The call from ABC News headquarters in New York to John Beckett was as unwelcome as it was unsettling. They wanted to do a story featuring his company.
"No way," John first responded. "Were not going to let ABC News barge into the R.W. Beckett Corporation, shoot a lot of footage, extract a few sound bites and say whatever they want to say about us on national TV."
Why would ABC News be interested anyway in talking with the president of a manufacturing firm in northeastern Ohio that makes components for heating systems? What could John Beckett have possibly done to attract their attention?
Only a year earlier, John had spearheaded an initiative to overturn some proposed guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that would have severely restricted religious freedom in the workplace. His efforts had attracted the attention and support of a number of national print and broadcast media.
Prior to that battle, however, John had already distinguished himself locally and nationally as a principled business leadercentered in his belief that God actually calls people to the world of business as their full-time service to Him. He would go on to write a book based upon his personal experience of integrating his faith with his work.
But all that would come later. For the moment, ABC was calling.
Reversing his initial rejection of ABCs request, John agreed to allow a film crew to come to the Beckett Corporation, resulting in prime time coverage on "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings." That evenings topic was an unusual one for the nightly newscompanies and business persons like John who use the Bible as a guide to doing business.
During one segment of that broadcast, the correspondent asked John Beckett to state his lifes purpose.
"When that clip began, I wincedboth from seeing my own face on national TV and wondering what response had made it into the final cut," said John later. "You can imagine how relieved I was to hear the words: My main mission in life is to know the will of God and to do it. Of all the jumbled answers I gave in that high-pressured interview, the correspondent had miraculously extracted my main goal in life in one concise sentence!"
That news segment not only prompted the largest number of favorable calls ever received by an ABC news broadcast, but it also heightened Johns commitment to encourage a growing number of business persons to bring their personal beliefs and values into the workplace. This resulted in the publication of his book, Loving Monday. "Through Loving Monday I wanted to make available to others the lessons I learned in nearly four decades in business," said John. "Its my signature on my lifes work to this point."
National recognition for applying his faith to business, however, would have been the farthest thing from Johns mind as he was growing up in Elyria, Ohio, a small industrialized town not far from Cleveland. Raised by loving and principled parents who expected the best of John and his two younger sisters, he had what some might call a "Norman Rockwell" childhood. Among other "normal" experiences, his familys regular attendance at a local Episcopal church somehow created in John a sense that he might target a career in ministry. "That sounded noble to me," he recalled.
But engineering and business strongly beckoned. His father, Reginald Beckett, an engineer who started a business manufacturing his own specially designed residential oil burner for home heating, had a profound effect upon Johns life. When John was accepted at MIT, it seemed clear he would, like his father, head toward a career in businesseven though the subtle pressure to "be in ministry" would dog Johns vocational decisions for many years.
Ironically, once John arrived as a student at MIT, he found himself repeatedly pestered by classmates who urged him toward a "born again" approach to Christianity. But what they were selling, he wasnt buying. In fact, he dismissed the Bible (and those who tenaciously held to it) as irrelevant to his life and career preparation. That was until he met his future wife, Wendy.
"During our courtship and early marriage, I noticed that Wendy continued to read her well-worn Bible," John recalled. "In spite of her example, I simply was not able to get enthused about this enigmatic book. I would try now and then, dusting off a handsome volume my parents had given me, but it didnt seem relevant. Again and again I would set it aside." This view would eventually changebut not for some years, and not before John would face a number of life-changing challenges.
Soon after his marriage to Wendy in the early sixties, John left a promising position in the aerospace industry to accept his fathers invitation to work in his small manufacturing company. The chance to work side-by-side with his dad made the offer one that John simply couldnt refuse. It wasnt long, however, until the trials of life crashed in upon John and Wendy and their fledgling family.
First, their daughter contracted gastroenteritis, a life-threatening condition for infants. Next, Wendys mother succumbed to a painful battle with cancer. And finally, just one year after inviting John to join him in the business, Reg Beckett was stricken by a fatal heart attack.
"I received the phone call on a cold Saturday morning from the local police," John recalls. "I gasped for breath, my mind in total turmoil as I received the report that Dad had been found slumped over the steering wheel of his car. My only thought was, How can this be?"
This tragedy, along with other difficulties, forced John to recognize his need for spiritual resources far beyond what he presently knew. But not before more trials washed over him.
Just months after his fathers passing, as he struggled at age 26 to sustain his newly inherited business, John received yet another phone callthis one at two oclock in the morning from the local fire department. The Beckett plant was engulfed in flames. John remembered his thoughts as he arrived on the scene minutes later: "I knew if it went, we were almost certainly out of business for good." Miraculously, the plant survived the fire, but the ordeal was one more challenge drawing John closer to a commitment to the Lord.
