In God’s Company by Peter Lupson
Discover more about God through the stories of Victorian Christian businessmen and how they changed their world
In God’s Company
By Peter Lupson
Reviewed by Terry Young
I first came across Peter Lupson when I read Thank God for football!, so I was ready for interesting stories with humorous asides that would tell me how Victorian Christians changed their world. I was not wrong.
I love Peter’s way of preserving and reposting important narratives from our Christian heritage that are being erased from the curriculum and public debate. I didn’t know, for instance, how many of our top clubs were set up by Christians, nor why they did so, until I read Thank God for football!
This time, Peter’s focus is business rather than pleasure, so he picks seven Christian men who either died or were born in the 19th century and whose businesses are household names. Most you will know: William Colgate, Thomas Cook, William Hartley, Henry Heinz and James Kraft. The rest are known through their products: Henry Crowell (Quaker Oats), and Anthony Rossi (Tropicana).
It’s not just that they were successful businessmen: they were the very best. One became the largest supplier of animal feed, although we remember him for his breakfast brand. Another opened one of the largest jam factories in the world.
It’s not simply that they were influential Christians, although they were. While we think Heinz means ketchup, 57 varieties, or beans, the obituaries of his day recalled him foremost as a ‘churchman.’
Lupson tells us about real people, who experienced tragedy and failure and went the extra mile. When Henry Heinz went bankrupt, he kept a log of all his creditors and paid each back in full. Henry Crowell’s health was so poor, his prospective mother-in-law stopped the engagement, lest her daughter become a young widow. When they finally married, the marriage was tragically short.
And there was usually a seminal encounter with God that changed their lives, sometimes mid-career.
The book is fun in its own right – short biographies bursting with optimism and energy. We encounter Thomas Cook, for instance, sleeping on the floors of the trains he had filled with working class passengers intent on seeing the beauties of nature or enjoying their first cultural experience. For 150,000 of them, that meant a trip to the Great Exhibition at The Crystal Palace. We watch James Kraft trying to measure the impact of the new medium by advertising a little-known product on TV – MacLaren’s Cheese – which started jumping off the shelves straight away. I love the way Anthony Rossi worked out how to get his fruit juice from Florida to New York without spoiling.
Peter can’t quite keep the door shut on football (or maybe these Christians couldn’t quite stick to a single script) and there is a nice episode in which Hartley helps to extract Everton from Anfield and sets them up at Goodison Park.
As well as innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, there is a strong theme of care for the work force – building a garden village, funding a pension pot for all workers, writing to those who fought in the war. There was also a colossal investment in churches, hospitals, and missionary work.
The first message is that Christians have played a significant part in creating the world we now enjoy – not accidentally, but because they set out to live and act as Christians. They changed the ethos of a world that believed honesty, looking after workers, and keeping promises were bad for business.
The second message is that we all have a responsibility to live rounded Christian lives, to worship faithfully, to work well, and to be generous.
I was most interested in connecting their Christian qualities with their business leadership. For instance, William Hartley used business methods: he set up an investment company so that a group of Methodists could fund themselves out of a hole they had dug for themselves with an overambitious building spree. Peter has given me enough material to know where to look for more information.
Whatever your interest, I think you will find new and exciting things by reading this, and discover more about how God works. And it won’t take you very long to do so.
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia