Leading Passionately for the Glory of God with Andy Coats
Andy Coats graduated Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama) in 1973 with a BS degree in Social Sciences and a minor in Sociology. He is currently a member of the Society of the Golden Key University of West Alabama which is composed of Distinguished Alumni of the University.
In 1973, Andy began a start-up company as a division of an established wholesale distributor in Birmingham, Alabama. After selling that company, he launched his second start-up company, Occupational Health Dynamics, which focuses on sales and service of “high-end” industrial hygiene and occupational health instrumentation and software. Andy recently sold Occupational Health Dynamics, however, he continues to stay involved with the company as a consultant.
Andy and his wife Katharine have been married for 25 years. They have four daughters, one son, two son-in-laws, and four grandchildren. Andy’s hobbies include reading, hunting, fishing, and playing golf.
6:37– The early days of the start-up company
8:23– My background and testimony
11:41– How has your faith shaped and influenced the way you’ve done business?
14:42– A piece of encouragement
17:48– What is one major failure you’ve made as you look back over your life and career? And what did God teach you through that mistake?
21:47– Investing in the next generation of leaders
25:13– A word of encouragement
27:33– The 4:23 question
Full Transcript of Podcast Below
Ray: Hello everyone this is Ray Hilbert, your host here at the Bottom Line Faith program. We would like to welcome you back for another episode of our program. It’s now a weekly program. If this is the first time that you have listened to Bottom Line Faith, Bottom Line Faith, welcome. We are so glad you’ve joined us today. If you’re a regular listener, welcome back, and you know that this is the program where God allows us the opportunity to travel the country and meet with some of the top Christian business and thought leaders in the country, and we catch these leaders who are attempting to live out their faith in the marketplace and follow Jesus and live out biblical principles at different stages in life, in different stages of business. But what they all have in common is a desire to serve Jesus every day in the marketplace. So we interview start-up entrepreneurs, and we interview CEOs of international corporations and athletes and celebrities, and we catch them from all walks of life. So we, but the analogy we like to use here at Bottom Line Faith is we’re going to lift the hood, and we’re going to tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership in the marketplace.
We’re going to learn how they think, how they solve problems, how they’ve dealt with failure and success and so forth. So we are so glad that you chosen to join us on the program. Now, if you haven’t been to our website, please check out bottomlinefaith.org; that’s bottomlinefaith.org. We have dozens and dozens of interviews there that you can listen to at that site. Also, if you want to become a regular subscriber, just go to that site, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you can subscribe to the program and receive it on a weekly basis on your laptop, on your mobile device, what have you. So there’s lots of ways for you to subscribe there. Also, if you are a Christ follower, and you’re a president, a business owner, a CEO, and you would like to learn about the Truth At Work roundtables, now Truth At Work is the host ministry for the Bottom Line Faith program. So if you’d like to learn about the roundtable program of Christian business peer groups across the country, go to truthatwork.org, and just click on the tab there that says Roundtables and get plugged into one of the dozens of cities across the country where Bottom Line Faith roundtables meet on a monthly basis.
I am your host, Ray Hilbert, and I am really excited. I am once again in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve kind of begun to call this my home away from home. This is probably my 9th or 10th trip into this beautiful city. If you’ve never been to Birmingham, you’re missing out. It is really gorgeous down here. Some of the most amazing people and God has allowed us to meet some incredible Christian business leaders and today’s no different. I am with Andy Coats. Andy is the former president and CEO of Occupational Health Dynamics here in Birmingham. They sold the company a few months ago, and he’s now continuing on, as this is often the case, as a consultant in transition to the new ownership. It was a company he started in 1991, and we’re going to get to know Andy and his story today. Andy, welcome to Bottom Line Faith. Thank you for being here.
Andy: Thank you, Ray. It’s a pleasure.
Ray: Are you excited?
Andy: Oh, yeah. Heck yeah.
Ray: I’m pumped.
Andy: Me too.
Ray: Ready to go. So let’s just take a couple of moments and give us just a snapshot. You started this company back in ‘91, What kind of help caused you to start the company? What led up to that? And then what did the company do? And you got an ongoing role now, even though the company’s been sold, but just give us some snapshot background of the company.
