Question & Answer

   Doing the Right Thing

David Lucas

     David Lucas is Chairman of Bonita Bay Properties, Inc., a family-owned development company, in Bonita Springs, Florida, and is a member of the RTS Board of Trustees. With degrees from Purdue University and Harvard Business School, last year he was one of the first laureates appointed by Junior Achievement of Southwest Florida to the Lee County Business Leadership Hall of Fame. He serves on the boards of several foundations and corporations, including the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Bonita Springs Community Foundation, and the Lee County United Way. His development company and its properties have won scores of awards over the years and recently received the development industry's highest honor, the Award of Excellence for a large-scale residential community from the Urban Land Institute.

     Lucas joined Bonita Bay Properties in 1984 and, as chairman of the board, has fostered a corporate culture that focuses on an uncompromising commitment to integrity, innovation, and environmental stewardship. The company, which includes three master-planned communities, seven golf courses, and 950 employees, is credited with setting a new standard in environmentally responsible development.

Q. How do you live out your faith in your business?

A.  The acid test for me is "Am I doing the right thing? Is it God-honoring?" Our company's vision statement is "The right team, creating the right community, by doing the right things," in short, "Do the right thing." We hold every decision up to that scrutiny. Some might think right and wrong are ever-changing values, but a Christian knows that the absolute truth of the Bible never changes. It is not merely the prevailing social attitude. I think people instinctively know right from wrong; that's the job of our consciences. I'll admit that if one does wrong over and over again, his conscience will become numb and doing wrong won't bother that person as much as before. But that doesn't change whether something is right or wrong, and, deep down, people know it.

Q. How does this philosophy work out practically in your business?

A.  Recently, we verbally accepted (no contract) a bid on one of our hot pieces of property, and later a higher bid came in. We said, "What should we do?" It took us about two minutes to decide to accept the lower bid even without a contract because we had made a moral commitment to that person. Reneging on our commitment to him would have been easy because he had some questions about the purchase. We could have said, "We were just in the negotiating phase and didn't have a firm contract." But our core value is, "Do the right thing." We gave our word to accept the bid, and we did, even though it meant losing $300,000.

Q. What do you mean by core values?

A.  Core values define who you are, and who you are determines what you do. You have to know in advance what you believe instead of reacting in a crisis. Even if situations change and your core values work against you, you still maintain them. The four core values in my life are my Christian faith, my family, my work, and my community service. Of these, my faith is the most important because, not only is it a big part of my life, but it is what determines my values. My faith provides the framework for my decision-making and helps me identify the important things in my life. My community is an important value because I believe we should help others whenever possible. I believe we are put on this earth to be good stewards, to take good care of our gifts and possessions. There is no such thing as a self-made man; everything we have comes from God. It is our responsibility to use them in such a way as to honor Him. Nothing honors Him more than helping others.
Some might think right and wrong are ever-changing values, but a Christian knows that the absolute truth of the Bible never changes.

Q. Have you experienced God's blessing by doing the right thing?

A.  Sometimes in the short run, as in the business deal just mentioned, it has hurt us. But in the long run, it actually does help in the business world. When people know that your word is good, you get credit for that over a period of time. People want to deal with a company that they can trust, that will stand by its commitments.

    Over the years, selling property and homes has been easier in certain cases because we have a good reputation. For example, we have been developing Bonita Bay for some fifteen years. Recently, we started another community nearby and had a much better than anticipated first year in sales, even though we had no finished homes to show. Many purchasers said, "Normally we wouldn't buy this early because we can't see the product, but we know Bonita Bay is building this community, so it's OK."

Q. How do you apply Christian principles internally within your business?

A.  By respecting the individual. Humans are made in God's image and deserve my respect as His creatures. I want to do the right thing by my people, rewarding them any time I can. I want to create win-win situations. The world looks at competition and business as win-lose - if I win, you lose. It's much better for everybody if we can ask, "What is important to both of us? How can we each get what we want?"

Q. How do you think the marketplace could be changed if Christians lived out their faith?

A.  By bringing about more win-win situations. If business competitors could deal more openly with each other and determine what each wants, negotiations would be much easier. If employers could build trust with employees, the workplace would be more pleasant. The old style of management -- "command and control"-is not biblical. Someone sits at the top of the pyramid and gives orders to everybody, who all run around to carry them out. The Bible calls for servant leadership, where an employer tries to make it easier for his people to do their jobs well. He delegates responsibility and decision- making authority, and he tries to respect and trust his employees. In turn, they respect and trust him.

    How one treats people is more important than what one pays them. If they are treated with respect and an employer assumes they will do the right thing, his employees are a lot happier. In fact, people are very uncomfortable if an employer asks them to lie cheat and steal. However, they respond very favorably to statements like this: "We're in this for the long haul, and we want you to do the right thing. Our creed is, 'Exceed expectations.'"

Q. Do you feel that your faith has deepened in trying to live for God in your profession over the years?

A.  It's deepened over the years, probably as a result of the hard times rather than the good times. We've had some tough times, both in business life and in personal life. When your faith is tested, that's when you grow. A year and a half ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. I wrote a letter to all my employees right after that. The last paragraph of it reads, "I hope that you will include my family and me in your prayers. My faith in Jesus Christ is strong. I know that He will see us through this trial. I believe that God has a plan for each of our lives and we can trust Him to know that it is the right plan. Thank you in advance for your support." My wife had breast cancer three and a half years ago - also a very difficult time for both of us. However, God has turned that trial into a positive experience also.

Q. What advice would you have for a person just beginning to live out his faith in the marketplace?

A.  Avoid the temptation to take a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Look ahead to the next thirty or forty years; don't allow issues in the next year or so to control your thinking. Be patient and be willing to do the right thing. In the long run it will be best both from a spiritual and business standpoint. Above all, be true to your faith and become a servant leader.

    Finally, determine your values, those principles that are important to you. The Apostle Paul said it best to the Philippians: "Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Know what you believe, so that when the storm comes (and it will), you have made the tough decisions and can do the right thing.

Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 2
© 2000 Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.

Last updated 7-17-2000.