Ran Smith upended his life in Austin, Texas, to run a hotel in Monteverde, Costa Rica—but he couldn’t outrun his addiction and everything else he’d left behind in the United States. “In my crisis I asked God for help,” he recalls, and “all the voices were pushed to the side and one voice came very clearly that said, ‘You should go to Quaker meeting.’ And I did.”
The inclusiveness Ran found at Monteverde Monthly Meeting has transformed the way he runs his hotel, reinforcing his instinctive belief that “people were more important than profits” but also teaching him to listen fully and truly hear out alternative voices before making decisions. As he reflects, “The experience that I’ve had here has been a gift.”
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The fact that I ended up here in Monteverde, Costa Rica with a hotel… It’s unimaginable– you can’t quantify what had to happen in order for this to take place. It’s just an amazing experience that started with one simple, “You know what? It’d be kind of fun to own a hotel,” and next thing you know I’m over here!
Finding Quaker Faith in Business
My name is Ran Smith. I live in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and I am a member of Monteverde Monthly Meeting.
So I was introduced to Quakerism by way of a Monteverde Friends school. I immigrated from Austin (Texas) in 2004 to Monteverde, and I came here because of tourism– because of the tourism industry. I wanted to be in hospitality and I ended up coming to Monteverde– or led to Monteverde, depending on how you look at it.
I was having a very difficult time in my life. I was struggling with addiction; I was struggling with a crisis in my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be, and I had a moment that I think some people have where– I guess it would be a “please help me God” moment. In my crisis I asked God for help. My experience was one that was pretty radical. I had all my– all the voices were pushed to the side and one voice came very clearly that said, “You should go to Quaker meeting.” And I did; I went there.
A Practice of Inclusion
So I guess my favorite aspect of my Quaker practice… I think it is a gospel of inclusion. I think that that’s what I have been so attracted to is that it is a diverse culture; a diverse place of different beliefs, different ideas, different thoughts on different opinions; and I feel included here. And so that, in turn, I think goes outside into other parts of my life — in the way that I run my businesses I think are very Quakerly. I think they’re very inclusive, and they operate in ways that I think are contrary to what I grew up thinking that businesses were supposed to operate.
Doing Business by the Heart
So from the very beginning I have spent my entire professional life– most of it– working for myself as an entrepreneur. I did not go to college; I didn’t get an MBA. I kind of did business by the heart… I didn’t really know what I was doing and I’m not sure I know what I’m doing now but somehow or another it’s been very successful, and I think that’s because somehow– either through my mother or my father– I just gained this knowledge that people were more important than profit and that building relationships and having good connections and good relationships with the people that work at the business… That I knew that business was a gift. So it’s kind of one of those things where I always approached it with this incredible lightness and humility because it was just so amazing that I was able to do any of this stuff.
Integrating the Practice of Listening
I think it has always come natural for me to include people in the decision-making process but what has never become– never been very natural for me is to stop, pause, and listen, and to slow down. And what I have really learned in Meeting for Business (and especially clerking) is this pause before speaking, giving time, really listening, and what does that mean to really listen. I think most of us are always sitting there and planning what we’re going to say in response to or how we’re going to respond to what that person is talking about. What Quaker meeting for business has taught me is to stop doing that and to really listen to the person who’s talking, and that’s been very beneficial in my experience as the so-called leader of this hotel. Spiritually speaking, I know that… I know that it is a gift and that this experience that I’ve had here has been a gift.
- 1) Ran operates his businesses “in ways that I think are contrary to what I grew up thinking that businesses were supposed to operate.” What typical business practices do we see that are in opposition of Quaker beliefs?
- 2) What Quaker practices easily translate to the business world? Which are more challenging to integrate?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.