Hobby Lobby Founder and CEO David Green talks about his humble beginnings as a preacher's son whose family scraped by with hand-me-down-clothing and little food on the table. He shares lessons he learned from his generous, loving parents and discusses the importance of investing in God's work.
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Mr. David Green: I think it all starts with our heart. Do we really have a heart for Him and for what’s important to Him? And that’s to see people come to know Christ, and so, that’s what we want to make sure that we are always in prayer. Do we really care about these people? And if we do, we’re gonna give.
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John Fuller: That’s David Green. He’s founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby and sharing his conviction that you can and you should honor God with all that He’s given you. You’ll hear his inspiring story today on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, David Green and the Green family are friends of this ministry. They have done so much to help us in different ways and I have a lot of admiration for how they have lived out their faith in Christ. It’s remarkable what God can do through people who are yielded to Him and you know, that’s what we’re trying to do in your families, as parents, as a married couple. It all comes down to selflessness, doesn’t it? I mean, it really does when you look at life. That’s one of the main things we have to learn in this life, is to give of yourself and the Lord seems to smile when that happens.
We are gonna talk about how you do that, how you give it all away (Laughing) and with our guests today and I think it’s gonna be very exciting and David, welcome to the “Focus” program.
David: Thank you. Honored to be here.
Jim: First of all, I got a little complaint. We gotta start with a complaint.
David: All right.
Jim: How do you like that?
David: You know.
John: Customer service.
Jim: Customer service, you know, here we go.
David: You didn’t get a refund or something?
Jim: Now, you know, no, no, you know, we have a family budget and we try live by that budget.
David: Yeah, I hear ya.
Jim: And my wonderful wife seems to enjoy shopping at Hobby Lobby a lot. (Laughter)
David: Yeah, I’m not too concerned about that one. (Laughter)
John: It’s your problem.
Jim: You are my budget buster, buddy.
Jim: No, it’s so fun.
David: That’s good. Thank you for your support.
Jim: What an amazing thing that the Lord has done. When did the company start, what year?
David: 1970 is when we started. Barb and I really didn’t have any money. We had three children, and so, actually had none to start a business, so we borrowed $600 to start the business.
Jim: Six hundred bucks!
Jim: That’s kind of the story that books are written about, right?
David: Right, right.
Jim: And it’s amazing what the Lord has done. Do you look back, you and Barbara, do you look back on that and just shake your head like, wow!
David: Yeah, we do.
Jim: ‘Cause I know you well enough to know that you’re smart, but you wouldn’t say, “I’m that smart.”
David: No, I’m not that smart. (Laughter)
David: No, no.
Jim: That’s remarkable.
David: We know it’s a God thing. God has blessed us with great people and He’s just blessed and we just thank Him for it. Yeah, we look back and almost pinch ourselves because, you know, this year we’ll do $4.5 billion dollars and have no debt.
David: And so, that’s just a God thing, and we know it, but we’re havin’ a lot of fun.
Jim: You know what I love about this story, especially the meager beginnings. You know, most families with three kids that are young, your kids at that time were probably what, 8, 9, 11?
David: Actually they were 5 and 7, no, no, excuse me. They were 7 and 9, because we paid ‘em 7 cents apiece to manufacture these frames in the garage.
Jim: Well, if you’re still up for that, my boys’ll do that.
David: Ok, good.
John: But they’re twice as much; they’re in their teens.
Jim: They’re teenagers, yeah. But I love that picture of getting the family involved and recognizing what task was in front of you, starting the business with $600 in the garage (Chuckling).
Jim: I mean, how many struggling families are thinking, okay, is this something we should do?
Jim: What kind of encouragement would you give to that Christian who’s thinking entrepreneurially? I mean, do you just take the leap, or what did you do to prepare?
David: Well, for me, I don’t know that we had a lot that we prepared, because we did this in the afternoons, because it was our love, but I had to have my day job. But I’m thankful for my wife, because she worked for the first five years with no salary at all. So, the family came together. It was a family business, and everybody chipped in. And to be honest, there were times that I said, “Let’s just forget this. This is too difficult.” But I think we knew that God had this for us.
Jim: Let me take you back to your parents, because as I looked at your book and read the stories, your mom and dad, what an amazing story.
Jim: And talk about that interaction between you and your parents and what they taught you, what they did vocationally. Just get into that.
David: Yeah, well, I’ve read your heritage, and you and I had totally different heritage. I came from a pastor’s home and my mother and dad were both ministers. And it was exciting because there were six children and it was exciting just to see the integrity of my mother and father. You know, back in the ‘40’s when I grew up, a lot of the tithes were paid by farmers and people and they would pay in their vegetables, or a chicken or something like this.
