An Engineer-Turned-Baker on What Is the True Quality of Life

Income differences are often the result of career choices and training. For instance, few would expect an engineer and a baker to make the same amount of money. But what if you’re an MIT-trained biomedical engineer who decides to open a bakery? Well, clearly, the true quality of life isn’t based on finances, but on fulfillment.

In other words, if baking means happiness, all the money in the world couldn’t make Winnette McIntosh Ambrose happy being just an engineer. That was the quality-of-life choice that led Ambrose to open Sweet Lobby Café in Washington, D.C.

“It was during my post-doc at the NIH that I had the bright idea, I could do two careers. Why don’t I open a shop while doing my post-doc?” Ambrose said of her decision. Eventually, however, “as a small business owner I had to decide where to place most of my energies.”

Ambrose said years later, she still gets questions about why she left her “prestigious” career to focus on patisserie cupcakes. Most people are curious how she would leave her breakthrough field of vision-saving technology for something less “honorable” or “needed.”

She has a quick answer. Ambrose says that whatever one’s career choice, it is the right one if it means fulfilling a higher calling.

“As human beings we’re created with one purpose, and that is to glorify God, and that is to do that in whatever sphere we might be in,” she said.

Being a business owner means working long hours, but it also means flexibility. For Ambrose, it was attractive to have a few hours in the morning to play with or take her child to school. She learned along the way, that having a business also meant she could expand quality of life for others.

“I started to consider what a business really meant. It meant a community where you can provide employment. You have the an opportunity to do something else that I love, which is to mentor young people … It’s amazing to see the transformation.”

Winnette McIntosh Ambrose’s story is part of a new documentary called “To Whom is Given,” which looks at business owners’ faith-based decisions to help the common good.

Click here to learn more about Winnette McIntosh Ambrose and “To Whom Is Given.

How Journeyman Electricians Were “Gifted” a Second Chance to Succeed

Second chances are easier said than given. But that doesn’t mean there are no second chances. In fact, one electrical engineering firm decided that it was going to invest in second chances, and since then, business has snowballed.

For the Weifield Group in Denver, Colo., it was an evolution, and then, ultimately a conscious decision by the company’s owners to create an environment where people were involved in something bigger than themselves.

Why? Not just because it generated a lot of work, but because it was the best way to take advantage of “God’s gift” of leading a profitable business.

“God gives you different ‘giftings’ and if you have that business gifting and you can excel within business, you can capture a big audience,” said Karla Nugent, chief business development officer of the Weifield Group. “Being in that position where you can have an area of influence and affect people positively is powerful.”

“The construction market can be a rough trade,” said Seth Anderson, CEO of the Weifield Group. “We decided, ‘Hey we can do this, we can do this better. We can provide the quality. We can provide a good place for the employees to learn and develop new skills.'”

Becoming a journeyman electrician takes four years of training to complete. Weifield decided to start an apprenticeship program that lasts up to four years. That includes 40 hours of work per week and health insurance.

For many of Weifield’s 300 employees, that kind of on-the-job training has been a lifesaver. Many of its apprentices are ex-felons or recovering addicts who truly needed second chances. Being an ex-felon often makes it difficult to find decent work.

Not every company can afford to provide this kind of intensive and expensive on-the-job training. But for Weifield, it enabled the company to raise its skills and provide solutions to serve its clients, and it raised its business game to the next level.

Now that the company is flourishing, Weifield is expanding its outreach to help charities and community organizations, not just run a company.  Nugent said the growth is no surprise even as it keeps changing.

“We’re all blessed with all these talents, you know? How do you do something that’s bigger than build a building?”

The story of the Weifield Group is part of a new documentary called “To Whom is Given,” which looks at business owners’ faith-based decisions to help the common good. Learn more about the Weifield Group and “To Whom Is Given.”

Secular and Sacred: How Faith Inspired Business in the Great Outdoors

Faith gets dismissed a lot in this day and age, but for those who believe in God, whatever their religion, a true love of the Almighty is an inspiring mechanism from which to launch a business.

