We are kicking off a new series on the blog where we'll share stories of marketplace leaders who are living "The Nehemiah Way", utilizing their skills and talents to serve the Kingdom with passion and purpose.
This month, we are pleased to introduce you to Bill and Chris Lesner, a father and son duo of marketplace leaders who inspire us to live and work with more Kingdom purpose.
Bill Lesner, vice president with Project World Impact and a business consultant, retired from a 37-year career with General Motors, helps students at Wheaton College's Business and Economics Center. Through the Mock Interview program he coaches students to make outstanding impressions on potential employers. He estimates he has interviewed, counseled, or mentored more than 400 students in six years.
How long did you work for General Motors and how old were you when you started?
I spent close to 40 years with G.M. and loved almost all of it. I started working part-time at Cadillac Motor (right near the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit) when I was just 17 years old, as a freshman engineering student. I started “full-time” with G.M. six years later, when I graduated with my engineering degree - and also completed my MBA at University of Michigan while on a G.M. Fellowship.
What were your major assignments at G.M.?
One of the great things about working with a large international company like G.M. is that there are a lot of opportunities for different types of assignments. I think I had 15 to 20 different assignments during my career. I started out in Manufacturing Engineering basically setting up the machinery and equipment for new engine plants for Cadillac. I also managed engine and car assembly plants, being the Director of Quality for G.M.’s Powertrain Operations and Assembly Plants, and for about the last ten years, I had executive assignments in Japan (as an interface with Isuzu), Australia (on the Board and in charge of Customer Satisfaction and Quality for Holden), and in Germany (helping to set up plants in emerging markets). I retired and moved to Chicago when G.M. went through their financial difficulties at the end of 2008.
As a Marketplace Leader, how did you integrate your faith with your work life?
To start with, I find that there seems to be an assumption behind questions like that - and basically the assumption is that you have two lives - a “work-life” and a “faith-life”. However, the Bible says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it unto the Lord” - it’s all one life. This is a topic that I could talk about for an hour or two.
There were times in my career, where being a person of faith was not very difficult, and it seemed like I could clearly see how I was being used to impact other people’s lives in a positive way.
However, there were other times when standing up for my faith wasn’t very easy, like when in a manufacturing plant environment. Many manufacturing plants at that time were extremely authoritarian, with constant demeaning and foul-language, and a lack of respect for people - that’s a tough environment for a believer. The key for me was to think about the “why” … why was I in that situation and what did God want me to accomplish? It wasn’t pleasant at all, but looking back, I can see how these tough times were used to both influence others in a positive way and to prepare me for opportunities in the future.
Give me your best example of faith and work alignment.
There’s a lot of great examples, but probably the best is in 1999 when I accepted a position in Japan as an interface for G.M. with Isuzu. It’s too long to share the whole story, but it’s clear that we were in Japan for much more than just the G.M. assignment. It was a “calling”. Even though some personally tragic things happened during our four years in Japan, it was almost like living in the book of Acts in the Bible. We saw “only God” moments over and over again.
It was then that I realized that God seemed to be replacing an “old model” of how to fulfill the Bible’s Great Commission with a “new model”. In the old model, marketplace folks made money so they could support full-time ministry professionals to carry the gospel around the world. However, in the “new model”, it seems like God is calling marketplace folks to use their business skills and resources to directly impact the world. There’s thousands of ways for that to happen, like my assignment in Japan; or companies like Tom’s Shoes (who give a pair of shoes to the needy for every pair purchased); or like a friend of mine who owns a company in the northern suburbs of Chicago - he pays for his employees to take a week to do ministry somewhere in the world; or like an Australian friend of mine who has started a “School of Business as Missions” in India and Nepal - which trains the locals on how to establish and run businesses that can also have a ministry impact.
Like his father, Chris Lesner is a marketplace leader whose faith is critical to the carrying out of his professional role. Read more about Chris here, and be inspired by his work at Project World Impact.
A Young Entrepreneur Taking a Leap of Faith
As I approached the end of college, I was in an unusual, but very positive, position for a 20 year-old entrepreneur. I was about to graduate with an International Business degree—and I had just been offered a six-figure salary and equity in the company I helped create and grow while in school.
But, in my heart, I knew that was not the path I was supposed to take—instead I took a leap of faith.
I turned my back on that great opportunity because I felt that I had the opportunity to actually change the world. If I could help tens of thousands of nonprofits who are in-turn helping tens of thousands of people, then indirectly, we’d be able to impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people!
That is why Project World Impact was created.
While doing some research into nonprofits, two issues became clear:
- First, there are more than 130 million internet searches per month looking for ways to get involved with various causes, which is a clear indication that people are interested in causes globally. Despite that, most nonprofits struggle to get the visibility and funding they need.
- Second, there are over a million nonprofits in the United States (both large and small) and they all seem to want to grow in the same three areas—funding, volunteers, and visibility online.
The root cause of those issues seemed to be because:
- There’s no easy way to find nonprofits
If you Google information about any cause, you may find one or two nonprofits listed, but the other 99+% remain hidden, with little hope of being found. They are at a loss as to how to generate new traffic or let people know what they do.PWI’s solution was to create a central hub for nonprofits (com) where millions of users could easily find ways to get involved in the causes, countries, or nonprofits they care about. Projectworldimpact.com is a combination of a search engine, social platform, news resource, and online marketplace.
- Nonprofits don’t use the latest internet marketing strategies and software
The best internet marketing strategies seem out-of-reach for many nonprofits. However, PWI has helped thousands of nonprofits grow their donor base, receive millions of dollars in grant funding, and reach their marketing and fundraising goals.PWI also gives nonprofits who join on the site access to dozens of cutting edge, affordable, and value-added software options that are focused on increasing funding, expanding visibility, and improving their operations.
- Nonprofits lack full-range marketing support
A nonprofit Executive Director recently commented that when he was in the corporate world, he had access to great marketing resources. However, now that he is in the nonprofit world, there are a limited number of full-range marketing alternatives who understand the unique needs of nonprofits and can work within their limited budgets.He ended up turning to PWI’s marketing services arm for that support and we were able to provide a wide-range of products and services to meet their needs at a discounted rate because they are on the PWI site.
Since PWI was founded back in 2013, we have had our share of ups and downs, but at least we have taken the first few steps in the journey to “change the world” and it’s beginning to work great—with over 2 million monthly viewers via our website and social media!