As one who studies leadership principles, I was intrigued by the title Leadership Not By The Book, written by David Green, together with Bill High. David Green is the founder and CEO of a highly successful business, Hobby Lobby. He starts off the introduction to the book by declaring, “It shouldn’t work. So why does it? Sometimes at Hobby Lobby, our customer service manager gives tours to corporate leaders. Some of them have graduated from business schools such as Harvard or other Ivy League colleges. He drives them around our premises in Oklahoma City on a golf cart. They go through our three warehouses, our art development rooms, our production and manufacturing lines, and our corporate offices. As he gives these tours, he hears our guests comment repeatedly, ‘Your operations fly in the face of everything we learned in business school. This is exactly the opposite of what we learned – but somehow it works.’ We do things differently at Hobby Lobby and leaders notice” (Green & High, 2022).
Incidentally, for those not living in America, Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts store and a very successful one at that.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOBBY LOBBY
David Green started his business in 1970 as he said, “Not knowing what lay ahead” (Green & High, 2022). The growth of this store is summarized as follows:
- 1972: 1 store, $136.40 (August through December)
- 1982: 7 stores, $18 million
- 1992: 36 stores, $128 million
- 2002: 285 stores, $1.1 billion
- 2012: 520 stores, $3.3 billion
- 2022: 985 stores, $8 billion (projected) (Green & High, 2022).
David Green is the son of a preacher and holds to conservative Christian values as his website declares, “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles” (hobbylobby.com). Like Chick-fil-A, all stores are closed on Sundays “to allow employees time for family and worship”, David Green shared.
“Like so many people, we started our business in our garage. Along the way, we had our moments of doubt whether we’d even make it. I’ll be the first to admit, we learned much by trial and error. We’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years. But along the way, God has been gracious and guided us in ways that often haven’t appeared to make sense. We weren’t guided by business degrees, best practices, or focus groups. We didn’t have a road map – just God, the Bible, prayer, and common sense. These are the ways we’ve watched Him work. And as we followed Him, we saw Him break the rules of traditional business practices and give us success. When we started on this journey in 1970, we had no idea what lay ahead. We had no inkling of the sales trajectory God had planned for us” (Green & High, 2022).
THE CORE ELEMENTS OF HOBBY LOBBY
In his book, David Green shares the core elements of the company. “I want to lay out for you the core elements that have enabled Hobby Lobby to thrive, even though to many observers our success has seemed not just improbable but impossible. Much of our success, frankly, is improbable from a merely human standpoint.
We always take care to describe success in terms of what God has done. That, in fact, is a crucial part of our secret sauce, which I want to describe for you. I would love for this sauce, or some version of it, to become your own, enabling you to reach heights you’ve never even dreamed of achieving. God rarely chooses to duplicate what He’s already done. What new thing might He want to do through you?
The Secret Sauce – Every secret sauce includes many ingredients, and the amount and combination of these ingredients give each sauce its unique flavor. While every ingredient plays a key role in the sauce’s essence, some ingredients play far more critical roles than others. As I highlight the ingredients that make up the secret sauce responsible for the success of Hobby Lobby, it might help to place those ingredients in three major categories:
- God-centered practices
- People-focused practices
- Commonsense practices”(Green & High, 2022).
GOD OWNS THE COMPANY
One of the striking pillars of the company, really the main one is, as David Green puts it, “‘Basically, we say that God owns the company. But we don’t only just say it, then we say, what does it look like? And to make it look like that, we took all of our ownership and we put it into 1 percent,’ he explained.
‘So 100 percent is in 1 percent, and it’s in a trust that seven of us, seven family members all serving the Lord, come together. And that’s what guides our company.’
When it comes to his children and the family business, Green said while the family has never made a dividend “nor do we plan to,” those who do the work earn a salary, just like everyone else. It’s real simple in our family — you get what you earn and no more,’ he said, adding that a committee decides what Green and his children who are in the business earn. ‘Everybody in our family gets a salary based on what they contribute, but no one earns anything in our family that has not come alongside with the family, ’cause that’s not what God wants for all of them,’ he added. He said he has seven grandchildren that are in some type of ministry, and ‘that’s OK.'”(christianpost.com).
“Earlier this month, Green revealed that 100% of Hobby Lobby’s voting stock has been moved to a trust composed of all seven Green family members so stewardship of the company can continue into the future. He shared a little more with CP about the motivation for that move, saying, ‘We truly believe that it’s God’s business and run it in such a way that it’s His, so the profits do not belong to us.'”(christianpost.com).
Like many successful companies, there have been controversies around Hobby Lobby. At one time, there were some complaints about items relating to Jewish Holidays. This was resolved when David Green issued an apology.
“Beginning in 2009, representatives of Hobby Lobby were warned that artifacts they were purchasing were probably looted from Iraq. The purchases had been made for the Museum of the Bible, which the company was sponsoring. In 2018, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York directed Hobby Lobby to return the artifacts and pay a fine of US$3,000,000. Hobby Lobby returned over 5500 items in May 2018. Among these, were nearly 4000 tablets supposed to be from the lost city of Irisagrig which had been delivered to Hobby Lobby marked as ’tile samples.'”(wikipedia.org). Fortunately, Hobby Lobby has navigated itself through these controversies.
A CLOSING THOUGHT
What about you? What about your leadership? What about your business? David Greens raises an interesting question “What if God might want to use you to do a new even greater work?” He puts it this way:
“And yet, God has used me to help create an $8 billion a year business that employs more than 50 thousand men and women across the country. He’s enabled us to give away 50 percent of our profits to help fund remarkably effective initiatives for His kingdom all over the world. It has been a wonderfully eye-opening, perplexing, enjoyable ride lasting half a century!
But really, none of this is what interests me the most. I find the following question far more exciting: What if God might want to use you to do a new, even greater work?
While we celebrate what God has done so far through Hobby Lobby and our associated companies, I’m praying that the Lord will raise up hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of talented leaders – whether in business or ministry -n with hearts committed to Christ. I dream of an army of men and women who want to not only create successful organizations but also use those enterprises to make a difference for Jesus around the world. Keep in mind that I believe the unconventional principles discussed in this book apply whether you lead a business, a church, a nonprofit, or are just contemplating the idea of leadership” (Green & High, 2022).
Not everyone will necessarily be able to follow this pattern, but whether they do or not, there is still the challenge, whether in business or ministry, to contemplate “What if?”
Green, D. & High, B. (2022). Leadership Not by the Book: 12 Unconventional Principles to Drive Incredible Results. BAKER BOOKS, A DIVISION O.