International Aid has plenty in common with Lazarus

October 17, 2011
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There are two variant resurrections that have shaped Brian Anderson's life.

The first is his belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The second is when new life was breathed into the Spring Lake-based International Aid Inc. when its demise appeared certain.

The former resurrection is a done deal. The latter requires Anderson to ensure the 30-year-old Christian relief organization remains financially sound so it can soldier on with its mission of providing health and hygiene products, medical equipment, medicines and nutritional supplements to some of the most troubled spots in the world.

Two years ago, the relief organization announced its intention to close its doors for good, due primarily to a crushing $1.5 million of debt after donations took a nosedive due to a moribund economy. But then last year, former International Aid CEO David Wisen gave an undisclosed donation to keep the organization alive, pumping new life into the once-troubled humanitarian venture.

The now-leaner International Aid already has accomplished some notable feats. Over the past 12 months, it shipped more than $116 million of health products and medical equipment to more than 300 Christian missions and humanitarian organizations in 65-plus countries. Those provisions include rehydration supplies to the gnarled remains of earthquake-stricken Haiti, medical supplies to clinics in Uganda to fight malaria and equipment to Israeli emergency medical technicians.

The relief organization says the $116 million is a record amount of aid, representing a 123 percent increase from the average amount International Aid shipped over the previous seven years.

The turnaround brings a smile to Anderson's face.

"One of the biggest challenges is to maintain a balance," said Anderson, president and CEO of the relief organization.

"Having gone through a traumatic time, we want to make sure we don't find ourselves overextended. We want to operate within our means. We contrast that with a world where the needs are so great, but we realize there's only so much we can do."

International Aid Inc.
Position: President/CEO
Age: 54
Birthplace: Muskegon
Residence: Grand Haven
Family: Wife, Julie
Business/Community Involvement: Intends to become a member of the Rotary Club of Spring Lake.
Biggest Career Break: “My career has been kind of varied. I think back to 2008 when then-president Myles Fish of International Aid hired me in. It’s been personally rewarding. With International Aid, I have the opportunity to spend my day involved in activities that help people around the world.”

Anderson felt the brunt of those earlier layoffs, creating a vita that requires its own flow chart.

He was initially hired in February 2008 as vice president of support services, overseeing information technology, human resources and finance. He became CEO in April 2009 but was laid off five months later. When the donation came through, Anderson returned as general manger in January 2010.

Anderson was tapped to become the relief organization's president and CEO in April of this year after Wisen decided to start a new church, Harvest Bible Chapel in Spring Lake, which leases space in the International Aid building.

What made Anderson decide to hire on again after being laid off?

"For me, this becomes a part of the way I serve the Lord — by being here to help others," he said. "It's extremely rewarding. It's a wonderful group to work with, both on the donation and on the partner side. They are just really great people."

It's the employees' high level of tenacity that, in part, kept International Aid chugging along during its darker moments, Anderson believes.

"Even when it announced it was ceasing its operation, we kept operating on a minimal level to keep commitments to our partners in the field," said Anderson.

"They never 100 percent closed their doors but had to work at it (to stay open). The organization just continued to operate to fulfill orders and obligations that they have, but without the donation made in 2010 the organization would have closed.

"So we're here today out of the generosity of the donor to put the organization back on its feet."

To be sure, this is a leaner International Aid. It once had offices worldwide; now it's just the Spring Lake office. And it has 22 employees, down from a high of 100 in 2000.

But the downsizing and streamlining has been good, Anderson maintains.

"We're doing more than ever before," he said. "That's what's so amazing — the amount of relief we're able to accomplish with the amount of employees we have. God's done some amazing things here. Leaner and meaner pretty well describes it. We have less number of employees doing more. You could say (we are) more focused and more efficient in what we do."

And if it means Anderson has to wear a few more hats to keep the ball rolling, so be it.

"If there's a bin that needs to be hauled back to the compacter, I'll do that, but I'm also comfortable delegating the tasks at hand," he said. "One of the goals I have for International Aid is to remain fiscally viable, to be good stewards with the donations we receive, while hoping to increase the amount of aid that we're able to distribute around the world while still being true to these programs that we have in place."

Keeping his arms around International Aid's objectives requires Anderson to engage both right- and left-brain tactics.

"I kind of live on both sides," he said. "The creative side comes in terms of problem solving, developing new initiatives with International Aid programs, participating in some of the design and layout activities.

"On the analytical side, it goes back to my accounting roots and being able to read financial statements and identify opportunities and things we should do financially that are revealed in the financial statements, as well."

Previous positions make Anderson's administrative post seem nearly providential. Before International Aid, Anderson was a health care consultant for physical therapy clinics. Prior to that, he handled staffing and financial analysis for Agility Health.

Anderson earned a bachelor's degree in accounting at Central Michigan University in 1980 and a master's degree in health administration from Western Michigan University in 1992.

He was 14 when he worked his first job as a stock boy for a family-owned grocery store in Muskegon that has since closed its doors. His boss cut him little slack but he holds good memories of his job there.

"I learned the value of hard work but also customer service," said Anderson. "Each job has brought with it its own lesson."

But as he looks at the rearview mirror of his life, Anderson also concedes he's reprioritized areas of his life.

"My career, years ago, was measured by things such as title, salary and what have you," he said. "Success to me now comes down to how I'm serving God, and that includes what kind of a boss and husband I am and just more of the person I am. If I do well in living a godly life, I'll do well in serving the organization here."

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