Entrepreneurism: Navigating a Brutal Sport

byLaura Bernero & Drew Yancey

Drew Yancey is the President and CEO of Yancey’s Food Service in Loveland, Colorado and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. On June 15, he will moderate a panel discussion on “Caring for the Soul of Entrepreneurs,” alongside other business leaders who have seen the front range erupt as a hotbed of entrepreneurship.

We spoke recently about his work, and his passion for the development of great entrepreneurs in our region.

Tell us about your current work life. What is your work, and why is it important to you?

For my “day job,” I wear two hats. I lead a produce merchandising and distribution business based in Loveland, which is a spinoff from a family foodservice business that we sold a couple of years ago. Additionally, I do organizational effectiveness consulting with a firm called Peak Solutions, which is run by a good friend of mine named Richard Fagerlin. My family business was one of Peak Solution’s first clients years ago, so in some ways I have come full circle! The fact that I consult other organizations while leading my own keeps my perspective and my counsel grounded in the practical realities of leadership. The tools and resources I implement with my clients are the very same tools and resources I have utilized and developed with my own teams.  

You are passionate about the moral formation and development of entrepreneurs and leaders. Tell us how you got into that space and how you stay involved with the entrepreneur community today.

Fundamentally, I am passionate about it because I have personally experienced how difficult it can be to stay focused on the right things in the world of entrepreneurship! The question I have come to dwell on is, “How can Christian entrepreneurs be successfully engaged in modern entrepreneurialism, which values the material and the immediate, and also succeed in moral formation, which is a long and slow process?”

Entrepreneurship is a very powerful tool for social and economic progress, but it often enacts a heavy toll on its participants. The high-failure rate among start-ups is well known; what is less talked about is the personal struggles that entrepreneurs can face at deep levels, whether or not their companies ultimately succeed. I want to come alongside other entrepreneurs and support them in this journey, and help others do the same.

How has your faith informed your career journey? How do you live out your faith at work?

I think that depends on how we define the concept of “faith.” I tend to prefer the term “trust” because I think it captures something that is fundamental to human experience — we are by nature finite beings, which means that trust is mandatory and not an option. The question becomes, then, in what am I placing my trust? The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth offer a very compelling story about where we come from and in whom we can trust.

In my own organizations and in my consulting, I hardly ever encounter a “business problem” that isn’t entangled at some dimension with human relational challenges. This isn’t surprising given that any organization — no matter its industry, size, product or service — is essentially an interdependent group of human beings that depend on trust and healthy conflict to succeed. Seen through this lens, organizations provide abundant opportunity for followers of Jesus to make meaningful and long-term impact in the lives of those they work for, with, and alongside!

What are unique opportunities that entrepreneurs have to live out their values at work? Do you have a local example of someone who does that well? 

Entrepreneurship is an extremely brutal sport and I think to some extent we have glossed over that reality in our culture. Let’s not forget that the concept of entrepreneurship has its origins in what Schumpeter called “creative destruction.” What this means is that opportunities truly abound everywhere for people engaged in the world of entrepreneurship to serve those around them. I would suggest we have something of a crisis of authenticity in entrepreneurial culture right now — the extreme pressure to obtain traction, scale, and funding is not necessarily a conducive environment for founders and organizations to be authentic about their struggles and shortcomings. Long term, I think this can be a detriment to social and human well-being if we are not pushing back against the norm.

I have been very blessed in my own life to be able to directly observe value-driven entrepreneurship by close mentors, not the least of which is my dad, who I worked for and with for a decade in our family business. One of the common denominators I have observed in entrepreneurs who have succeeded over the long-term is a focus on achieving financial and operational benchmarks in a way that contributes to the well-being of an organization’s many stakeholders.

Coming up on June 15, you’ll lead a workshop called “Caring for the Soul of Entrepreneurs” at Denver Institute’s event “For Whose Glory?” What excites you about this event?

This is going to be a uniquely impactful conversation! We have an incredible panel lined up — each of them successful in their own ways, but also committed to meaningfully addressing the challenges of the entrepreneurial lifestyle. DIFW has been leading innovative dialogue between local church communities and business communities for several years, and this type of conversation is a prime example!

 

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LauraBernero

Laura Bernero is our blog curator, overseeing both internal content and contributions from our amazing network of writers. She loves all things creative communications, acting on the belief that we all resonate with great narrative and connect to one another through story. In addition to her role at DIFW, she manages media storytelling campaigns at SE2, a Denver-based communications agency. She was 5280 Fellow in the inaugural 2016-17 class and can’t wait to see the program continue to empower leaders throughout Denver in their unique gifts and callings.

DrewYancey

As a dually engaged theologian and business advisor, Drew straddles the worlds of faith and work. Alongside his role as VP of Leadership Partners, he is a business advisor helping clients solve challenging problems at the nexus of risk, strategy, and innovation. He has more than a decade of strategy consulting and executive leadership experience across multiple industries. His career started in the food industry, where he was the Director of Strategy for a top 50 foodservice distributor, helping lead the company through its acquisition by a top five distributor. He then became CEO and led the turnaround of a produce merchandising and distribution company. After that, he was a consultant at Clareo, helping Fortune 500 clients create new growth paths. Drew has a master of divinity degree from Denver Seminary, an MBA from Texas A&M University, and a PhD in religion from the University of Birmingham (UK). He is an adjunct professor of theology at Denver Seminary and author of the forthcoming book, Transforming Enterprise. Drew is an avid traveler (having visited nearly 40 countries) and proud fifth-generation northern Coloradoan where he lives with amazing wife and three kids.