How to Lead a Business with Integrity

(the story of Nathan Eldon Tanner)

How to Lead a Business with Integrity

This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. I was named after an inspiring business leader named Nathan Tanner. When I went to college, the building that housed the business school I attended was the Tanner Building, named after Nathan Eldon Tanner. 

Nathan Eldon Tanner was known as a man of outstanding executive ability and unquestioned integrity. Throughout his public career, he was known, even by his political opponents, for his rugged and undeviating honesty. His high moral standards were said to be constant, undeviating, and immovable. I have a long way to go to live up to Nathan Tanner’s example. However, in today’s episode, we’re going to tell Nathan’s story and discuss how to build a business with integrity. 

One of Tanner’s favorite sayings was, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight; but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.” Tanner’s wife said. “And he tried to accomplish what he set out to do by doing just that: By rising at five A.M. to teach himself typing when he was running the store in Hill Spring.” (Source: ChurchofJesusChrist.org)

Tanner’s Life

Nathan Eldon Tanner was born on May 9, 1898, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he grew up in Canada in the small town of Aetna, near Cardston, Alberta. On his family’s farm, he learned how to work hard, driving a four-horse team at the age of twelve, caring for livestock, and nursing his entire family back to health when all but him had smallpox (Source: rsc.byu.edu).

In Alberta, Tanner worked as a teacher and school principal before being elected to the Alberta Legislature, where he served as speaker of the Assembly. He was chosen as Speaker of the House, but before he had never even attended a session of the legislature and was elected to act as chairman of sixty-three members. On the subject, his wife said, “We were given an elegant suite of rooms in the legislative buildings, to use as we liked, and … it seemed that he had fallen into the ‘lap of the Gods,’ but only he and I knew the hours, day and night, that he spent studying parliamentary procedure. This was the beginning of jobs which he was given, which he said were far beyond his ability to cope with.”

When Tanner was acting as Minister in the Alberta government, he earned the well-deserved nickname of “Mr. Integrity” because he refused to compromise by accepting gifts of any kind and was strictly honest in his dealings. The affectionate title followed him through a lifetime of success based on principles of fairness and integrity (Source: ChurchofJesusChrist.org).

Later, he served as president of Merrill Petroleum Ltd. and director of the Toronto Dominion Bank of Canada. In 1954, he became president of Trans-Canada Pipelines. As president, he directed the construction of a $350 million, 2,000-mile pipeline from Alberta to Montreal (Source: NYTimes.com).

Tanner later moved to Salt Lake City and quickly established himself as a business and civic leader. He served on the board of directors of First Security Corporation and Mountain Fuel Supply Company. He helped plan, develop, and promote building projects in Salt Lake such as the Salt Palace, Symphony Hall, the Fine Arts Center, and the restored Capitol Theater (Source: NYTimes.com).

Decision-Making and Concentration

Tanner was said to have near flawless judgment when he was making decisions. Religious leader Victor L. Brown said, “He gathered all possible facts before making a decision, never making an impetuous or off-the-cuff decision. He had an unusual talent for setting bias and prejudice aside if such existed. He did not make the mistake of having pet projects that would tend to warp judgment.” 

Another of Tanner’s favorite sayings was, “I’d much rather be part of the solution to a problem than a part of the problem.”

Tanner used his power of concentration to help him make quick and well-informed decisions. For example, one day a group was making a very detailed and technical presentation that lasted over two hours. There was little time for discussion. At the conclusion of the presentation, Tanner said something like this: 

“Recommendations one and two can be implemented with little difficulty. Recommendation number three needs more study, and your chart covering this portion of the presentation needs to be redone for the following reasons (which he listed). Recommendation number four will require much more study and appears to be untimely at the moment.” 

This experience occurred after Tanner’s eyesight had been seriously impaired, so he hadn’t seen the chart—it had only been described to him.

Tanner was able to concentrate for the whole of the two hours and concisely relate his conclusions at the end of it. He didn’t let his bad eyesight become an excuse for him to not be part of the solution. (Source: ChurchofJesusChrist.org)

Service and Caring for Others

“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.”

