BUSINESS TOOK OFF WHEN IT WAS ‘GIVEN TO GOD’
By Mike Pare – Chattanooga Times Free Press
Mart Green, Hobby Lobby board chairman and keynote speaker, tells of leaving a legacy during the 40th Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Tuesday.
Arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby is flying high these days, opening on average of a store a week with sales expected to hit about $5 billion this year.
But company Chairman Mart Green said in Chattanooga on Tuesday it was a much different story in 1984 when the company was on the ropes.
The business that was started in 1970 by his parents had gotten away from its arts and crafts roots and was faltering, Green recalled at the Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast.
“My dad said, ‘I don’t think we’ll make it,”’ he said.
But, Green said, his father made the decision to give the business to God.
“We don’t own anything,” he said. “We’re stewards. When we became stewards, it all changed.”
Green, 57, said the company that employs 33,000 people should grow to 850 stores by year’s end.
He said the company is able to continue to expand its store count despite the downturn in brick-and-mortar retail stores generally because Hobby Lobby’s products are “high touch.”
“You want to go in and get the experience,” said the chairman of the Oklahoma City-based company.
During his speech to 2,250 people gathered Tuesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the annual prayer breakfast, Green said the first Hobby Lobby opened in 1972 and was just 300 square feet. In 1975, his father quit his job to run the business, cutting his salary in half to $16,000 and opening a second location. In 1976, stores three and four were opened, and the business totaled $1.8 million in sales, he said.
“My dad said his goal was to do 30 stores at $1 million each,” Green said. “He never reached the goal. Every time he got close to it, he moved it down the road.”
Green said a big year for himself was 1998 when he got involved in paying for first-edition Bibles and was traveling to Guatemala for the dedication of a copy in a new language. He recalled that it had taken 40 years to translate that edition in a language only 30,000 people knew and just 400 could read.
“It doesn’t sound like a good return on investment,” he said he recalled thinking at the time, noting that $20,000 was spent on the edition.
But at the dedication, one of the Bibles was given to a translator who had worked on the project for four decades and the man “openly wept to get God’s Bible in his language,” Green said.
“I went from why do this to how do we make sure everyone has God’s word in their heart language,” he said. “The question to me was ‘What kind of investment is Mart Green?’”
He said that he “really got serious about Jesus. I wanted him to be lord and savior.” Before that, Green said, he had just wanted “fire insurance.”
Since that time, he said, he has become involved in “adventures.”
“They’re uncomfortable. You get wounded, but God provides,” Green said.
He recounted stepping in to help turn around Oral Roberts University, which a decade ago had been days from closing because of financial and other problems.
Today, Green said, the university has no debt, no deficit and enrollment has gone from 3,000 to 4,000 students.
He also talked about the company’s decision in 2012 to sue the federal government over a mandate that would have required the business to provide and facilitate four birth control measures in its health insurance plan against their religious convictions. Green said the concept that life begins at conception is “a deeply held religious belief.”
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, saying government cannot require certain employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control if the provisions conflict with the employer’s religious beliefs.
Green said he’s now involved with an effort to make sure all 6,000 languages worldwide have the Bible in their tongue.
“Life’s an adventure for everyone,” he said. “You might as well do something that lasts for eternity and leaves a legacy.”
Daryl Heald, founder and chief executive of Generosity Path, said as he introduced Green that one of the things which creates a legacy is values.
“One of the values the Green family has is a life of extravagant generosity,” he said. “It’s an easy thing to say. It’s a very hard thing to do.”
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.