By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — If corporate America is supposed to be heartless and soulless, then the company behind the highly popular Burgerville U.S.A. chain in the Northwest is falling quite short of expectations.
But if, on the other hand, a corporation can care deeply about the communities it serves, and the individuals who make up those communities, then Vancouver, Wash.-based Burgerville is clearly succeeding, said the founder of a local ministry that spotlighted the company at a Portland dinner last month.
The company’s attitude is perhaps best exemplified by the mission statement it adopted in 1999: “Serve with Love,” which also happens to be the title of a new book by Burgerville chairman Tom Mears and co-written by Patrice Tsague and Teresa Jansen of Portland-based Nehemiah Project International Ministries.
Mears was featured speaker April 19 at Nehemiah Project’s fifth annual Kingdom Impact Dinner at the Multnomah Athletic Club, attended by about 200.
Led by Tsague, co-founder who carries the title of “chief servant officer” for his ministry, Nehemiah Project builds “Kingdom businesses” through a transformational entrepreneurship course called Biblical Enterpreneurship. It also provides business coaching support and access to a network of global investors.
According to Tsague, a Kingdom business is a “transformational enterprise with measurements beyond the triple bottom line to include an eternal bottom line.” In other words, such a business focuses on far more than making money — it puts top priority on values that transcend everyday life.
According to Tsague, Burgerville is doing that.
“What Burgerville did and is doing, mirrors what we teach,” he said.
The event also credited Mears for his key role in that and Tsague presented him that evening with Nehemiah’s annual Kingdom Business Award.
Son-in-law of longtime company head, the late George Propstra, Mears joined Burgerville’s parent firm The Holland, Inc., in the mid-1960s. He spent 16 years at Burgerville in management and executive positiions before becoming chief executive officer and president in 1982. He has been chairman of The Holland Inc., since January 2008. Mears was integral in the creation of the new Burgerville concept and expanded The Holland subsidiaries to include the Beaches and Noodlin’ restaurants.
Mears said not everyone in the company was comfortable with “Serve with Love” as a mission statement when it was first adopted.
“Some people left — they were not aligned,” he said. “But others (then) came because they were aligned.”
Mears said the success of carrying out that mission depends logically on how well the company’s individuals seek to reflect it themselves.
“You have to have a connection between people’s purpose and the mission of an organization,” he said.
In his own case, Mears said “Serving with Love” is an outgrowth of his own Christian faith.
“I determined my purpose in life was connecting souls with God’s love,” he said.
In the book, Mears explains that the corporation carries out its mission in a wide variety of ways. It goes beyond striving to serve customers with excellence and with local, sustainable and fresh ingredients. It also goes beyond treating its own employees well, or operating the restaurants in an environmentally responsible manner. It means giving each of the chain’s managers the freedom to support causes that they feel best fits the local community.
By 2005, Burgerville had launched its own Center for Responsible Community Leaders, where managers and staff learn that servant leadership is an important part of the company culture.
“We exist to help create thriving communities throughout the Northwest,” Mears said. He identified the homelessness problem and the lack of jobs for young people as current issues that the company desires to help tackle.
Burgerville’s history is traced back to almost a century ago, when George’s father, Dutch immigrant Jacob Propstra, founded a creamery in Vancouver in 1922. That business transitioned into the full-service Holland Restaurant, and then into the current Burgerville chain. It is a journey, said Mears, that has been going on for close to 100 years. “Who knows where we’re going to go next?” he said.
Mears asked the audience members to ponder how the Burgerville mission could be matched within their own endeavors.
“We’d like you to consider whether the mission of ‘Serve with Love” might fit your business,” he said.
After Mears’ talk, Tsague outlined the goals he and his team at Nehemiah Project have set for their business-oriented ministry. He said they hope within the coming decade to influence at least 1 million people worldwide with Biblical principles for business. He said similar promotional dinners would be held in both Orlando, Fla. and in Maryland.
For more information about the organization and its worldwide reach, go to nehemiahproject.org