June 11, 2012
So… it’s Friday night, and Cheri and I are in front of a dinner crowd of 150+ people, on the 67th floor of the Sears Tower in Chicago… praying to commission a couple who are leaving business to become missionaries. There’s a story there…
The convergence of real faith and real life is always the test of veracity. If a belief system only works when you’re in the religious building, it doesn’t pass the test. “Confirmation” isn’t a church event; it’s an ongoing evaluation that happens in life’s two working labs: at home, and at work.
KeHE Food Distributors is not a well-known consumer brand, but they trade in familiar brands in a huge way. They connect the providers of food products with retail outlets that run from WalMart to Trader Joes, from Albertsons to Whole Foods. With $2 billion+ in annual revenues – and 4,000+ employees – they have a strong presence in their industry.
It’s an unusual corporation, by any measure. Founded by Art Kehe in 1952, the firm was still private and family controlled when Art’s son Jerry transitioned the company to become an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Program) in 2001. Now led by President/CEO Brandon Barnholt, KeHE openly presents their Founding Value: “We Thank and Honor God in all we do.” Where does that come from?
It comes from their founder; it comes from the Apostle Paul – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24) – and, it comes from the heart of their leadership team, today.
Modern marketplace leaders have come to understand the critical role that company culture plays to ensure that everyone is “on the same page.” Corporate culture is foundational; strategies morph with dynamic market conditions, but culture is the solid ground on which strategic plans are based. KeHE’s vision/mission/values construct is more than a three-ring binder in a storage locker: they’ve been deliberate in connecting the dots, and keeping their original intent connected with their daily activities.
KeHE Cares is a key component among their distinctives. A department headed by Eric Fields, their Senior Director of Employee Stewardship (and, a TMP graduate!), the company commits 10% of their pre-tax profits to be distributed to people in need – domestically and internationally – with the outflow determined by a 12-person Employee Giving Committee. They do more than write checks: Eric runs point in organizing missions trips staffed by employees who go to the front-lines of need…
Two years ago, Brandon invited me to work with him in clarifying what it means to practice the Servant Leadership philosophy that defines them. We created a day-long training for their company leaders – 120 men and women from across their departmental formations – to understand the contrast between the ordinary leadership authority model and the extraordinary leadership influence model.
These folks are serious. Each year, when they assemble those corporate leaders for training they conclude the day with the John 13 Awards Dinner where they honor employees who have lived the Servant Leadership philosophy in their work.
The highest recognition at John 13 last Friday was an administrative staffer from their office in Florida, a young woman with a big heart. In addition to her selfless service in her workday life, she and her husband participated with a KeHE mission to a church-based work in Laredo, Texas that is a key recipient of their partnership. After she received her award, they revealed that the mission trip had “closed the deal” for the couple: they were leaving Florida to become missionaries with New Vision in Laredo. The dinner ended with the CEO, board members, company leaders – and, their outside “leadership guru” and his wife (Cheri and me) – laying hands on and praying for their departing co-worker and her husband…
You won’t read this story in the Wall Street Journal this morning, but it’s on the front-page in Heaven!