Al Caperna, Chairman of the CMC Group, shares a radical “Saul to Paul” conversion story of both his personal life and his business.
“We don’t talk about being the investor. You need to become the mentor and the investor and the discipler, not just the five talent person.”
Ray: Well, good afternoon, good evening, good morning. Wherever it is, time of day that you are listening, this is the Bottom Line Faith podcast brought to you by Truth At Work. I am your co-host, Ray Hilbert. Our other co-host, Adam Ritz, is traveling and out on assignment this week, so it is my pleasure to be conducting this session of the Bottom Line Faith podcast for our regular listeners. Of course, you know that this is the podcast where we take a look – where we, as the kind of analogy is, we want to lift the lid, we want to lift the hood of the Christian business and marketplace leader, and we want to look in that engine and see how they think, and see how they live, see how they lead, how they learn, and do life. And so this is a real practical podcast, and as you know as a listener of the program, we feature a wide variety of leaders from business owners, CEOs, presidents from the world of athletics, nonprofit leaders, and so forth. And so it is my pleasure today – our relationship goes back roughly ten years or so – but this is Mr. Al Caperna. We are in Toledo, Ohio, and Al is the chairman of the CMC Group. Al, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Al: Well, thank you, Ray. It’s been a blessing to be here, to know you, and to spend time getting to know Truth At Work, and I’m just honored to be here today.
Ray: Well, I was really excited when I learned that I was going to get the chance to sit down with you, Al. For our listeners, Truth At Work, we have our business Round Tables around the country, and you played such a critical role in helping the chapter here in Toledo get started. I hope you recall that evening we had over dinner a few years ago, and without question, you’re just really a patriarchal spiritual leader in this community and globally, and so it’s an honor; thanks for being here.
Al: Very kind words; you’re welcome.
Ray: Well, let’s talk a little bit about CMC Group. You are the Chairman of that company; tell us a little bit about your company. What you do, and a little bit of the impact that your company is having.
Al: Great. Well, being part of CMC Group has been a tremendous blessing, assignment from the Lord. We are a retail packaging food safety company. We have two basic divisions in that group. One is we do retail packaging for fancy foods, gourmet foods, the retail industry, and the other is we’re one of the largest providers in the world of food safety labeling for the back end of restaurants. So it’s, we have two basic focuses in that business.
Ray: How long have you been in that business?
Al: I spent 36 years now, Ray.
Ray: So you’ve been at it. Did you start the company?
Al: I actually had a friend at church start the company in California, who’s part of a church plant out there, and then I bought in, and we moved it back to Ohio, and I started manufacturing.
Ray: Awesome. So you grew up in this part of the country.
Al: I grew up in southern Ohio, and moved north to Bowling Green, Ohio.
Ray: Okay, you’re a Buckeye through and through.
Al: Right, yes sir.
Ray: Share a little bit of your testimony, your personal background. How is it that you came to a relationship with Christ?
Al: That’s a great, great question. I have a very colorful story, Ray. I got really confused in college. I took on the party routine. Really well, adopted to that very well in college and got myself in a bad place. Ended up calling home, talking to my mom and telling her what was going on. She started to cry and she told me to call my sixth-grade reading tutor. I’m going, now who has some mental problems? So I called this lady up on the phone, I talked to her for a minute, and she says, “Al, have you ever asked Jesus Christ to be your personal Savior?” And I said, “I didn’t know I was supposed to.” She said, “Well, you are.” So I pray it over the telephone with her and, Ray, I got hit so hard by the Holy Spirit, I had to grab the door jamb. I almost passed out. So I got radically saved. I went from the wildest guy in my fraternity to the chaplain in two weeks.
Ray: That’s almost like a Saul-to-Paul story right there.
Al: He got my attention.
Ray: That is fantastic. And so did you always know that you wanted to be in business?
Al: I started my first business when I was 14. I had 15 people working for me when I was 14. My dad owned his own business, so I always liked business. I never really thought much about being in business; I just was kind of living life.
Ray: So did you then buy into the company right out of school, or how did that transition come to into the CMC Group?
Al: Well, after I accepted Christ, I decided to commit to the church that I was going to, so I stayed in Bowling Green, and left the family business. My dad owned the business; I was in line to take it over, and I felt like God wanted me to follow him, not my father. So I stayed in Bowling Green. My first year in Bowling Green I had five different jobs, working sometimes three jobs at a time trying to support myself. So it was a tough first year.
