Three Business Lessons from George Bailey

We have been exploring Christmas Classics for justice lessons.  We looked at Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, A Christmas Carol and The Nativity.  Here I resurrect a post on my favorite movie – It’s a Wonderful Life and lessons from the key character, George Bailey.

It’s a Wonderful life

The movie is fundamentally a contrast between the businesses of Henry Potter and the Bailey Building and Loan.  Mr. Potter agrees with our godfather and does all he can to acquire more at the expense of others.  George Bailey agrees with God our Father that a just business is personal.

I hope you know the story.  George wants to leave small town Bedford Falls to advance in business and build big bridges and other great buildings.  George’s father tells him he believes they are doing something great by helping neighbors achieve the dream of owning a home.   George comes to understand that truth.  Here are three related lessons any business owner or leader can learn from George Bailey.

Lesson 1 – Business is a tool to serve others.

George saw this modeled by his father.  In a famous exchange with Mr. Potter after his father’s death he said it this way:

“Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why, in the 25 years since he and his brother, Uncle Billy, started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers?”

Helping others benefits an entire community and business can be a tool for that purpose.

Lesson 2 – Profit is not about money.   

George saw money as a tool to serve others.  First he gives his college fund to his brother.  Then he gives his dowry to neighbors to survive a bank run.  We see him giving money to a young woman so she can get away.  George is a giver, not a taker.  By contrast Potter is always taking as much rent as he can from his slums, as much money as he can from the bank, and even justifies stealing money from George, lying, and seeking to have him arrested.

Do you justify taking more or are you just in giving to others?  The apostle Paul said, “Whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of knowing Christ.” Php. 3:7.  And what does it mean to know God?  Jeremiah tells us it means to “give justice and help to the poor and needy… that is what it means to know me, says the Lord.” Jer. 22:16.

Lesson 3 – No man is a failure who has friends. 

George understood putting the needs of others ahead of himself.  But sometimes we don’t see the impact of our sacrifice and service toward others.  George didn’t.  When he faced bankruptcy, jail, scandal and ruin, George panicked.  But he and others prayed and God provided a wonderful gift – to see what the world would have been like if George had never been born.  That was a dramatically different world.

We need business owners who care about their people, community and customers.  Little acts of consistent kindness make a big difference.  When George needed help people came running to help him.  While the movie closes with a toast to George, the richest man in town, we realize that George always was the richest man in town because he saw business as a tool to serve others, knew profit was not about money but loving neighbors, and that no man – or business – is a failure who puts others first.

This year Gospel Justice Initiative is looking for “just” businesses.  We want to partner with you to serve your people and community.  We believe your business is meant for something bigger.  Eternally bigger.  Explore that with us. Visit our site.  Whether with us or others know that “Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.”  Ps. 112:5.

Just as everyone came together to help George, use a year-end gift to help someone in need.  Lots of people joining together can make a big difference.  Join our year-end campaign to Advance Justice.

In 2017, let’s avoid being Potter’s and be more like George Bailey.  It really is a wonderful life when we live for others.  Have a blessed New Year.