"For me, the difficulties I had encountered were gradually opening up insights into the Bible and the ways God works in our lives. Valuable lessons were being forged. In fact, I accepted a challenge at a Christian teaching seminar to read the Bible five minutes each day. At first, it was sheer discipline. But soon I began gleaning insights that affected not only my life, but also my work."
Soon afterward, Johns "conversion" took place. As with John Wesley, who at one point found his heart "strangely warmed," John recognized something of great spiritual significance had taken place. Although he could not pinpoint the exact day or hour, he knew he had come into a vital relationship with Jesus Christ.
The spiritual transaction that took place in John caused an old issue to resurface. Despite tremendous success in his growing business pursuits, Johns experience of renewal once again raised the question of whether to stay in business or "go into full-time ministry." In Johns mind, the question took this form: Is my involvement in business truly my calling, or is it a matter of personal preference? Should I be thinking about some more direct form of ministry?
"I really didnt want to hear that question," John later recounted. "After putting forth my best arguments to the Lord for staying in business, I finally concluded this wasnt a negotiating session. He was probing deep into my heart, examining my motives. After a good deal of soul-searching, I made perhaps the most difficult decision Id ever madea decision to release to God my future and all that I owned, including the company."
That step was a watershed in Johns life, for he realized God had to be at the center of his business. "I decided to yield everything to Him, including my lifes work." In response, Gods direction seemed clear, as if He were saying to John: "You are where I want you to be. I have called you to business."
The peace that resulted from finally settling that issue allowed John to move forward in his business career with invigorated confidence. As he began to apply Gods principles on the job, his faith grew, providing life-size lessons that have served him well throughout his business career.
Johns application of biblical principles to business has been the foundation for growth in the size and scope of his company, and the platform for involvement in a number of other arenas. Today, the Beckett companies are three growing businesses that have diversified into a variety of related product areas, with a total of over 500 employees and about $100 million in annual sales.
But far more important than the numbers is the reality reflected in these companies that Gods Word has proved a reliable guide in every business situation, from employee relations to customer service to international marketing decisions. The Bible is the basis for the vision and values that are the very fiber of the family of companies John oversees.
Of the many well-proven business principles upon which the Beckett Corporation is based, three represent Becketts "core values": integrity, excellence, and a profound respect for the individual.
John defines integrity as "adherence to a standard of values"a key concept in his companys mission. "That which is sound, whole, and complete has integrity. In the biblical use, the term embraces truthfulness, honesty, uprightnesstraits found in the person described in Psalm 15, who swears to his own hurt and does not change. I picture someone who agrees on a handshake to sell a piece of property for a certain sum. The next day another person offers more money. The person of integrity honors the prior commitment, even though backing out would bring greater profit."
John describes excellence as that which reflects the best of Gods creation. "Whenever something bears the mark of Gods kingdom, it will be excellent. We will never fully duplicate the perfection of the heavenly realm, but by aligning ourselves with Gods ambassador to earth, Jesus Christ, we can certainly emulate it. Ultimately, excellence is defined not by a product or a process but by a Person."
One of the most compelling characteristics of a biblically focused business is the way employees are regarded and treatedcentered in a profound respect for the individual. This dimension stood out the strongest when the ABC correspondent asked John Beckett, "What makes your company different from the one down the street?"
The news segment highlighted some of the practices within the company that reflect a commitment to the dignity and intrinsic worth of the individualpolicies such as: Johns personal involvement in the hiring process, decisions to allow mothers with newborns to stay home with them for an extended period, or company subsidies to families who adopt children.
According to John, "The important thing is to view people the way God does. In Genesis we read that God formed men and women in his own image and likeness. When I really saw this, it changed the way I viewed not only myself but other people. I concluded I must place a high value on each person and never look down on another, regardless of his or her station or situation in life. To apply this, employees must be provided a dignified and supportive work environment where they are viewed as valued, important, worthy. They bear Gods own image. If they are of infinite worth in his eyes, they certainly deserve no less from us than our profound respect."
After all, he reasons, "We are salt. We are light. We are Gods ambassadorsin business or wherever we are, and to everyone with whom He brings us in contact." Johns overriding conviction is that people who carry a vision for business based upon biblical principles will inevitably make an impact on the world around themespecially the world of business.
Dick Leggatt, a former Editor of New Wine Magazine, is Vice President of the Ohio Roundtable, a grassroots public policy organization. He and his wife, Cindi, have four children and reside in Elyria, Ohio.
Reprinted with permission from the July/August issue of "The Christian Businessman" magazine. For subscription information, call toll-free 888-775-6175.