Andy: Yeah, I started in sales in the safety and health business, calling industries, protecting their workers with what we call PP, personal protective equipment, which were commodities. And I did that from the time I got out of college in the ‘70s up until 1991. The market was changing. Around ’85, ’86, margins were dropping, and I began to get inquiries from clients about instrumentation. Some of it I’d sold, and some I had not. I sold my interest in another company in 1991, and started Occupational Health Dynamics with a focus on test equipment for noise monitoring companies that are exposed to noise, they have to protect those employees’ hearing, and then I’d seen a product that was a brand new product that the industry was trying to introduce, a device that did respirator fit testing. OSHA was going to promulgate a new respiratory standard. So I saw that product, and I said, there, I think there’s some real opportunity there. And so anyway, when I started the new company, it was just me. I previously had a company with 14 employees, and I took on four or five product lines. Fast forward a year, the fit test system was not approved by any regulatory agency, so I spent six years going to Washington, to the Department of Labor, OSHA, trying to get our device approved. There was one competitor in the marketplace. Finally, in 1998, we got it approved, and then that same week, OSHA promulgates a new respiratory standard and wrote our technology in the standard. So it gave us the ability, gave me the ability to go out there and really sell it.
Ray: So you certainly had that experience of that Washington bureaucracy and red tape. You got to live that out for seven years. And you survived.
Andy: Well, perseverance.
Ray: That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. And so take us back to those early days just for a moment. So you’ve been out in the marketplace, you know, a few years and had some success in sales and such. But was that scary starting that company, going off on your own? Or, or did you have that confidence? What was that like for you in the early days?
Andy: Well, my vision for the company at that time was not to necessarily grow the company into a company that sold internationally like we are. Quite frankly, I have to be honest with you, I was so pleased to sell my interest in the other company, I vowed, I would never have another employee. That I was just going to take a five-state area and just be a salesman because I wasn’t a great manager. And I didn’t have the corporate management experience; I just loved to sell. So really, I don’t know that there was a lot of fear. I wasn’t making much money, but I had a low, we, my wife and I had a very simple lifestyle, I guess you could say. So, but I was having a lot of fun because it was a new product. It was a product that I had to educate people on. We only have one competitor worldwide, even today, but it used a different methodology. So as an ex-athlete, I love a challenge. And so it was it was very stimulating. I mean, not to say we didn’t go through tough times. We definitely did.
Ray: Sure. Well, it sounds to me like there was just something really kind of exciting about, you were charting new territory, you’re, you’re crafting a whole new pathway in an industry that really didn’t exist, right?
Ray: And that’s really an awesome thing. So to just kind of talk us through a little bit about your faith background, because I then want to intersect that with business. So tell us about how you came into a relationship with Christ, and what was that like and just help us understand that?
Andy: Okay, I grew up in wonderful home. My mom and dad loved my brother and I, have an older brother, we went to church on Sundays. My mom was Christian. My dad was, he didn’t really go to church much. He came to faith later in life. When I went off to college, I was an athlete, played Division Two football, and I just thought because I went to church, and there was a mental assent about Christ and His forgiveness and his coming for us was enough. But when I got to college, a lot of the players on our team were living out a living faith, sharing their faith, doing Bible studies. This was in the early ‘70s, and the go into churches, sharing their testimony. And I began to think, you know, their faith is different than mine. And I think that’s really when I began to come under conviction of sin, where I was met, their life was far from perfect, but if I measured their life against mine, they were passionate about their faith, and I wasn’t. I got out of college, got married. After two years of marriage, one of the ministers, we were going to church. I was really not a believer, but I was seeking, and he was preaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which I had not heard much about. And he was talking about giving our life to Christ, and how the Holy Spirit comes and lives in us, so I gave my life to Christ in 1976, and it’s been a, it’s been a great ride with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. But I’m so grateful for Jesus for choosing to redeem me.
Ray: I love that. In fact, a week or so ago, I was on a, on a guest panel. And this was a totally secular environment, about 120 leaders in the room. And the guest panel that I was on, the conversation was on the topic of candor. How do you have candor in relationship, candor in conversations? And so they asked me to give a 10-second overview of my life: who I was, just as an introduction to the audience. And I said, Well, I’m Ray Hilbert, and I’m hopelessly flawed and incredibly redeemed. And I said, y’all can do with that what you want, you know, I’m in a secular environment. So I’ll be happy to talk to you after the presentation.
