As we close out 2017, we take one more look at some highlights of Bottom Line Faith from this past year.
Today’s episode features our conversations with Steve Znachko and Alan Barnhart. To revisit the full episodes, follow the links below.
Ray: Well, everyone, this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, and the analogy we like to use here at Bottom Line Faith is where we lift the hood, and we tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership, business leaders, thought leaders across the country. We are speaking with my dear friend and brother in Christ, Steve Znachko. Steve is the President and CEO of Znachko Associates in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. And in just a moment, we’ll hear from Steve and learn more about his business. So let’s jump right in. Let’s talk with Steve’s Znachko. Steve, good morning and welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Steve: Morning, Ray. Great to be here with you, as always.
Ray: We’ve talked just briefly, we given the name of your company, Znachko Associates. Just take a moment help our audience to understand what your company does, what you do, maybe a little bit how you got started and why?
Steve: Sure. The company, really it’s a fairly simple process. But I am hired, and my company is hired to get into high-valued brick and mortar locations, mainly in the membership club business. So when you think of Costco and Sam’s Club, those are two outlets that have a very, very specific business path, require very, very specific pricing, packaging, logistics. And so companies, they’re highly sought after, difficult to get into because they carry so few amount of products. And so companies hire me to help them from beginning to end to both package, price, logistics, setup, and then actually to sell the product into outlets like Sam’s and Costco.
Ray: So this may be a bad analogy, so correct me, but it’s almost like a private Shark Tank in terms of what we see happen on that TV show. You’re really in the distribution acquisition business.
Ray: Is that fair?
Steve: Yes. And clubs have a specific model, and so it’s very counterintuitive. For instance, they work on very low margins. People think they get their great pricing because they beat up on their suppliers. They don’t; they just work on an entirely different model. And so it’s really critical that you approach them on the model that they need to see. That’s something I’ve 30 years of experience in, and so that experience is really my value.
Ray: Let’s kind of start a little bit now along the faith pathway, and we’ll integrate this back into business and some of the challenges and so forth that you’ve faced. But give us just a snapshot of your spiritual journey. Did you grow up in a Christian home, or did you come to Christ later in life? What’s that look like for you?
Steve: I grew up in a God, what I would call a God fearing home. We honored God, believed in God, feared God, went to church. And I’m really grateful to my parents for what they gave me in that. In terms of understanding a personal relationship with God, that is not something that I understood. And honestly, I’m very surprised, even through high school and college that I heard very, very little about. And so I wasn’t exposed to that. And so I grew up with a great reverence for God, a great fear of God, but no understanding of a relationship and believing that I could both speak to him, that he would speak to me, that his Word was alive. So I spent no time in the scriptures; I wasn’t encouraged in that.
And so that was kind of my background coming up through high school and college. I graduated college, I was the Presidential Scholar of my university in marketing, so I was highly sought after for jobs. So I had lots of job offers, ended up taking, long story short, a great job with Dow Chemical Company, one of the top 35 companies in the world. At that time, I was growing in success. They put me on a fast track program, quite honestly, I was moving faster and being paid more than I deserved at that age and from my experience. But still, in my yearning, it wasn’t fast enough. And so I began a journey to look at creating my own path for faster success, really tied to faster money. There was no doubt that I believed my contentment and my success was going to be tied to my income. I don’t think I would have worn that outwardly.
But there was no question that my inward struggle always had to do with the question, do I have enough, measured against other people, all of those things which drove me. So I left Dow, started this business, which then created kind of a paradigm shift for me where I was with Dow, I could see anybody I wanted to at the time, because I had the business card, right, and the company behind me. Now I’m on my own, and I can’t get past secretaries for appointments. So the first thing that starts to happen is I started realizing how much of my path that I was feeling successful had to do with my resume, and the company behind me, and how little it had to do with Steve Znachko. That was a big challenge for me. My discontent always drove me back to the answer of saying, well, if I just made more money, if I can create my path, I will then be content and happy again.