Ray: So something you were instilled with, a very strong work ethic.
Al: I believe in supporting myself, yes. So in fact we kind of look at Scripture that before God gave Adam a wife, he gave him a job, didn’t he? Put him to work.
Ray: That’s awesome. Well, let’s talk a little bit just about lessons learned. Kind of some things that you’ve grown to learn along the years. Let’s kind of just jump off, jump out onto the cliff here, and say what’s the biggest mistake that you can recall making in business? What was it and what did you learn from it?
Al: Well, going to dig up some hurts here, okay. What’s the biggest mistake? One of the things I actually like to do when I share is to talk about my mistakes, not just my successes. Because people have a hard time relating; they think that we had some golden paths that we went down, and life was easy in 1985. Our business had been growing at like sixteen hundred percent over a period of years and the stress was phenomenal, and the relationships couldn’t handle that stress. So as partners, we broke down and the partnership broke down. I ended up borrowing some money from my parents and buying my partners out. And my CFO was sitting in the office like three weeks later saying, we’re going to run out of cash, you’re not going to make it, this business isn’t going to make it, and I went, “That would have been great advice three weeks ago when I bought the business.” Timing. So I was praying about it and God spoke to me and said, you’re the man. I go, what do you mean? He said, my wish was for you to work that out with your partners, and you failed. You failed in those relationships. And the only thing I could say was, you’re right. I’m sorry, I repent, I’m wrong. I just humbled myself before the Lord and I just begged God. I said, God you know even though we failed, will you redeem us? Will you make a plan and redeem us? Thank God, He did.
Ray: What did you take from that experience – that God cares a lot about relationships?
Al: Ray, he sure does. He cares a lot about relationships. He doesn’t care about projects as much as relationships, and we can be very project-focused. But God wants us to be relationship-focused.
Ray: We see that happen a lot obviously in business, even in families. That we get our goals, and our objectives, and our accomplishments ahead of those relationships. And what you’re speaking to is at the heart of God, right? It was the heart of God for me at that point I mean he made it pretty clear that he cares more about relationships than being right. So how do you play that out to your company today? It’s thriving; hundreds of employees and you’ve got global impact, and what you’re doing we’ll talk about that in a moment, how do you play out those relationships in business today?
Al: Well, it comes down to, you know, we have to be performance-oriented. People have to perform, they have to earn their wage, and they have to learn, and grow. So we do work with people, but every decision isn’t made on performance. So there’s many times in the company, and I could name some of the people where they failed to do their job, but we kept them. We found other places for them, and we worked with them, and we found a place for them to be productive. And those are the wins that you really like; the ones that you go, okay in the world’s eyes they’d be gone. But God’s going, now I didn’t bring them here for you to discard them. I brought them here for you to empower them. So you keep working with them.
Ray: I’m sure it doesn’t always work out, right? To keep them for the long term, but it sounds like you’re really interested in going that extra mile to give them a chance to thrive inside the company.
Al: I believe that if you’re a father, my father’s heart is to bring out the gifts of their children and as a business leader, I don’t see my job just to employ someone. My job is God has given me the opportunity to really bring their gifts out; the God-given gifts that are in them and to help them become who God created them to be. And that’s the calling, that’s what I love about business.
Ray: That’s awesome. We’ve talked here just a moment about the biggest mistake. You said it really was about not putting those relationships first and you learned from that and now this is a core tenet of how you run business. Now think back over the course of your career, Al. What’s maybe the best, most powerful advice anyone has given you along the way, and how does that impact you today?
Al: That’s another very good comment. And I think that the best advice I ever got was to focus on, you know like I said, caring for people, keeping people first, investing in them. There’s been a lot of business advice I’ve gotten. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. The other piece, maybe I’ll take a little different path on this, Ray. I think makes more sense; David and Ziklag is one of my favorite stories. King David, when he was in the city of Ziklag, and the city was burned, his family was taken, and there’s six words there. He said I went and strengthened myself in the Lord. And probably the best advice I got, and the best advice I give is when times are tough, when you really need advice, you’ve got to go strengthen yourself in God. That’s got to be your primary source, and that’s the advice I give to people all the time. I said, what’s your best advice in business? I said your source has to be God. Your source, your key, your foundation, your well has to be the Lord, and if it’s not, you’re not going to be able to run the whole race.
Ray: I believe that’s true as well, and from your experience and perspective, why do we not always do that? Why is that not always the first place we run?
