and that’s the way I want you to think of it—these are gifts that He gives us, financial gifts if you will. We need to think abundantly, and not have greed in our hearts.

Sadly, in America today, there are two many companies who did not read that first sentence of mine. Their whole intent is upon them making more money and building their own, if you will, financial kingdom, and it’s not about taking care of customers or the needy.

What happens to companies and individuals who become greedy? Eventually they’re caught up with. Some of them go to prison, some of them lose their businesses. Most of them lose their families and their children in the process of the kinds of behavior that they demonstrate. So, my plea to you today is to always remember to think abundantly. It’s not yours that you earn; it comes from God. And you are there as a steward to manage that. The Lord, if you take that approach, will indeed guide your efforts, and you will want to do your best to manage those monies for a reasonable return.

As I summarize this particular presentation to you today, it’s that once we have that surplus that comes to us, is that we are responsible to assist the needy, and then continue on to help businesses grow, and to create jobs. I want you to think of this as the way the Lord has talents, as He mentions in the New Testament. He gives us a few talents, and he sees how we do with those talents. You and your wife have great opportunities to receive some talents now, and as you manage those and do well with them now and into the future, God will bless you with more talents and more talents, as you continue to follow what He would have you do in life, to bless the lives of His children.

I want you to know that I know that God lives, that we are His children, that He has created this magnificent earth for us. We come here for a very short period of time, and while we’re here, all He asks of us is that we will keep His commandments. And part of the commandments are that we love one another and reach out to those in need. And I leave this with you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Questions for Brother Hall:

Question: Would you be kind enough to tell us some of the things you learned from your best failures?

Answer: Don’t do them again—that’s the first one. We’ll talk business here for a second. Remember, I mentioned about knowing your customer well. For some reason, we Americans do the following well, which is backwards: We come up with a new idea or a new product, and it’s pretty shiny. It looks pretty nice. And then we go look for customers. That fails 95% of the time. Those that do that model—make the product first and then go and try to find customers—very rarely succeed. Some do, but it’s a rare occasion. So what would I tell you today is the right way to do it?

Go talk to your customers first, so you have an idea. But now, go talk to your customers, then go back to your lab, go back to your garage, go back to your office. Work on what the customers told you to build. Then take that product or service back to your customers again and say, “Are we close? And by the way, what about the competition? What kind of price should we ask for it?” And etcetera. “Where should this be sold?”

Then you go back to your lab again, and you again reinvent what those good customers have told you so that you come back with a good solid product. If you do that, I can tell you that your odds of success are greatly increased. Now, why did it take me four times to learn that lesson? Well, I’m a very simple man, and it takes me a while to get it. Most of you might be faster at it. But it eventually dawned on me—talk to customers first, and build your product from there. That’s probably the number one lesson. Good question.

Question: How much should we be willing to risk to start a new idea?

Answer: You know, that will vary from individual to individual. But the first thing that comes to mind is regarding my family. So how far and how much time and energy would I spend on my family? So I always tell entrepreneurs, if your enterprise should fail, could you survive for one year on whatever means you have? If you cannot survive that one year, then perhaps you shouldn’t do it, because you’ll want to make sure that you don’t harm the things that are most precious and important to you.

Now, what I counsel people to do to get around that is stay with your day job and do your little entrepreneurial things at night and on Saturday. And once you get your business up to a certain point in time where it starts to be successful, then you could venture off with a little more anticipation that the risk has been mitigated and you might be more successful at it. Most people that just jump into it—that would probably be the wrong way to do it. That’s a great question.

Question: [Can’t hear the whole question—something about what did you do when you started MarketStar, what made the difference]

Answer: Okay, first of all, since I knew I was an entrepreneur, and I was wanting to do this, my wife and I paid off the house, so we no longer had any debts. Big point. After the debts are taken care of, we figured we needed so much money to survive, and that was $5,000 a year. And that’s what I brought home. I have six kids. They don’t know they’re poor. All right? So let’s say that fundamental is in place—no debts, obligations are small, car is paid off. At that point in time, everything is very small in terms of our costs.

The second thing is, I had just been a president of a technology company that had failed, and I was trying to do some things to help that company, and I recognized what we were trying to do, which was basically MarketStar, that that would work, and it would work to help all startup companies to grow their businesses. So I knew the market for the first time. I knew there were companies that would buy the product or the service that I had to offer. We were immediately successful. Immediately we had customers, and we were immediately profitable. That was the big difference. And we likewise had no obligations that would encumber us. Great question

Thank you, brothers and sisters. It’s been a pleasure to be here with you today.

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