Business as service: How business and faith come together for Paul and Lois Tiessen

May 3, 2022 | Alumni & Friends Story

For Paul and Lois Tiessen being a Christian business owner doesn’t mean faith has to be front and centre. You don’t have to be promoting your company as Christian to be a person of faith in the business world. For them it’s about using business skills to give back to the world, and about bringing Christian values into everyday interactions.

Paul founded Action Office Interiors in 1983. He ran the company until 2012 when he stepped back and his son Brent (grad 2001), along with another employee, purchased the company. Together Paul and Lois (grad 1972) also ran an auction and liquidation business from 1985 to 2000. While they’re not running any day-to-day businesses now, they do own some commercial properties as landlords.

Alongside all those ventures they found opportunities to give back along the way. In the early 90s they got connected with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and found it was a good way to combine an interest in business with making the world a better place. “I got involved because I liked the idea of integrating business principles and working with the poor in more of a business sense”, says Paul. MEDA accomplished this through micro loans and helping people to develop better products or agricultural practices.

Together with several others, they started the Saskatoon MEDA chapter in 1993. The group gathered regularly for supper meetings to hear guest speakers on topics related to faith and business, and to support different MEDA projects around the world. “When you got together several times per year for a supper meeting and had a guest speaker, it just brought people together in another way,” says Lois. And those connections meant that people were more likely to support the work of MEDA since it was a more direct experience than getting a fundraising letter or email.

As someone with an interest in business, Paul liked MEDA’s model of supporting entrepreneurs in other parts of the world. For example, they recall supporting a mosquito netting project in Tanzania where MEDA worked with local manufacturers to produce the nets instead of bringing them in from abroad. They also partnered with local shops to sell the nets. This provided the life-saving mosquito nets, but also generated employment and a sense of ownership in the local communities.

They saw the work with MEDA as a way of serving and giving back. “I’ve been a believer in paying forward,” says Paul. “Somebody helped my grandparents get here and so now it’s my turn, Lois and our family’s turn to help somebody else. Maybe not to come to Canada, but it’s helping them to have a better livelihood and a better life.

There are other less direct ways of giving back in business as well, bringing values of faith into the day to day operations. For example, as an auctioneer Paul was sometimes selling off businesses as part of bankruptcy proceedings, but always tried to treat people fairly and with compassion. As a landlord, during the initial waves of covid, he gave tenants a break on rent. “Someone asked me why I would bother doing that for them. I said: ‘We’re all in this together, right?’ Even though I’m not in day to day business, as a landlord, I’m in this just as much as the people that are renting my buildings. It was a small price I was ready to pay.”

Running a company gave opportunities for Paul to bring values from his Christian faith into the way he treated others. “I tried to take some of those principles of being a Christian and taking that into the workplace, how you dealt with staff and customers and treating people in a fair respectful way is just what any human being really should do.”

The couple have also been supporters of RJC in different ways throughout the years financially and with their time. Lois attended the school from Grade 9 to 12 and has stayed in close contact with friends she made in those years. “I’m just as close to some of them as I ever was even in RJC,” she says. “That’s the thing about RJC is the friendships that you gain.

Paul never attended RJC, but served on the board for eight years and also offered his services as an auctioneer for the Choirs & Cakes fundraiser. All five of their kids attended the school as well and they’ve seen the value that an RJC experience can offer. “I do see what Lois’ friends or our kids’ friends experienced, there’s good value,” says Paul. “ And I think it probably also gives those students a basis for some of them to become more involved in our churches later.