Al: There’s a great story I heard one time about this man walking with wisdom and they walked through this dark tunnel, and they were carrying a torch and the torch was the presence of the Lord. And when you were in God’s presence, the torch is really easy to carry but when you weren’t in God’s presence, the torch got heavy. So what happens is you tend to put the torch down, and you go do the project. And what we do, Ray, is we tend to say God’s presence is just too hard to keep, but I can go do the job without it. So we lay the presence down, we don’t invest in keeping it the primary part of our life, turn our minds to our demise.
Ray: Now for those who know you and have followed, you really are a man who represents biblical principles in the marketplace. And you’ve really been intentional about honoring God in your companies, so tell us a little bit about what are maybe two or three of those biblical principles that you really diligently seek to build out in the daily operation of your company.
Al: Those are again some of the foundational things. I think that for me, one of the biblical principles is worship. And I ask people, what is the first place in the Bible worship is demonstrated? And people usually go back to Job or Abraham, and in my opinion, the first place in the Bible worship is demonstrated is, “And let there be light.” When Jesus created the heavens and earth, he was worshiping the Father. And then after six days, and at the end of every day he said that was good so. And then after six days, he calls it work. So God created us to create things that are beautiful things and to be able to say at the end of the day going, that was good.
Ray: I like that.
Al: And if you do– I don’t do it as often as I should, and like every time I tell this story I get convicted, but the end of every workday, a guy goes, that was good. And if we can get that mentality, that he gave us gifts to bring order to the earth and at the end of the day go, hey that was good, and I see the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit kind of giving each other high-fives there. That’s just my vision of the three of them. It wasn’t someone saying something that was good; it’s the three of them giving each other high fives. Wow, that was good; let’s do that again. Can’t wait til tomorrow. So understanding that the work is ordained by God; that it’s a good thing that we’re creating beauty. We’re really modeling that spiritual DNA, right? Of creativity.
Ray: How else do you live out the faith in the company? How do you see that playing out? We’ve talked about relationships, obviously. How do you handle things like negotiations or upset customers. Maybe crawl inside a little.
Al: Okay, today in the company there’s a really interesting principle. The Mars Corporation has an economics division. And if you heard of this, but I’ve talked to the leaders of that a number of times, and one of the things that they have, they wrote a paper called Mutuality. And they studied the economics of their business practices and they said, we found that when everybody in the business chain prospers, we all do better. When someone’s trying to take advantage of the market or the chain, everybody does worse. It’s the long-term. The benefit is the principles that work best that everybody in the chain does well. And that’s one of the principles I found at work early on is that, okay I’m not trying to take advantage of somebody. Together we can do more than we can apart. And when I’m negotiating, I’m looking for that mutuality. It’s not a win-win all the time. Sometimes it’s everybody loses just a little bit, but together you get more. So that’s one of the principles that I found that I try to negotiate toward. I’m not just trying to benefit myself in a negotiation; I’m saying doing business together should be good for both of us so we can all flourish. We can all flourish, right? That is the heart of God.
Ray: Well folks, we are talking with Al Caperna, the chairman of CMC Group. We are in Toledo, Ohio, and this is Ray Hilbert, your co-host of the Bottom Line Faith podcast. As I mentioned earlier, our other co-host, Adam Ritz, is away on assignment today, unable to join us in studio. Now we’ve talked about the importance of relationships, we’ve talked about always looking for the best interest of others in terms of negotiations and contract shape, and you’ve shared some of the best advice you’ve ever been given in life and in business. So as you look back over the course of your career, if you had to do any part of it over again, what would you do differently and why?
Al: That’s an easy one. John 15:15, Jesus says I no longer call you servants; I call you friends. And some of the commentaries say, and a friend knows what a friend’s thinking. And I’ve said to God, that’s the problem. I said I know these thoughts, these ideas we get are yours. They come from you, and I have a high sense of responsibility. So if I get this thought, I feel like I need to do it, and I learned that God’s just talking to me. He’s just my friend. That everything that I think is not an assignment; it was a huge lesson. It was so freeing to me to understand that these are not all assignments. I’m just talking to a friend. And I felt like God say, I’ll let you know when it’s an assignment, not just an idea. And that was so freeing, so I was able to put aside all these things that are ideas, you know. Proverbs says many are the plans of a man’s heart, but the Lord directs his steps. And God created us to come up with plans, to come up with ideas; that’s who we are. We have ideas and plans, but we need to submit our plans to the Lord and learn which one’s our assignments, not just opportunities. So I wasted a lot of energy and time chasing opportunities which weren’t bad. My life could have been simpler if I’d had just stayed on assignments.