So again, long story short, over the next three years, we really struggled in the business like a lot of new businesses do. But each year, I would make paths forward. Each year, I would set an income goal and say, if I would reach this income, I’m going to be all set, I’m going to be at peace, I’m going to be content. And each year, I passed that income goal. On the fourth year in which I passed that goal, and now I was making, quite honestly, more than I would have ever dreamed of when I came out of college. It was way bigger than my first figure – four times it. And I just passed it by and was convinced that now I had arrived at the place that I needed. I was driving on the road, and my life changed because the second I had received that bonus and thought I was content, within two minutes of driving in my sports car to my gym, I was in tears, realizing that once again, that the endpoint had shifted on me again. And then I did not feel any differently than when I passed the other three goals. And I was desperate and feeling like I’m never going to get there. Had no answers. And I met a young man on the side of the road, who was broken down on the side of the road. And that meeting changed my life and the trajectory of my life.
Ray: You’ve shared that story with me. So I think it’d be really important and got lots to talk about here. By the way, we call this the fastest 30 minutes online. So this is going to go fast. I promise you, and I promise our audience, it always does. But that really was a transformational encounter. Give us the highlights of what happened there.
Steve: Driving down, broken-hearted, in a sports car, going to my club, dressed in my Nike get-up, feeling like the world would look and say, I’ve got it all going on, had reached my fourth income goal. And I went on the entrance ramp to a highway, and there was a man broken down on the side of the road. It was really cold; it was December. And for some reason, still don’t know today, I decided, even in my discontent, I decided I would stop and help him. And I will keep this brief. But basically, he had an old, old car; he was about my age, I was under 30. At the time, I was making real good money. He was under 30, and he had an old beat-up car that he couldn’t even keep running. I walked up to the car and knocked on the front windows; they were frozen. And the back windows rolled down, and there was a man in the back with a coat, gloves, hat, and scarf, reading his Bible. And my first thought was, you’re nuts. You’re going to freeze to death here.
And you’re not even asking for help. No one knows you’re here. But as I began to speak with him, he asked me, he said, if you just turn your car around and give me a jump on my battery, I’ll be on my way home. So I began to turn my car around, set up the battery. But as I did this man start to share his life with me. And he started sharing about the conversation he had had with his wife that day. He started sharing about what he was going to do with his kids that night; he started sharing about their story time, and the meals that they share. And I found myself listening to this man and realizing that I was so intrigued with his life. He could not have been more in direct contrast to what I was feeling in my life. And what kept going through my mind, Ray is that I kept saying, and you don’t even have enough money to fix an old beat-up car. And in my mind, I could not reconcile the peace that he had, with the obvious financial struggles that he was under. My sports car was actually too small to jump his battery. So I had to try and get some other people to pull over; nobody would pull over.
I got angry; I started yelling at car coming by. He walked up and put his arms on my shoulders and said, Don’t worry, Steve, God will take care of it. And I promise I wanted to turn to him and say, how do you know that? Why are you so sure that things are going to be okay? Cause I’m not. And as we finished up, I just remember this incredible, like no feeling I’ve had, of saying, I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted to sit down and talk to him. I wanted to find out. He had not shared the gospel with me. He had not done it, said any of that; he just shared his life with me. And as he drove off, he rolled down his window and yelled out backward, God bless you, Steve. And I sat on the side of the road, and I wept for 30 minutes. And my worlds crashed in because I realized on that highway, everybody that drove by that saw my sports car, my gym membership, my Nike get-up, would walk by and say, that’s the guy who’s got it going on. And anybody who drove by him was going say, that’s the guy who’s struggling.
And yet that day, I knew as he drove off, I didn’t have one thing that he longed for. And yet, as he drove off, I sat there saying over and over and over again, I’d give anything to have what he had. All I knew is, he found it in the Bible. And that started a lifelong journey of just saying, I actually went to a Christian bookstore, said I wanted to buy the Bible, and that started a journey for both my wife and I that led to that relationship with Christ that became life altering for us.
Ray: This is still real and raw for you. Folks, if you are looking into Steve’s eyes as I am, you’re emotional about that; this is real. It’s got to feel like it’s almost yesterday.
Ray: Maybe right now, there’s a business person who’s maybe they’re driving in their car like you were, they’ve got the trappings they’ve got, you know, success in the world’s eyes, but they know something deep inside them is not quite right. Maybe they just drove by somebody who’s broken down, I don’t know. Maybe they’re on their elliptical machine, working out, running, listening to the program, whatever. And they’re discouraged like you were, they’re lost like you were. How could you encourage them, just with the story you just shared, and we’ll talk more in a moment, but how would you encourage that person right now?
