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Close-up: Ivan Filby

Point Loma's new business dean has faith at the heart of his vision

Teaching business principles at a Christian college might seem like a tough sell.

Ivan Filby, the newly appointed dean of Point Loma Nazarene University's Fermanian School of Business, believes it's just the opposite.

Entrepreneurs, he said, can use their business acumen to do God's work by strengthening a community's economy and, therefore, its hope and prospects for a better life.

"I do feel business, often within the church, gets a bad name," Filby said. "People feel called to be a nurse or an educator or a doctor or a pastor, but there's a sense that being called into business — people think that's like being a lawyer or a politician. It's like the lowest of the low, and it’s not. It's a wonderful, wonderful calling.

"I think it's very close to the heart of God, in which you can make a very significant difference in the world."

To illustrate his point, Filby explains how Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, is responsible for lifting more people out of poverty than Mother Teresa by the sheer number of jobs created by the superstore.

Dr. Ivan Filby is the new dean of Point Loma Nazarene University's Fermanian School of Business. Staff photo: Laura Hansen

A native of England and a former co-pastor of a church in Dublin, Filby has always been a man of faith. He's also taught business administration for his entire professional career, beginning with tenure at the prestigious University of Dublin: Trinity College — at the time a sister school to Oxford and Cambridge.

But Europe's educational system didn't provide him with an outlet to combine his two loves. Professors can either teach Christianity at a theological school or business at a public university, but there are no private schools to do both.

So, after a chance encounter with a couple who graduated from a Christian school in the United States, Filby sold everything and moved his family to Illinois so he could teach from a faith-based perspective at Greenville College, a small Christian school just outside of St. Louis.

"There was something in terms of [the couple's] quality and their character and their ability to think about business [in a Christian way] that I thought, 'Wow, someone has done something that I've not been able to achieve at a major university,'" he said.

Filby, who considers himself an educational innovator, sees similarities between God and what a budding entrepreneur is trying to achieve.

"I really feel, theologically, that God is a creative God," Filby said. "He gives integrity to people. He gives hope to people. He sees value in people, and that's often what an entrepreneur does. An entrepreneur is someone who sees a need that has not been met, figures out ways to meet that need, and in the process, creates value, gives jobs to people and helps create community.

"I just see those characteristics as something so close to the heart of God, and I just want to encourage that. It excites me."

Filby, who was the University of Dublin's director of international student affairs, has worked with people of all different faiths, studying how faith informs the way people do business. He believes that employing one's faith can help people make better business decisions.

Faith helps people pursue the "triple bottom line," or the idea that success is not measured by the financial aspects of a company, but how it looks after the planet and the people of the world.

Faith also helps strengthen people's character, Filby said, leading to a more productive work force.

"What faith can help us to do is it can give us a sensitivity to the bigger picture," he said. "What is my motivation for this? How can I help build into my customer base? How can I help bring a positive change to my customers or my suppliers?

"What it does do is help us be more humane in the way we run our business. And that's the way I want to live my life. I want to be someone who can run a profitable enterprise but lifts other people up and gives them dignity and worth."

Filby likes to walk the campus frequently, visiting with almost every member of the business department on a daily basis. He does this so he can find out how he can help "pull out the greatness in them that I believe God's already put in them," he said.

Filby is in the process of reshaping the school's undergraduate programs, and he has plans to add majors in finance, economics and marketing. He'd also like to add a fifth-year, intensive MBA program at the graduate level, allowing people to come in and get their master's in one year.

Filby also would like Point Loma to open a business incubator, in which members of the community could get office space along with tips from the school's undergraduate and MBA students.

The school would have an equity stake in each venture, providing a significant revenue stream if the incubator churns out successful businesses.

"I'd like us to be the premier Christian business school in the nation," Filby said. "I'm a dreamer; I can plan. I think it's easy to have a vision. [But] a vision's no good unless you know how to get there, and I think we're already making good plans to get there."

The school has begun to implement a series of executive education courses, the first of which is being offered in negotiation strategy, starting this month. A second one will be added in real estate.

He's also starting to look at the possibility of international double degrees. Students would spend two years at Point Loma, then study at a university abroad for a year, before finishing up in San Diego.

"I think that's important because our competition is now global," he said. "It's no longer Texas or somewhere else [in the United States]. It's all over the world. So we need to have the ability to think and manage internationally."

Filby said it's important for Point Loma not only to prepare its students to run a business from a faith-based perspective, but also to run a successful business.

"I want someone who can really run a business, create value and then say, 'By the way, my motivation for this is because I love Jesus,'" Filby said. "That's what I want to see. Witnessing at work is about being good at what you do, being faithful at what you do and being excellent at what you do. And they're the kind of business people I want to see."

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2 UserComments
Rene Girard 11:36am January 9, 2013

Thank you for this article ... as a Christian trying to expand my business it was definitely of interest to me

Leah Swearingen 11:28am January 5, 2013

Hi Doug: Thank you for this great feature. I think very highly of Dr. Filby, and serve on the FBEI Advisory Board. Keep up the great work!