Jim: Right. (Laughing)
David: And my mother and dad, you would watch them just list these things, because they wanted to make sure that they paid tithes of their increase. It’s not because they were legalistic; it was just because they loved the Lord. They loved to give. They loved to give to missions and so, that kind of upbringing really touched me for life. I know that.
Jim: But it’s important and I so appreciate that, the great work of Christ in all of our lives. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you start at the bottom or you start at the top, yielding to Christ is the key and the fruit of the Spirit working in your life I know you agree is the key. I mean, it’s God’s work in you that makes the difference, not your status in life.
Jim: But in there, I was shocked that your mom and dad, after they passed away and you were getting, and I think your brother was working on getting the effects in order, found all the pay stubs and all those things and the most your dad had ever made was $138 in a week.
David: Yes, exactly, yes, and then he would see checks for $100, you know, that my dad would give and so, it was incredible how they would give. They loved the Lord so much and that’s what causes us to be generous. It’s all about a heart thing.
Jim: So, you and your wife, Barbara, how did you meet, and what was she getting into when she said, “Okay, I’ll marry you?”
David: Yeah, yeah, I don’t think she knew, but anyway (Laughter) she and I [were] workin’ at the local “five and dime” store in Altus, Oklahoma. Now, I met her there. She was 15 when I first met her.
David: And she was at work at TG&Y. Actually, it was McClellan’s at the time and so, I tell people there’s a song that says, “I met my million-dollar baby in a five and 10 cent store.” Well, I really did. (Laughter) She was my million-dollar baby. So yeah, we got married when we were 17. She was 17. I was 19. And so, that was like 56 years ago.
Jim: Congratulations, by the way.
Jim: That’s wonderful. You know, when you look at that background, you started doing that as a teenager, working. TG&Y is actually a store I remember.
David: Right, right.
Jim: Cornet was another out in the West where I lived, but those were the five and dime stores.
Jim: Did you get that into your blood, or why did retail excite you the way it did?
David: Yeah, my junior and senior year, I took a class called Distributive Education, where I could get out of school, and I actually get credit for working, which [made me think I died and went to heaven, you know.
Jim: Okay, so there’s hope for my 16-year-old.
David: Oh, yeah. (Laughter) Oh, yeahand I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be someone, a retailer and so, the bug bit me when I was a junior and senior.
Jim: When you look at that, David, integrating faith and business, there’s so many voices in the culture today saying you absolutely have to separate these things. You can’t be a Christian. You can’t express your faith in that environment. You’ve kinda said, why not? I mean, this is who I am. Speak to that, some of the things that have happened within Hobby Lobby that have been phenomenal testimonies of lives changed.
David: We’re very, very open. Obviously, we don’t discriminate anybody that doesn’t have faith. Come on. We hire them. We don’t ask ‘em, but at the same time, our faith is so important to us. Well, I can’t keep it hid. It’s who I am.
David: And so, that’s why we close on Sundays. That’s why we pay our employees minimum of $15.70. That’s why just
Yesterday, we had 17 of ‘em accept Christ for the first time, and we had 21 of them that rededicated their life. So, that’s 38 out of 41. So, it’s exciting to be able to do that. We literally have hundreds of people to come to know Christ because we have six chaplains. And we witness to them, but they know they can have their job.
David: We just care and love them.
Jim: “What you’re describing there, David, is helping people to live a life that is fulfilling and peaceful. You’re not wanting to offend anyone or force your beliefs on them. And at the same time, you’re supporting ministries, like Focus on the Family, the local church of course, and you’re demonstrating that you can have a rich, fulfilling spiritual life in the business world, or in the medical field, or in any other thing you do, right?”
David: Well, we have learned this over the years. God has asked us to do things. We know He has, and we’ve seen things, miracles in our business. And so, we absolutely know that we are in God’s perfect will. And I also say that we’re not only in God’s perfect will, but I go to work, and I sense God’s anointing on my life. So, I’m just as anointed as a pastor in the pulpit.
I go to work anointed, as I pray. I feel His anointing. Often I’ll tell my wife, “I just sense God’s anointing on my life.” So, we can be anointed no matter where we are, if we’re working for God, and we’re putting Him first in our lives and we know that we are. And as a result, we see the miracles that we think we see in God givin’ us the company that He has.
John: Yeah, and people coming to Christ through the training at Hobby Lobby is certainly firstfruits of that kind of devotion to Christ.