Steve: The encouragement would be this, what did I just experience? What am I feeling? Why is this? I went to the Proverbs and was reading the Proverbs, and there is a proverb that says, “Stop chasing after wealth, for when you chase it, it will sprout itself wings like an eagle, and fly to the heavens.” And I remember again, breaking down and saying, that’s me, I had this picture of somebody climbing the edge of a cliff, and you get to this eagle’s nest, and right as you almost got there, it took off and flew just a little bit higher, and then I would climb again, and then it would fly a little higher, and it would climb again, always just out of reach. And if I could encourage all of us, it would be to lock into the truth that God has confirmed; there is never enough, never enough to get there by getting more than one of my favorite quotes is that the truly content man is not the one who has everything in the world, but the one who needs nothing from the world. We are taught to try and get that contentment by getting more. And if I could encourage you to say that discontent that you’re feeling, don’t let it feel like you just haven’t climbed quite high enough and that the next ridge will get you there. It will lead you on a journey. I promise what you’re feeling now will be the next feeling that you get when you get the next goal. You’ve got to change your focus. Otherwise, the result doesn’t change.
Ray: Folks, we’re talking with Steve’s Znachko, the President and CEO of Znachko Associates here in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Steve is giving us incredible stories of really how God broke him from the trappings of this world. And instead, Steve, you’ve had tremendous success in your business. And we talked a little bit about that. But I know that’s not why you’re here today. You’re really here to share your faith journey and how that’s played out. So what lessons have you learned in terms of leading and building your business and the role of your faith? Or have you tried to integrate it? What’s that all mean for you?
Steve: I’m going to try and answer it in more of a big idea kind of way, is that I found that I really needed a shift in my focus, and my overall focus, and realizing that everything ran through, I have three sayings written on my office wall. And I realized that every decision I make runs through one of these grids, and the first thing is, is it going to be God or me? The second is, is it going to be the kingdom or the world? And the third is, am I going to live for now or for then? And when I look at the scriptures, I realized that I face, almost every decision I face every day of my life, puts me in conflict, and right in the middle of one of those decisions, am I going to dictate my life, or is God? Am I going to be my own God, which we see in Genesis from the very beginning, as a struggle of man? Or am I going to trust God in whatever it is before me, little or big?
Secondly, that there is a grand difference between living for the kingdom of God and living for the world. I have to say; I feel like we’ve been given more permission and maybe delusion into believing that the world and the kingdom are fairly close together and that we can find a comfortable middle place. I have found that in almost every decision, it leads me that I will have to decide, just like Jesus said, which one will actually drive me? And third, do I live now? Just for the now? Or do I live for the then? And to me, that then brings every decision I have in my day, whether it’s how I’m spending my time, whether it’s what I say in a meeting, whether it’s how I take on a contract or not take on a contract, and what I give and what I keep.
All of it runs through one of those questions, or maybe all three. And those three questions really help bring me into perspective of saying, do I have right focus? Now, the other thing that I think is really important is that I’ve discovered is, I feel like when I first stepped into the faith, I believed that the whole encouragement to do it God’s way was kind of because God was God, and he had the right to ask us to do that. And as I dug into the scriptures, and as I live more of my life, I realized God has got this heart for us that says, I’m not asking you not to chase money, because money can deliver and I can deliver. But I want you to choose me. It’s very obvious in 1 Samuel and a number of the places where he says, when you leave me, when you lose focus of me, you will focus on things that are futile and cannot deliver. 1 Peter calls it and says, those are things that will war against your soul, that there is a loving father that says, don’t lose your focus, because nothing else out there can deliver what I can deliver for you.
So that overall focus runs through every business decision, every interaction I have with a customer with an employee, it doesn’t matter, with a waitress, it just changes everything. And I feel like one of the things that drives me away is when I start to believe that outcomes are up to me and that as a capable business person, that I feel like we get pulled into, and actually are even told by people that depend on us, that we start believing some of our own press clippings. And in that, some of us, we get things stolen, contentment and peace stolen from us, because now all of a sudden, the result is up to me. And I want to share one story that I thought was so powerful for me. I was actually sharing Christ with a guy, an unbeliever who was a doctor. He was a transplant surgeon. With all my great persuasion and all my sharing, I made very little impact on him.
