Despite what you may have heard on Broadway, there is no way to succeed in business without really trying. Even if you really try, however, you aren't necessarily guaranteed to succeed. There are certain things you need to know and understand. Provo resident Stephen W. Gibson, 72, knows those things and, nearly 15 years ago, made a decision to share that knowledge with some people who desperately needed it.
In 1999, Gibson and his wife, Bette Gibson, temporarily moved to the Philippines to pursue the self-appointed task of teaching business principles to Filipinos who had served proselytizing missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but hadn't been able to move ahead with their professional ambitions after returning home. The Gibsons, both Latter-day Saints, considered becoming missionaries themselves in order to advance their plans.
"We tried to get a mission call, but there weren't any missions like that at the time," Gibson said.
So, taking a page from his own successful career in business, Gibson recognized a demand and created a means to fill it. In 2013, the Academy for Creating Enterprise (stoprmpoverty.com) has trained more than 3,400 Filipinos, expanded operations to Mexico (about 1,600 trained), and is preparing to take its programs to Brazil, Indonesia, countries in Africa, and elsewhere. All in the name of helping young Latter-day Saints in developing nations who find their lives stalled out after returning from missionary service.
One of the people who's been trained by the academy is 27-year-old Rambo Ruiz, who lives in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Ruiz's first venture was a food cart business that he launched with his wife (they met through the academy) and a business mentor friend. It only lasted about four months, with Ruiz and his wife getting up early and working late each day, but failure didn't faze the young businessman.
"We were selling the wrong product to the wrong crowd," Ruiz said. Yet even though it didn't pan out, he said, "My wife and I have always thought that we were successful because of all the experience we gained." Spoken like a true entrepreneur.
Of bedsheets and rice cookers
Across the Philippines and in many other nations, Gibson said, there are numerous LDS young men and women like Ruiz who have ambition and, in many cases, education (up to and including college), but can't get jobs. When he gathered together his first crop of students in 1999, two-thirds of them had degrees, but they either couldn't find work or were underemployed.
"We had one student who had a pharmacology degree but was putting together Timex watches in a factory," Gibson said.
In the beginning, the Academy for Creating Enterprise was a residential training center. The Gibsons rented a large house in Cebu City and turned it into a boarding school. Well, one of them did.
As her husband focused on the big picture, Bette Gibson took charge of the details. "I would say to him, 'Well now, you realize that we're going to need one of those huge rice cookers. We're going to have to have towels and soap, and beds and pillowcases.' Those things were sort of beyond him," she said.
There were other problems to deal with as well. Gibson said that, in the Philippines, there's a culture of restraint and fear of failure that holds people back from pursuing business ideas. "The general way of thinking is, 'Don't try to start something, you'll only fail,' " Gibson said. "Especially in the Philippines, everyone is taught to be an employee."
Also, Gibson said, people in developing nations tend to think of business in terms of necessity, rather than opportunity. "They're forced into starting businesses because there are no jobs," he said. "They see what their neighbors are selling and they say, 'I could do that.' Pretty soon you have 100 people selling flowers."
Initially students came to the academy for eight weeks, and Gibson would teach them about business. At first, his presentations were off the cuff, but the Gibsons quickly adapted. "I took notes on the things Steve would teach and turned them into lesson plans," Bette Gibson said. Eventually, she said, they developed five volumes of curriculum.
Onward and upward
Success stories began to accrue. Gibson said that one woman now has 200 employees. There's a man who grew his small business to include 95 franchises, and another who now manages 18 realtors. Eventually, as interest spread, the Academy for Creating Enterprise shifted its operating model. Steve Mann, a member of the academy's board who lives in St. George and supervises operations in the Philippines, said that the academy outgrew its residential phase there.
"As a residential program, we could only train 125 people per year," Mann said. The academy instead compiled its training materials into a package program that could be conducted anywhere. The program can be set up in any city that has any sort of conference-style meeting place available to hold classes. Nobody has to travel to attend the academy, and the academy doesn't have to provide room and board to students.
Now, in the Philippines, Mann said, "we're able to train about 10 times as many people at about a tenth the cost."
The academy also has 52 chapters in the Philippines, where graduates hold monthly meetings to network, get further training and help each other out. In Mexico, there's still a residential program, but academy graduates have 40 chapters across the country.
Ruiz, in the Philippines, never misses a meeting. "I learn many things such as defining your segments or target markets, and different marketing strategies," he said. "But above all, attending chapter meetings adds strength and courage. As fellow alumni share their struggles and triumphs, I learn new ideas and gain answers to questions."
After his food cart business fell through, Ruiz never even thought about throwing in the towel on his business career. Instead, he created a business to provide assistance to companies in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom with mundane tasks like research, data entry, calendaring, search engine optimization and more. Your Offshore Team launched at the end of 2010 with 10 employees. Two years later, business is thriving and Ruiz is preparing to transition to a business model more like a U.S.-style temporary staffing firm.
Ruiz doesn't mind that it took some struggle to get where he is. "When I am being stretched," he said, "I am learning. It's refreshing to look back at those moments."