– Nathan Eldon Tanner

When Tanner was still living in Cardston, he led a group of boys in his church’s youth program. Some of the boys hadn’t been coming to meetings, and Tanner went to their homes to find out why. He discovered that some of the boys didn’t have the right clothes and had been too embarrassed to attend church meetings without them (Source: rsc.byu.edu). 

Service is the_Blog

Tanner and the rest of the boys in the group all agreed to wear overalls to meetings on Sunday mornings. Because of Tanner, all the boys became active in attendance, and they grew to love their sensitive and dauntless leader (Source: rsc.byu.edu).

Tanner was willing to forgo a formal look to make all the boys feel comfortable. He cared about the boys and it was more important to him that they were all there than looking a certain way. He kept the important things in mind and pushed aside the worldly focus on the image. 

“It is easy to do things for our own families and loved ones, but to give of our substance for the stranger who is in need is the real test of our charity and love for our fellowmen.”

– Nathan Eldon Tanner

Keeping Our Commitments

“Self-discipline is doing what you know you should do when you don’t want to do it.”

– Nathan Eldon Tanner

As Tanner was asked to serve as president of Trans-Canada Pipelines, the backers of the company planned to set up headquarters in Toronto. Tanner was living near Calgary at the time and had committed to a leadership role in his church. Because of this duty, Tanner refused to move to act as president of the company. Instead of finding someone else, the company owners set up their headquarters in Calgary (Source: rsc.byu.edu).

This shows not only how much they valued his leadership, but also how committed Tanner was to keep his commitments. He was willing to risk losing a job because he wouldn’t back out of a commitment. Tanner often had to take the time to travel to eastern Canada since that’s where much of the company’s business was transacted (Source: rsc.byu.edu).

Tanner stood his ground with his promises. We must do the same thing with our commitments. When we take a stand for what we know is right, it shows people we can be relied upon and we’re not going to give in when outside influences pressure us.

“To meet the serious issues facing us in our respective communities today, we must be examples of virtue and righteousness ourselves and choose today to take our stand on the moral issues which threaten us.”

– Nathan Eldon Tanner

Enduring through Hardships

Self-discipline is _Blog

When Tanner was about 15, he was herding cattle when he was thrown from his horse. Getting to his feet, he looked down to see three fingers on his left hand were broken. They had snapped at his knuckle joints and were twisted back against his hand, the bones of his middle finger sticking out of his flesh. Tanner took hold of his fingers, put them back in place, got back on his horse, and rode to a doctor. The doctor marveled at him; all the bones were in the right place and he only had to stitch him up. 

This is the kind of attitude Tanner had throughout his life. When something unexpected happened, he didn’t complain. He didn’t give up. Instead, he took care of the situation as best he could, got help if he needed it, and kept going.

Tanner also tried to be grateful for what he did have. He was working as a schoolteacher during the depression, and the teachers weren’t very well paid. Instead of moping about his situation, the Tanners sold their only valuable possession: a new Ford sedan. They used the money they got to purchase a small general store. 

He also supplemented his income by selling insurance and suits of clothing. The family had milk cows and his two oldest daughters delivered milk daily, often wading through heavy snow with the milk strapped to them. The Tanners kept their household too busy to dwell on the negative. One of his daughters even remarked, “During those depression years all the other kids seemed to feel poor, but we never did; we were too busy.” (Source: ChurchofJesusChrist.org)

Like the Tanner family, sometimes the best thing to do in hard times is to find ways to keep busy and focused on good things to solve our problems. Dwelling on our trials won’t make them go away. 

“As we express our appreciation of our many blessings, we become more conscious of what the Lord has done for us, and thereby we become more appreciative.”

– Nathan Eldon Tanner

Key Takeaways

Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

1. Having true integrity builds credibility and trust, and opens doors.

2. Sometimes we must put the care of others before other things such as keeping up appearances. 

3. We can often show charity best when we serve those we don’t know very well.

4. Self-discipline is doing what we know we should do even when we don’t want to do it.

5. Tanner was willing to give up a job to keep his commitment. We must also be willing to do what it takes to keep our word.

6. When we go through hard things, it can help to not dwell on the hardships, but keep busy and focus on filling our life with good things, such as working towards solutions.

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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