John: Well, we’re talking with David Green on “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and the book is Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again, written by David Green. You’ll find copies at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: David, let’s get to the core of the book, which is your, kind of philosophy on giving and that’s not a topic we talk a lot about here at Focus, but I love the way that you expressed it and the things that you learned from you mom and dad, the things that you learned, you know, comin’ up in a meager environment.
A lot of times people in that situation, we learn to hoard. We don’t really learn to give when we don’t have much, especially as a child. So, I’m really intrigued that the Lord spoke to your heart all along your journey and said, “Here’s what I want from you.” Describe that.
David: Well, people ask me about my giving journey, and I say, “Well, obviously, my wife and I both, our parents paid tithe. And so, when we got married, we paid tithes, because we knew God would bless us, because I would see my mother and dad bein’ blessed, not always in a financial way, but in so many other ways.
David: And then we opened up our business and very soon after, we wanted to pay tithes on our profits. And so, then we would see God blessin’ us, so we would give more than tithes.
And so, it’s been kind of a[n] evolution, and God was blessin’ us. We’re givin’ more than tithes and so, I got caught sayin’, “You can’t out-give God.” And I remember God just speaking to my spirit, says, “Well, you really haven’t tried.”
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, man.
David: So, we knew that God was sayin’, “You haven’t tried, and you’re just sayin’ that, and that doesn’t cost you any money to say, “You can’t out-give God.”
And so, we talked to the family, prayed about it, and my oldest son, Mart and I came up with the same thing. I mean, the same amount; the same schedule. We were gonna give the largest amount we’d ever given and then six months later, we were gonna give double that and then triple that 18 months and four times and so, that was gonna be our plan to see if we could out-give God.
And we looked at the plan and we said, “Five, six years, there ain’t no way.” Well, that was 18 years ago, and we’re ahead of the plan.”
David: So, we had to jump the plan to go to where we know that the government will allow us to write off 50 percent of our earnings. So now, we give half of our earnings and that’s kind of our evolution.
Jim: That is amazing.
David: Yeah, that is.
Jim: I mean, what a thing to do.
David: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: Man, that is somethin’. What a way to honor the Lord and to help those around you and to testify to what God has done for you. David, let me ask you a couple of questions. You know, you’re in a very unique spot. Not many, you and Barbara both, not many couples start a business like that, that grows to 4.5 billion.
Jim: There are Scripture[s] that talk about, I think the mentality of those who achieve that kind of wealth. In fact, the one that talks about the camel, that it’s easier for a camel to fit through [an] eye of a needle than for a rich man to make it into heaven. Sitting where you’re at today, coming from a meager beginning, a meager childhood, how do you look at those Scriptures? What do you think the Lord is saying to you, as a very wealthy man, someone who’s been blessed in incredible ways? What does that say to you? What does God want from you?
David: You know, when I’m reading the Scriptures, there are so many Scriptures in the Bible that’s [sic] negative about wealth and how wealth can really hurt you and if it’s not used in the right way. But I think God is talking to all of us, is just to have a hand that’s just totally opened up. You know, I have a nice car. I have nice things, but Barbara and I want to make sure those things are in an open palm, and they belong to Him.
And so, we also always like to say when we’re in meetings like this, also that it’s not about how much you give. We know about the widow that gave more than the rich man. There was a time that God asked us to do somethin’ for ORU, and it was a pretty large number. And my son comes back and he says, “Dad, did we out-give your mom?” And I said, “No. My mom gave of her need, and we’re givin’ of our abundance.”
So, I think God just wants us to have a heart. I think it all starts with our heart. Do we really have a heart for Him and for what’s important to Him? And that’s to see people come to know Christ, and so, that’s what we want to make sure that we are always in prayer. Do we really care about these people? And if we do, we’re gonna give.
Now, a lot of us don’t have the kind of money we have to give, but they have other things they can give. They can give their talents, like my mom, exactly
David: She gave her time; she gave prayer to her children and so, talents, whatever we have, God wants it from us to care about Him.
Jim: In fact, I think you had a story there in the book where your mom may have had just four or five dresses, but if somebody had a need, she’d give it.
David: Exactly, yeah.
Jim: That’s awesome.
David: Yeah, she was very, very generous.
Jim: Yeah, you know, when you’re talking to me and women who have made it, often you see a wake of destruction, usually their kids. I think I know you well enough that if you were to say, if all of this material wealth had come my way at the cost of my kids, my marriage, I would not want it. And there are men, particularly, who are listening right now who, you know, they’ve laid it all out there. They have worked really hard to try to do well financially, and it’s come with a price, because perhaps, they’ve ignored their primary mission. What would you say about that equation? You may have gained everything and lost everything.
