It’s A Wonderful Life When You Give More Than You Take

Welcome back to The Sunstone Way.

This will be my last blog for 2023. It has been an amazing year for Sunstone Management, and for my family. I hope it has been great for you, too.

Taking time for reflection is always important, but it most often happens around this time of year. One lens I look through as I consider the last 12 months is the Frank Capra classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Watching Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey has long been an annual tradition for my family, and it has become even more meaningful to me as the CEO here at Sunstone.

Most people, including Wikipedia, would tell you it’s a story about an angel showing a despondent George Bailey what the world would be like if he “had never been born.”

That’s true, but I think the story is more about how personal sacrifice and service to community is what truly makes a “wonderful life.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot, it goes like this:

The Plot

Our story opens with Bailey Brothers Building and Loan, a small community bank in the small town of Bedford Falls, fighting for its life against the larger, meaner, and greedier robber baron bank of Henry Potter (the Scrooge of our Christmas story).  Eldest brother George Bailey has plans for a world tour before college, but must instead take over the family business when his father suddenly dies. He marries and is leaving on his honeymoon, but his plans for personal happiness are once again thwarted by a run on the Building and Loan (beginning the Depression), and he must save the community bank with his honeymoon money.

George keeps the people of Bedford Falls afloat by making loans with little or no collateral, providing homes and starting businesses. It remains a hand-to-mouth operation, and a catastrophic loss of money looks to be the end of the Building and Loan – and George – when he wishes he was never born in a moment of weakness and despair.

Enter the Christmas angel Clarence who shows George what his community would look like if he had never been born.  After experiencing the nightmarish alternate reality of a Bedford Falls without George Bailey – and the economic opportunities provided by the Building and Loan – George begs Clarence to let him return to his world to serve and support the friends, family, and community he loves.  And the community turns out to show how much they love him when they raise enough money from personal donations to save the Building and Loan. (Oh, and angel second-class Clarence gets his wings.)

What It Means

Aside from the classic Christmas movie trope of the guy with the golden heart winning in the end, “It’s A Wonderful Life” offers a stirring tale of service and self-sacrifice – and what makes our way of life so wonderful.  Bailey Brothers Building and Loan has to make money to stay in business, to be sure. But George’s father had discovered a secret – support and trust good people in their time of need, and they will support and trust you when you need it most.

George and the Building and Loan bet on people, helping them realize their American Dream. That’s true whether it is the dream of their own home, or the dream of starting and building a business.

In the long run, that’s far more successful – and more fulfilling – than the Henry Potter approach of grasping for every penny, no matter the consequences to others. In one confrontation, George tells Potter the people helped by the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan contribute to the town’s economy and well-being, as opposed to simply filling Potter’s pockets with rent.

The Real Deal

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is Frank Capra’s take on a real-life story. A.P. Giannini, the son of Italian immigrants, launched the Bank of Italy in North Beach, San Francisco, when he was 34. While big banks only loaned to large businesses and the wealthy, A.P. sought out the unbanked immigrants struggling toward the American Dream.

When the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 hit, the big banks struggled to recover. But A.P. made headlines by setting up a makeshift bank on a North Beach wharf, extending loans to displaced residents “on a handshake.” His efforts helped revive and rebuild the city.

A.P.’s Bank of Italy survived and thrived, ultimately creating the first statewide banking system in the nation. In 1930, Bank of Italy changed its name to Bank of America. When A.P. died in 1949, BofA had more than 500 branches and $6 billion in assets.*

The Sunstone Way

“It’s A Wonderful Life” does a great job of conveying the hard work George Bailey puts in to keep his business – and the community – afloat. At the same time, it shows how a simple set of guiding principles can lead the way to success. For George, it’s service, sacrifice, and trust in humankind.

I believe in the same basic principles, which is why I joined the Sunstone Management team last year. We work hard to help others and find ways to support their American Dream, whether it’s access to capital (like the Bailey Building and Loan), technical assistance, or just providing community support in difficult times.

We believe that our families, communities, and our country are all stronger when each one of us give more than we receive; and we celebrate service and self-sacrifice as the true core values of the American way of life.  When we do that, it is indeed a wonderful life. And it is The Sunstone Way.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you in 2024.

And as always, be a Sunstone!

John Keisler

CEO & Managing Partner

Sunstone Management, Inc.

Tell your friends and colleagues about The Sunstone Way and the insights it provides. To receive a copy each week, sign up at the link.

Have a comment about this topic, or want to suggest topics for future blogs? Click here.


Note: This blog post is for information purposes only and is not intended as an offer to sell securities or the solicitation of an offer to buy securities. Such offers are made solely pursuant to formal offering and subscription documentation in an investment fund (“Fund”).

More About Sunstone Management
Sunstone Management is a diversified private capital sponsor firm headquartered in Southern California that invests in diverse early-stage technology entrepreneurs who seek to build great companies. We believe in the aspirational power of the American economy to attract and inspire investors and entrepreneurs from throughout the world. We deliver new and exciting opportunities for economic growth through the creation of innovative public-private partnerships, and our unique experience across government, education, and private sectors. Identified by Financial Times as one of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three years in a row. In the second quarter of 2023, PitchBook ranked Sunstone the seventh most active early-stage venture capital firm in the country, and 18th overall.

© Sunstone Management Inc., 2023

News and Press Release

Startup Resources

We are passionate about supporting tech entrepreneurs like you by presenting an array of resources. Each resource is capable of assisting with the various stages of you venture, please review and explore the relevant programs that best suits your situation.

Sunstone Community Fund

The Sunstone Community Fund is committed to catalyzing partnerships that create economic opportunities for startup founders and communities throughout the United States. That’s just one of the reasons why we choose to give back to the community.