Andy: You know what, that reminds me, when I was going through some tough times in my life some real brokenness as a Christian, a good friend of mine who counseled me over the phone, he would tell me Coats, cheer up, you’re worse than you think, but you’re more loved than you can imagine. And what you just said really reminded me of that.
Ray: I love it. That is so true. So you really did come into your career with your faith growing, developing, budding, right? Fairly new Christian, but you walked into that, your career with your faith…
Andy: Pretty much. After a few years.
Ray: Yeah, sure. Sure. Yeah. And so let’s talk then a little bit about, at kind of a 30,000-foot level. How has your faith shaped, how has your faith influenced the way you’ve done business over the last several decades?
Andy: Yeah, it’s been a growing process. Early on, in my, and I’m gonna go back to my Christian life as it was integrating into my business life. I think I had a flawed view of my brokenness and my, and that aspect of it. I think I had a view that as you grow as a Christian, you get better and you’d have less struggles with issues. I don’t think that’s biblical, but that’s where I was, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
Ray: Jesus was just going to make everything okay, a magic wand was gonna be waved, and everything’s fine.
Andy: All things are gone. All new has come, that type thing. And, and I was still struggling with patterns of sin in my life. And subconsciously, I was saying, what’s wrong with my Christian life? But I wouldn’t share it with anybody because I was really concerned about the approval of man more than the glory of God. And it put me on a big fix in my Christian life and struggling with secret sins, and then God broke through and kinda brought them out in the open, which was not good. It was good. But it was painful though. It didn’t feel good. And so over a period of time, he’s given me a view that he’s at work in me. Everything that I’ve achieved, whether if I was somebody sweeping the streets, or a CEO, which I’ve become, is to be lived out as a steward. Everything I have, the air we breathe is a gift. So he’s been working in me more and more to understand His Lordship, his ownership, that type thing. So in my, in my business practice, the dignity of work, Genesis 1, you know, the metaphor is a garden, and whether a person is in the UPS room, or in the shipping department, or sitting in a corner office, all work has dignity. One is not any more sacred than another. And so that’s kind of the view that I’ve taken, but also we want excellence and our work, but we don’t forget that Genesis 3, the fallenness of man, and we experienced that at work.
Ray: Yeah, so let’s pause just for a moment because one of our goals here Bottom Line Faith program is we could just be an encouragement, we could just be a blessing. So, Andy, I’m sure that somebody is listening to this conversation right now, and maybe they’re like what you described, on the appearance, on the outside, maybe they ,maybe they’ve become a Christian, they’ve trusted Christ as their Savior. But maybe they’re stuck in that place with secret sin. Or maybe they’re really concerned about the appearance of living the, quote, Christian life or a godly life, and yet they know they know that there’s just still a lot of darkness there. What word of encouragement would you share with someone who’s there right now?
Andy: Well, if they’re there, they’re probably struggling with a low-grade guilt or a high-grade guilt, and they could or could not be, as I was, covering it up with having a good family, good children, being an elder in the church. And all those things are wonderful things. But if they become the ultimate things, they really become an idol. And so in my life, because of patterns of sin that I was afraid to bring forward, I would say for me, I think because I’ve talked to a lot of men when I’ve shared more openly and transparently about my struggles, that there’s the fear of man. I would say, know how much God loves you, that he’s covered every sin through the death, the life and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when he looks at us, and this is what I didn’t understand, he sees the righteousness of Christ. Yes, we’re sinners, but we’re also saints.
So we’re both. And God is, one of my favorite quotes is by Martin Luther, and he said, all of life is repentance. In my view, if I grew as a Christian, I would be repenting less, but I know deep in my heart, there were struggles I was going through, and I didn’t want to confess my sins, because I was more concerned about man’s applause, man’s approval, then I was the glory of God. And God, in His goodness, broke down that, exposed it. And now there’s a freedom I have, far from perfect, but I would encourage anybody that’s struggling with that, find somebody you feel like you can trust. Understand God loves you, and just kind of lay it out there with a good brother. And to me, having that band of brothers, having those close friendships, where you really can be honest with each other, not just in how to manage a business, but what’s going on in your heart and your soul.