David: Yeah, exactly, gained, yeah. I have made that statement. If I had lost one of my kids to Satan, I would give up all of Hobby Lobby. As I said even earlier, the least blessings that God can give me is finance. There are so many other blessings that we need.
But I think it has to do with our marriage. My marriage is more important than my business. My children servin’ their God, the Lord. So, I think the most important thing to me is our legacy. We’re gonna have a legacy here.
And I think my mother when she passed away, she passed away from this world’s standpoint as a nobody, but she was in the arms of her daughter and she said, “Do you see them? Do you see them?” She said, “No, what is it?” She said, “Angels.” So, that’s how important my mother was, and she died with a marriage that lasted till death. She had children that were serving God and grandchildren serving God. I promise you, a billionaire in his deathbed would trade with my mother. So, those are the things that we need to look at first.
David: So many times when I’m speaking, I will talk about marriage and raising children, the same things you’re doing, more than I will about being successful in business, which is important, to be good at what you do. God has asked us to be … do the very best with whatever God has given you to do. But even before that, the things that are more important is [sic]the family.
Jim: Yeah. In your book, Giving It All Away, you shared three core principles about giving and they were: set your criteria; set your giving amount and set a fire for the future. Explain each one. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but talk about them.
David: I think we do need to have a plan for the future and if you really think and look and study the Hobby Lobby, the Green family’s plan, it’s the fact that there are only two things that’s eternal and that’s God’s Word and man’s soul. So, if you’ll study what we’ve done and where our finances go, huge, huge of ‘em have to do with things like Every Home for Christ. We’ve been working--
David: --with them for 20 years and we’ve seen over 600 million homes being visited. One Hope, next year we will hit 1 billion Four Gospels to children because we’ve been workin’ with them for about 20 years. So, ministries like yourself, like these that ... that have eternal rewards, God’s Word. That’s what we’re doin’ with the museum. Those are the things that our family are excited about, things that’s gonna make a difference a thousand, 2,000 years from now.
Jim: And that’s that fire you’re talking about.
Jim: I think that’s great. You know, last year, most people don’t realize this and we weren’t always measuring this, but last year, the last 12 months, 210,000 decisions for Christ here at Focus.
David: Well, that’s incredible.
Jim: And I think the family is such a great vehicle to open people’s hearts, much like employment. I mean, when you start looking at it, those are two core things that possess most of your waking hours, right, is your family and then where do I work? And how am I fed at work? And what a great example of that.
David, when folks see somebody successful, they don’t know all that’s going on underneath it. I’m sure even some family members that you have may not know all of it. But there was a time when the business was struggling. I think it was in the ‘80’s.
Jim: And you described in the book being under your desk praying.
Jim: I mean, that right there tells me the story. You were in trouble. Fill that in, and even though you had this great success, started in the garage with $600, you built it over the years to 4.5 billion, along the way there are moments where you weren’t sure. Why?
David: Well, in the mid-’80s we had found ourselves borrowing too much money, reaching out too fast, trying to grow too fast. And everything worked fine if everything would’ve been like we thought it was gonna be. But there was an oil bust at the time, and things got very, very difficult and the bank sent us a letter really threatening to foreclose on us. And that’s when I found myself really under my desk, because I knew that we had a lot of employees. Our family, a lot of families depended on this thing.
But I don’t say as much about this in the book as I really should have, possibly, but really I think that was all about pride in my life. I had a sense that everything I’d touched in TG&Y went well, and everything went well at Hobby Lobby. And I had a sense of pride, and sad to say, I’m a preacher’s son, but I was very prideful.
And that was a point in my life that I found out that I couldn’t do it without Him. It was as though God [was] just sayin’ to me, “Well, you’re so smart, I’m just gonna let you have it by yourself.” And I just knew that He released His blessings on my business. I mean, He gave me breath and gave me life and all of that, but the blessing just wasn’t there.
So, I went for months and month just cryin’ out to God and trying to learn a lesson of pride. I didn’t learn that for life. It’s something you deal with, or I deal with every day.
David: But I try to reflect back on that time of when I was prideful.
Jim: And you obviously made it through. God provided.
David: God pulled us out of there, as He taught me a lesson that He wanted to teach me.
Jim: Let’s touch briefly on something that occurred, and we don’t need to get into all the details, but one of the reasons Hobby Lobby is so prominent in the culture is during the Obama administration, they passed some requirements and laws that you felt went against your conviction as a Christian. And you decided to go to court to fight it.
Let’s walk through that process, because taking on the U.S. Government is not easy and you did it. Some Christian business owners would not make that choice. What did you learn in that looking back on it now? And what would you say to others who are maybe wavering, ‘cause they don’t know to stand up in the culture? What does that look like? Describe that process for us.