Indeed, a faith-inspired business is what Greg McEvilly set out to do after he started his path toward the ministry and then realized he had a knack for entrepreneurialism.

McEvilly combined his faith with his go-getter instinct and launched a company to inspire people to adventure and life-affirming experiences.

Watch More Stories From To Whom Is Given: Business For the Common Good.

Kammok, based in Austin, produces outdoor items like climbing gear, hammocks, and tents. But it’s more than just the products. McEvilly said he was interested in the way the business could “have a transformative impact on a broader scale.” Adventure never seemed so epic.

“We want to use adventure very strategically to help produce something greater in people, so we hope that adventure produces humility, curiosity and wonder,” McEvilly said.

Watch More Stories From To Whom Is Given: Business For the Common Good.

The customer transaction is just the beginning of the cycle.  Travis Perkins, who manages customer experience, says that the products are not the endpoint but rather that the company is “an outpost that is equipping and inspiring and moving the mind.”

McEvilly said business is as good a means of sharing the word because it is not limiting communications with like-minded people. Instead, customer interaction means dealing with people with a diverse set of beliefs.

And even though McEvilly’s name has “evil” in the middle, we couldn’t think of a nicer guy to get people off the couch and into creation.

The story of Kammok is part of a new documentary called “To Whom is Given,” which looks at how businesses can help the common good. Click here to learn more about Greg McEvilly and “To Whom Is Given.”

The Gift-Giving Blues: Are Bad Presents Worse Than None at All?

If you struck out on gift-giving this year, pleasing no one and getting nothing you liked, maybe next year just hand over cash. Or maybe not.

In a recent article, economist and free market happy warrior Arthur Brooks said that the word from economists is that “gifts we buy others are worth up to a third less to them than what they would buy for themselves if we just gave them the money instead.” So, really the value of our gift-giving is less than the value of our dollars.

But that sounds a little grinchy so Brooks looked into whether the old saying that “it’s the thought that counts” really means something. Apparently, he found, social science says the adage only goes so far in a relationship. One study showed that individuals are more likely to perseverate on the meaning and intent behind a bad gift than the meaning and intent behind a good one. Not much good can come from blowing it when giving a gift to a loved one, but hopefully the relationship is strong enough to survive.

On the bright side, Brooks writes that the research shows that giving the perfect gift isn’t all that important for people in new relationships.

In a 2008 study in the journal Social Cognition, four psychologists conducted an experiment in which young men and women who had just met gave one another gift certificates. Unbeknown to the participants, the researchers manipulated the gifts, giving half of the recipients popular certificates, and the other half embarrassing ones.

Let’s consider this from the point of view of a participant. You sign up for an experiment to help out a professor, because you’re a good person. You meet an attractive person in the experiment, and give him or her a certificate to a nice bookstore. Maybe he or she will go out with you later, right? It turns out the researcher switches your gift for a certificate for something like acne cream. Perhaps someone should do a study about why psychologists don’t want you to be happy.

So what happened in the experiment when the participants got a bad gift? The answer depended on gender. Women who got an undesirable certificate shrugged it off, while men who got bad certificates judged themselves to be very dissimilar from the women who gave them. In other words, it’s easier for women to wreck a new relationship with a bad gift.

Fortunately, in perhaps the most unsurprising finding of the decade, scholars in the science journal PLOS One published an article in 2013 with the self-explanatory title “Women Are Better at Selecting Gifts Than Men.” Somebody actually might have gotten tenure figuring that one out.

Meantime, psychologists counter that people are happier when they focus on the meaning of the holidays rather than the mercantile rituals associated with them, leading Brooks to reveal some simple truths.

Try to give people what they value, but if you mess up, it isn’t a big deal to the people who truly love you. Above all, give of yourself, and share your faith and affection abundantly.

So, did you get the gift you wanted this holiday? And if not, are you mad at someone for the gift you did get or for the one you didn’t get? If you are upset, you may want to reevaluate your relationship. You may also have missed the reason for the season.

Read Arthur Brooks’ article on gift-giving here.