Ray: So I know you’ve had some mistakes, I know you’ve had some great failures, you know, that’s, that’s part of, you know, gray hair, if nothing else, right? So if you could pick out one, and it may be difficult, right? But if you could pick out one major failure, one major mistake as you look back over the course of your life and career, what would that be? And what good did God teach you as a result of that failure or mistake?
Andy: Oh, wow. Well, part of it goes, goes back to living my Christian life in a church, and an elder in the church, but not really being transparent. And that leads to a lot of other issues because you, you can’t really walk with freedom when you’ve got something going on deep in your heart that only you know about. It needs to be brought into the light because of the love of God that He sheds abroad in our hearts and gives us the ability to be able to do that. It’s no ability of mine. It’s his work. But that work wouldn’t have happened without going through some difficult times like that. But the probably one failure also was learning manage people as a servant leader, as opposed to being harsh and critical.
Ray: A positional leader.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. And I think that came out of this brokenness that led to more humility, far from where I want to be, but a measure that I hadn’t had before, and coming alongside and coaching people up rather than calling people down, and expecting excellence in work, but also giving room for, we’re all gonna make mistakes.
Ray: That’s right. That’s right.
Andy: But you want excellence, you want your company to operate at top-notch level, but again, we live in a broken world, you’re not going to get that 24/7. So learning to be more servant leader where I wasn’t before.
Ray: It sounds to me like one of the inevitable outcomes of that lesson is that you probably extend a whole lot more grace than you might have before in that. Because you’ve used the word three or four times in the last few minutes, broken. We are broken; I’m broken; you’re broken; every listener is broken. And when we understand that, when we acknowledge that about one another, if we want to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we’ve got to extend grace, right? Because we’re just like, broken and messed up, right?
Andy: And it doesn’t mean that we don’t, you know, expect, demand, I don’t know if that’s too harsh a word, excellence in all we do, because that’s what God calls us to be is to be the best we can be in the sphere of influence that he’s put us in.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. Well, folks, we are speaking with Andy Coats, he is the, he founded and was the former president and CEO of Occupational Health Dynamics in Birmingham, Alabama. They are a global company in specialty products in the respirator industry and such, and measurement instruments, and sold the company number of months ago, now is continuing on as a consultant role to that next generation of leaders. And that’s really a segue to my next question. I want to talk about next generation of leaders. How old are you now, Andy?
Andy: I’m going on 67 in a couple of months.
Ray: Now, I never ask the female guests that question, but us guys, we’re good with it.
Andy: You’re smart.
Ray: And so before we came on the air though, we were talking about at this stage in life for you, it’s really important for you that you want to finish well, and so talk to us about the importance to you at this stage in your life, about investing in the next generation of leaders. What does that look like for you? How do you do that? Why is that important?
Andy: Well, because I didn’t have that. You know, one could say, well, you should have sought it out. Well, maybe I was the type person didn’t have any idea that I needed to seek it out.
Ray: Didn’t know what you didn’t know.
Ray: Yeah, right. Exactly. So and I know there are a lot of young people that they want success in their work, and they should want success in their work, but to try to navigate different things, marriage issues, raising children, what does that look like? What does it look like to live for the glory of God in a workplace, and sitting down with young people, when I say young people, whether they’re in their 20’s or 30’s or early 40’s, and trying to impart to them not that I’m up here, and they’re down here, but as I’ve heard said, just one hungry beggar showing another hungry beggar where to find bread and try to help them escape some of the pitfalls that I experienced. That’s my passion, and seeing the company even though I’ve sold it. The company I sold to, a German company, but they’re keeping the company intact, the employees, my management team, and my wife says, when are you going to stop going into the office? And I said I love going in there. I love my people. I still consider them my people. We pray together. Yesterday, I prayed with two of my employees. We were working through some changes and just carrying it before the Father and saying, Lord, you’re sovereign; you’re working; help us.
Ray: And keep using me.
Andy: Yeah, right.
