Helping leaders grow businesses and faith

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BOSTON In 2009, Rick Ferris had just sold his packaging business. The New England entrepreneur was searching for his next opportunity, one that would provide a way to express how his faith was woven into his life in business.

In June of that year, Ferris came across an ad for C12 Group, a roundtable-style advisory service for Christian business leaders. Chairman and founder Buck Jacobs started the organization in the early 1990’s with the goal of helping clients, who are members, with their businesses and their personal lives. The “C” in “C12” stands for “Christ,” and the “12” is what the program calls “the ideal number” of members, who meet in groups.

As he learned about C12, Ferris immediately knew he had to be part of it.

“I saw C12 as an opportunity to use my business, ministry, and conflict resolution skills,” he said in a recent interview. Along with his wife, Kelly, he trained to become a facilitator through Peacemaker Ministries, according to this company biography.

Ferris wound up becoming “the first Seal on the beach” for C12 in New England. Basing the operation in Rhode Island, he set about finding other like-minded executives interested in joining the group. Outside the region, C12 has dozens of branches with about 1,500 members, according to its website. Locally, Ferris faced a challenge common to start-ups drumming up business to generate revenue and create earnings to build the organization.

“C12 is a for-profit franchise,” Ferris said, with revenue supplied by member fees. “But it took some time to profit from it. We have to convince CEOs to spend one day a month with us, and to pay for it, so it’s a double sell.”

One person he signed up, Dean Harrington, the chief executive of Rumford, Rhode Island-based mortgage lender Shamrock Financial, said a key question for him had to do with whether it would be time and money well spent.

“Frankly, my biggest challenge in joining was: Is Rick Ferris worth eight hours of my time every month?” Harrington said in an interview. “The answer is yes. In terms of what I learn, I get back more hours than I spend. I’m far more productive.”

The monthly, eight-hour C12 meetings begin with a Bible reading. Members discuss the passage before moving on to the business segment, which Harrington said was “Harvard MBA-level stuff.”

December’s meeting focused on themes of compensation.

“We believe the Bible teaches paying for performance and productivity, as opposed to by the hour,” Ferris said.

“Or by seniority,” added Harrington, who participated in the same interview.

Because it was the year’s final meeting, it ended with what Ferris called an “audit.” He said that means “basically asking, how are you, how the past year has been for you.”

Members gave the questions some thought and then discussed “how they were spending time with their families and with God, how they were relating to their team” and how they were doing physically, Ferris said.

One aspect of the monthly meetings that Harrington said he finds most useful is the creation of “to-do” lists, such as setting a revenue goal for your business. Because the lists are shared with group members, “you have accountability,” he said. And there are extra incentives to accomplish the things listed.

Members are fined small amounts of money if they don’t complete each item on their monthly lists. At the end of the year, the collected fines go to a charity or organization the group chooses to support.

Another important element for Harrington is the collegial nature of the group, whose members come from a variety of business types.

“I have 17 or 18 colleagues up here, but not in the same industry,” Harrington said. “Their input is so unique and refreshing, yet we have the same view of faith.”

“It’s been life-changing and business-changing for me, and I’m only in year three,” Harrington said.

While Greensboro, North Carolina-based C12’s goal is to have groups meeting in every major U.S. city, Ferris has more modest objectives. He’d like to build the southern New England operation so that 50 companies get involved, up from 20 today.

If he can reach that goal, Ferris would have the opportunity to reach a couple of  million people through members’ employees, clients, and communities. And that would advance his personal objectives.

“My mission statement is: to use my gifts, resources, and abilities to serve and come alongside those that God has chosen to run His businesses in New England,” Ferris said.

Six years since beginning the Southern New England C12 operation, Ferris has signed up 20 company leaders to become members.

“We got some young start-ups to join, so we have some new, younger people,” Ferris said.