David: Well, of course, when we found out that in our insurance policy, we must have four drugs that we knew would take life--we believe life begins at conception and we know that; we know only God creates life--so we’re being asked to eliminate life.
And so, we called the family together and said, “This is what’s gonna happen. We may lose this business, but we just want to hear from everybody.” The government, if we didn’t provide this, would charge us because of the number of employees we had, it would have been $1.3 million a day.
Jim: A day!
David: One day, a day.
David: It’s $100 a day per person. It’s like $36,000 for one person per year. The number of employees on the program, it would’ve been 1.3. So, this is where we were. You either violate your conscience or pay $1.3 million.
So, we were at the point that we just had to call the family together and this is where we are. And so, we asked the youngest one and there [were] about 22 of our [family members]. There [are] 35 in our family of age, that [were] at high school or above.
We asked every one of them and I wanted to make sure I asked the youngest first and be the last to speak. And so, we did that and we found out that there was no one in my family in Gen 3, my grandkids, Gen 2, my kids or Barbara and I, there was not a single one of ‘em. So, different ages groups, different generations, we all felt the same way, that we didn’t want to take life. And so, we decided that the only thing we could do is sue the government, you know, about this issue.
And so, that’s where it all started and Barbara and I would both tell you that we really was [sic] at peace during all this time, because whatever happened, happened. If we lost our business, we lost our business. But in doing so, we wouldn’t go back and say, we’d made the wrong decision. No, we knew 100 percent we made the right decision. So, because of that and because of God givin’ us peace, I know it was because of all the prayers, we dealt with it very well.
Jim: Man, that is such a testimony to everything you have said today. I mean, the fact that it’s the Lord over finances, the Lord over the business, and that is the test, and you passed it so wonderfully, in front of all of us. I mean, that was a very public expression, and thankfully, the Supreme Court saw it correctly and sided with you and you won the case.
And you know, I just think in the culture right now, it’s not about being angry toward those who don’t believe. That’s the other side of it that I so appreciated the Green family. You were not responding out of anger. You were responding out of conviction and there is a big difference, and I was so proud of you and your family for how you managed it, how you expressed it and the way in which it ended. The Lord was honored in every direction, and that’s a good thing.
David: Yeah. We were excited about it, for sure.
Jim: David, this has been so fast and this has flown by. Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again, a wonderful book that will help all of us understand our finances, how to trust God in tough places. Thank you on behalf of the Christian community, if I can represent all the listeners right now and really just say thank you to you and Barbara for all that you have done to lift God up and lift the Lord Jesus Christ up. You are doin’ it and it makes us all swell up a bit inside to say, there’s a family doing it so well. Thank you.
David: Thank you. Enjoyed it.
John: And for follow up, of course, Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again, the subtitle really says so much about it, The Way of Living Generously. So, wherever you’re at, whether you have a little or a lot, this is gonna be a great book to frame some great principles on having an open hand, and we’ll encourage you to get a copy when you call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Hey, John, I think it would be important for us to follow the advice we’ve heard and for those who can’t afford the book, just get ahold of us. We’ll get it in your hands. A gift of any amount would be wonderful, but again, if you’re not in that spot, let us provide it. Let us trust the very advice that David has given us. So, we’ll do that, but contact us.
I want to thank all the supporters that help us to reach the troubled marriages, the parents that are in a crisis. Thank you for taking care of meeting those needs and introducing over 200,000 people to Jesus just last year. We all share in that and I’m grateful to you.
John: Hm, yeah. Again, donate and get resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-A-FAMILY.
Well, come back on Monday when you’ll hear Dr. Tim Keller on “Focus on the Family” about why a skeptic should consider Christianity.
Dr. Tim Keller: Christianity offers a meaning in life that suffering can’t take away from you, a satisfaction that’s not based on circumstances, a freedom that doesn’t undermine love, an identity that’s absolutely stable and a hope that can face anything.
End of Excerpt
John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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David GreenView Bio
David Green is the founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, the largest privately-owned arts and crafts retailer in the world. He started the operation in 1972 with six hundred square feet of retail space located in north Oklahoma City. It was a retail outgrowth of Greco Products, a company David founded in 1970 by setting up shop in his garage and making miniature wooden picture frames. Hobby Lobby currently employs 32,000 workers company wide and operates more than 700 stores in a 47-state area. David is the co-author of two books, More Than a Hobby and Giving It All Away … and Getting It All Back Again. He and his wife, Barbara, have two sons and one daughter. Visit the Hobby Lobby website at www.hobbylobby.com.