Ray: I wrote down that is a powerful, powerful lesson learned. And so let me just kind of park there. This is really good, for example and I just want to dive into this with you. We might be driving down the street and maybe there’s a prompting in our heart that there’s a need in our city. There’s something that is going on. Are you saying, cause I want to understand; this is a powerful concept that you’re laying out for us. Are you saying that there are times when maybe God’s just reminding you of what’s important to him, but he may not in that moment be telling you it’s your time to address that issue? But he’s just conversing with you? Is that what you’re telling us?
Al: Exactly right. You know, we all talk to friends, and they have things that they’re passionate about and we go, hey that’s great. And we don’t take on their assignments. But when God speaks to you, you think, well if God’s saying something to me and prompting me, that must be an assignment. And the Lord told me, no I’m just talking to you. I’m just telling you about one of my passions.
Ray: I wish you all could see my face because, gang, I am processing this and I got to tell you, that’s one of the things I’m so excited about and so humbled in this project of the Bottom Line Faith podcast. Is practically every guest, you know, I get to learn from and God gives me a bigger glimpse of himself, his heart. And now that is a profound statement because I admit there are many times in my life when it’s almost like guilt sets in. It’s like, hey why aren’t you doing something about that? And I have to tell you, I’m not sure I’ve ever processed maybe that’s God just telling me, hey this is on my heart. This is important to me, I’m your friend, right?
Al: It set me free. And I share with other people, and it sets them free. I guess I see the same response. They look at him, their mouth drops open, and they go, that like mine, that makes life so much more simpler and understandable.
Ray: So how do you know the difference?
Al: You know, we all talk about that intimacy with Christ and you make every decision in faith. So I have my ways; I talk to my wife, you know. You read the Word, you know. You pray, you get asked for the direction for the Holy Spirit. There’s multiple ways to know the difference, Ray. There’s no formula. You just have to – it’s a relationship. That’s the difference. That’s abiding, right?
Ray: And I suspect, and I know this is true in my own journey that when it becomes a burden, when it’s not me and it won’t go away, there’s a reasonable chance using this vernacular, that’s an assignment right?
Ray: Thank you.
Al: You’re welcome.
Ray: So I’m just going to pause just for a moment for you who are listening to the program and I want you to really contemplate. This is your gold nugget takeaway as one of many in our interview with Al Caperna. But he’s talked with us about that Jesus is our friend, and a friend talks with you. A friend shares what’s on their mind and what’s on their heart, and you don’t always have to do something with what your friend is sharing with you. And Al was giving us a great gold nugget that maybe, maybe God’s just talking to you and just wanting you to know what’s on his heart. And it may not be for you to take that burden on. It might be, but he’ll let you know that. Is that a good way to summarize that?
Al: Oh, amen.
Ray: Proverbs said it well: many are the plans in a man’s heart but the Lord directs his steps. God created us to make plans. Enjoy it, folks. We are talking with Al Caperna, the chairman of CMC Group in Toledo, Ohio. And so in addition to your role there at CMC and really building that company over the last three-plus decades, God’s really called you to another mission field as well. Or an expansion of your mission field. And tell us a little bit about what else you got yourself involved with here, the assignment that God’s giving.
Al: This is an assignment. And they say nothing good happens without great effort toward a force. And so one of the assignments God has given me is to serve the marketplace movement globally. So I have had the opportunity to serve and come alongside of many of the marketplace ministries like the one here, Truth At Work in Toledo. God just open that door for us to become, you know, part of your movement. So I’m one of those people that, unfortunately I’ve gone very broad and God’s given me an opportunity to speak to this movement globally, and help direct it globally.
Ray: Tell us about that what are you seeing God doing at work in business leaders across the globe.
Al: You know, Ray, the one of the fun things about working with God, is when you go to tell somebody something and they tell you what you came to tell them. Because God’s been there before you, working in their heart, and I’m seeing this all over the world. That the marketplace people are beginning to understand their place in Christ. For years, I called myself an elder in the marketplace, appointed by Christ to equip the saints for the work of service. And then I began to realize, no you’re either an elder or you’re not. So if you’re an elder, you’re going to be an elder everywhere. So I’m not just a marketplace elder, I’m an elder. And what I’m doing, is I’m going around the world and I’m finding other people that have been called to be elders in the marketplace. And I’m helping them understand their calling and their responsibilities. It’s a beautiful thing to watch these people get a hold of what that means.
