Hiram of Tyre’s provision of timber for the making of Solomon’s temple and palace is an instructive study in managing the supply chain. It worked well, due to a background of friendship, a balance of power, and a focus on delighting the customer, all amounting to a win-win relationship.
Does the Bible have anything useful to say about Managing the Supply Chain? The answer, surprising though it may seem, is yes! It is found in 1 Kings 5, the account of King Solomon commissioning King Hiram of Tyre to send wood to be used in the building of the temple at Jerusalem.
Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram had always been a friend of David. Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, ‘You know that my father could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord` put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.”
Therefore command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.’
When Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly, and said, ‘Blessed be the Lord today, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.’ Hiram sent word to Solomon, ‘I have heard the message that you have sent to me; I will fulfil all your needs in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. My servants shall bring it down to the sea from the Lebanon; I will make it into rafts to go by sea to the place you indicate. I will have them broken up there for you to take away. And you shall meet my needs by providing food for my household.
So Hiram supplied Solomon’s every need for timber of cedar and cypress. Solomon in turn gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty cors of fine oil. Solomon gave this to Hiram year by year. So the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. There was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and the two of them made a treaty.
(I Kings 5:1-12, NRSV)
In this passage, Solomon is the customer and Hiram the supplier. It is a deal which clearly produces mutual satisfaction. The result of their doing business with each other was that ‘There was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and the two of them made a treaty.’ Are there any pointers to success we can find here? A careful reading of the text suggests the following:
A background of friendship
Solomon was able to build on something he inherited from his father. The chapter begins with Hiram sending his servants to Solomon, ‘when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David’ (v.1). An existing family friendship meant that Solomon wasn’t starting from scratch. In a positive customer-supplier relationship, personal links can be very important in forging the way.
A balance of power
Solomon sends word to Hiram explaining his intention to build a temple – a project David had wanted but been unable to carry out – and issuing the command ‘that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me’. The tone sounds peremptory: here is a king at the height of Israel’s power who expects others to do as he says. But he immediately acknowledges that the power is not all on one side. Hiram occupies a niche position in the market, because as Solomon says, ‘there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians’. Israel is willing to pay for this specialist skill: ‘My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants’ (v.6). Solomon has the money, and Hiram has the skilled workers: this makes for an equilibrium where neither is at a bargaining disadvantage. It is when there is a severe imbalance between companies (either in terms of size or distinctive competence) that a business relationship often ends up going sour.
Delighting the customer
Some companies these days talk not just about serving or satisfying the customer but delighting the customer. It suggests an attitude of going out of their way to help, of being proactive in volunteering ideas for improving the service. There is a clear hint of this in Hiram’s response. Solomon had only asked for cedar, but Hiram offers cypress as well: ‘I will fulfil all your needs in the matter of cedar and cypress timber’ (v.8).
Then he makes a positive proposal about how the wood should be transported. Avoiding the difficult and hilly route overland, he says ‘My servants shall bring it down to the sea from the Lebanon; I will make it into rafts to go by sea to the place you indicate. I will have them broken up there for you to take away’ (p.9). Hiram is doing his best to please. Yet he’s no softie. He demands an additional recompense in return for this service: ‘And you shall meet my needs by providing food for my household’ (p.9). Solomon in turn accedes to the request: he gives Hiram ‘twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty cors of fine oil’ (p.11).
What we see in 1 Kings 5 is a genuine Win-Win situation. There is evidence of the two parties seeking mutual benefit. Both Solomon and Hiram promote their own interests, and are robust in the way they make demands on the other, but each shows a genuine concern for their partners’ interests as well. The success of the deal is based on trust, the high emotional bank account (to use a phrase from Stephen Covey) which Solomon’s father David had played a part in building up.
Excerpt from Questions of Business Life, pp. 84-87