Ray: Not a lot of people know this, but the co-founder of Bottom Line Faith, which is the host ministry here at Bottom Line Faith, he’s 81 years old. He’s 29 years my senior, and he is more excited about life and work now than ever. He sold his business a number of years ago, but now every day, all day long, what he does is he just meets with members of Truth At Work, these younger business owners, and he just coaches them, he loves on them, talks to them about life and marriage and connects them to people and opportunities. And he and I were just talking earlier this week, three days ago, and he said, I have never felt more alive. And I just, I’m so grateful that he’s going, he is finishing strong, he’s not rusting out. He says I’ll burn out before I’ll rest out. And he said, you know, I thought I’d be playing golf and on the boat all this time in this chapter of my life, but he says, I’m doing something so much more meaningful and important. Is that how you feel when you get a chance to sit down and coach this next generation?
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I met with a guy this morning at 7am, young guy, going through the job transition and got four children, you know, he’s in the thick of it. Wonderful young Christian guy, and he complimented, thanked me for sharing a lot of my life. But I got so much out of it. I mean, it just brought great joy to me just to be there, because he was a great encouragement to me. It was mutual; it wasn’t like I imparted all this wisdom, I probably shared more of my failures, you know.
Ray: Yeah, finishing strong. That’s critical. So what advice would you have? What encouragement would you have for a listener here who’s maybe well advanced in their years in their career, their business, and they’re starting to feel that same prompting, it’s like, maybe they just turned 50, I don’t want to put an age framework on this, but they’re getting older, and they’re thinking, okay, God, now what? What encouragement would you have for them about the importance of them taking their lessons, taking what they’ve learned in life and in their walk with Christ and building into the next generation? Is it critical? Is it optional? Is it preferential? How would you describe it? What would you say to them?
Andy: These are not necessarily profound words, but to me, they’re powerful to me, and that is live for the glory of God, apart from any benefits I might receive. I know there’s another passage in scripture that says, Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these other things come to you. I think that verse, years ago, meant, okay, God, I’m going to seek you, but bring it to me. It was all about me. It wasn’t about the glory of God. It was all the other things that he was going to add into me. And there’s a difference. And, and it’s an ongoing difference in my life, and it has to do with motive, and I need to pray, God, give me pure motives. I’m not pure; I’m alloy, and he’s still got me in the refiner’s fire. And so he’s burning that away, right?
Ray: Some of that dross is up on the surface. Just got to get it.
Andy: That’s right. But the beautiful thing is, he said, he who’s began a good work in us is going to complete it. It’s not, oh, God, I wish you’d change me. He is; he’s changing me. We can’t measure it, but by faith, we believe it. So that would be my, you know, live for His glory. Find other men around you that can speak into your life, that you can speak into other men’s lives. What a joy that is. It’s wonderful.
Ray: That’s awesome. What a blessing. So believe it or not, Andy, we’re at the end of our time, our time together here today at Bottom Line Faith. And so those who listen to the program know that this is the one question I always end every conversation with. And I call this my 4:23 question. It’s based out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon says, Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the wellspring of life. So Andy, let’s just fast forward the clock to some point, and you’re at the end of your time this side of eternity here on earth, and you’ve had a chance to gather your family and your loved ones and your friends and your employees and those precious relationships that you have developed in your lifetime. And you get to sit down with them, and you are going to now pass along that most important piece of advice. So finish the sentence: above all else…
Andy: I would go back to what I said a minute ago: be passionate about living for the glory of God, apart from anything you might receive. Clearly, what we receive from him is going to be good and perfect. It may not look like what we think it’s gonna look like, but live for His glory alone. And there’s great joy in that. And that would hopefully be something close to my last words to my family.
Ray: Andy, thank you for being on the program today; what a blessing.
Andy: Thank you, Ray; it’s an encouragement to me.
Ray: It is an encouragement, and that’s exactly right. And so folks, I want to encourage you one more time, check out all of the interviews that we have been able to do at Bottom Line Faith by visiting our website, bottomlinefaith.org. You can scroll down to the bottom of the page if you’re not already a subscriber, and you can become a subscriber to the program on your favorite podcast platform and receive these interviews weekly. Also, check out truthatwork.org. That is the host ministry. We are the host ministry here at Bottom Line Faith. And if you’d like to learn about our roundtable programs for Christ-following business owners, presidents, and CEOs. Click on the Roundtable tab, and you can learn more. This is your host, Ray Hilbert at Bottom Line Faith, signing off. Until next time, God bless.