Ray: So that looks like what? Conferences, workshops, seminars, mentoring, coaching? What do you find yourself engaged in the activities? What are you doing there?
Al: All those, but the thing that I’ve actually enjoyed the most is something that we call the hatch, or a lion’s den, or a shark tank, or the dragons den. There’s a lot of names for them, but where I can find investors and I can find future champions and bring them together in an event. The way we fund these people, fund these opportunities and events; those are probably the thing I enjoy the most. Because two things happen there: one, I can find an investor and I can teach them what it means to be what I call – we talked about the pearl, the talents, you know – here’s another one. So I love that parable and we always talk about becoming a five talent, or an eleven talent person, but we don’t talk about being the investor. So I think that parable is a parable where God is saying, I want to call you up to be the investor. To mentor and disciple people so they can grow in their talents. I think I always missed the heart of that parable. Is you need to become the investor, and the mentor, and the disciple. Not just the five talent person.
Ray: Well, now this may surprise you as it always does me. We are nearing the end of our time together. Isn’t it amazing how fast this time goes? And this is just such a blessing, and I wish – today’s one of those days I wish it was an hour long program, at least, instead of 30 minutes. But we are near the end of our time together, and for those of you who are regular listeners to the Bottom Line Faith podcast, you know that it’s the last question we ask every guest, and that’s what we call our 4:23 question. That’s based out of Proverbs 4:23 where Solomon writes to above all else guard your heart for from it flows the wellspring of life. In other words, everything flows out of what’s in our heart in life. And how we were talking about this, you know before we went on the air; there are some biblical scholars who believe that those are some of the last words that Solomon penned. Here’s the wisest man to ever walk the face of the earth, just short of Jesus himself. And some believe that he may have even penned these words on his deathbed. I’ve read biblical research that indicates that may have been the case. And so we could imagine he said, hey I’ve had all these wise sayings and all these lessons I’ve been passing along all these years, but now above all else, guard your heart. Okay, so now let’s kind of set the clock forward and say, you know, you’re at the end of your time here, this side of eternity. And you’ve gathered your loved ones, you’ve gathered your family, and friends, and your business associates, and it’s time for you to dispense your above all else advice. Fill in the blank: Above all else…
Al: Right. You know, let me tell you a little story about that, Ray. Thank you for letting me prepare a little bit. They answer this question above all else, God says love one another. And you know we’ve all been through the forgiveness teaching and training and the best definition of forgiveness I heard was when you pray for others like you pray for yourself, you’ve forgiven them.
Ray: That’s good.
Al: You know, that to me was good, but I had the opportunity to lead, to be the mediator between a couple of groups last year and just last year and I was offended during the mediation. And I got hurt, I got attacked, and I got hurt. And I was driving home, I was talking to God about that, and I was kind of saying, it’s not worth it. And I have never felt as confronted by Christ as I did when I said that. And Christ asked me, Peter do you love me? And I said, well I know where that got him. And I read the story. So what are you trying to say? And I really felt the Lord impress upon me is I don’t care what they do to you. What if Peter understood that question the first time I asked it? I always thought Peter didn’t understand it, but that parable to me makes more sense if Peter did understand it, and Christ is saying to me, I do not care what they do to you. You love and care for them no matter what they do to you, and it was a powerful, powerful confrontation from the Lord. Which won’t be a lesson I’ll forget soon. So above all else, love one another.
Ray: Powerful words, not only from the Word of God, but from our guest today, Al Caperna, the Chairman of CMC Group. Well it’s hard to believe we’re at the end of our time together. Any closing thoughts or comments or in words of encouragement that you would like to offer up to the leaders listening to to our interview today?
Al: Well, I hope that you were all encouraged and you’ll rise up men and women of Christ and take your rightful position in the kingdom as leaders in the marketplace, to bring the kingdom of God on earth. So rise up, serve the King with all your heart.
Ray: Those are great words of encouragement from Al Caperna. Al, where can we learn more about CMC Group? What’s your website?
Al: Our website is CMCGP.com.
Ray: CMCGP.com. That’s Al Caperna, chairman of CMC Group. Well folks, this is your co-host for the Bottom Line Faith podcast, this is Ray Hilbert signing off for this week’s edition. God bless and we’ll see you soon.