About a couple weeks later, he called me, and he said, I have to see you, Steve. And I said, okay, well, when do you want to set a time? He said, no, I mean, I have to see you right now, and he came over to my house. And he said this to me, he said, Steve, I realized that on this one, when I would come out of a transplant, and I would save a child or a person, and the family would look at me and say, thank God, I actually had in my mind, I saved that child, not God, because I did the skill, I did the touch, I did this thing. He said I realized today that outside of God’s touch, I am no better than that hammer that is on your workbench. And it set him free in a way of realizing, and I realized my struggle often is the same thing. Do I believe that I’m just a hammer or do I believe I’m actually the answer to this? And there’s tremendous peace and release in realizing I’m just the hammer.
But if I’m outside of the hand of the Creator, I am no better than it sitting on the workbench. So to me, that’s been this thing. I’m just saying. If I really believe that in every question answered and every outcome that it is, I can’t tell you the power that it delivers, as well as the peace that it brings. Because I just tend to be a control guy that believes that if I say the right thing, if I make one more phone call, and when I could start to begin to release that, I just saw God work in bigger and more powerful ways.
Introducer: Now, let’s revisit our time with Alan Barnhart, president and CEO of Barnhart Crane and Rigging Company.
Ray: And Alan, thanks for agreeing to spend some time with us and welcome to the show.
Alan: Oh, my pleasure!
Ray: Just take a moment and share with our audience what your company does, and then we’ll get to the personal side of things.
Alan: Well, great. We basically pick up and move heavy stuff. So we do that. We have 40 branches around the U.S. and we work mostly in heavy industry. A lot in the power industry. We put up wind turbines, we do a lot of work in the nuclear power plants. A lot of work and oil refineries and steel mills. So mostly, it’s heavy industrial lifting.
Ray: And give us a little bit of history on the, on the, on the business here.
Alan: Great. My mom and dad started the business back in 1969 with a pickup truck and a ladder and a welding machine. And they operated the business for about 17 years out of our international corporate headquarters was two bedrooms of our home that I grew up in. And it was very much a mom and pop business. And they wanted to keep it very small and controlled. And so that was that was the start of the business.
Ray: And you you said before, before we began this interview, you said you have a really boring resume. So I think you got involved very early on, it sounds like.
Alan: I did. I was a paper boy for a little while. And then I came and started working for the company and worked all through high school and college and I really have never had another job. Came right out of college and came to work in the business.
Ray: What different roles have you had over the years?
Alan: Well, I’ve swept the floor. And I’ve been an iron worker and a crane operator and salesman and a dispatcher and then done pretty much everything. I’ve engineer and so basically done it all.
Ray: Well, Alan, you really have set the trail in many ways in this area of leadership, as Christ follower in business, would you mind taking just a couple of moments and sharing some of the unique things that you’ve been a part of, with what you’ve done with ownership and structure and kind of how things are set up here.
Alan: You know, when we started the business, my brother and I were partners, we were 50/50 partners. But as far as we were concerned, everything that we have, everything that we are, has come from God and belongs to God. And so we’re stewards and not owners and that’s the way we always looked at it. When the company grew in the in the 2005 to 2008, the company grew a lot, from a $50 million company to a $250 million company and it became worth a lot of money. And as far as we were concerned, God own the business as far as the IRS was concerned, my brother and I each owned half and if something happened to one of us, there was going to be massive estate tax issues. And as we started going through that plan, we said this so expensive and difficult. We we need to try to find a way this is God’s company. Let’s see if we can find a way to give it away. And so we in 2007, 2008, we gave away 99% of the company and then few years later gave away the last 1%. So we’re no longer the owners, but in our mind, we never were. We’re the stewards of the business.
Ray: Now, wait a minute, let me get that straight. You said we gave away the ownership of the company to God structurally, what does that look like?
Alan: Well, the the there’s a charity that should that owns the shares of our company, the National Christian Foundation, it’s in a trust there. And so they own they are the stockholders of our company. We continue to control it and operate it where the where the trustees of the voting trust so we we operate the company day to day the charity didn’t want to do that was not willing to do that. But we so we continue to be full steam ahead trying to have a great company at stewards like we always were we just don’t hold the the shares of stock.
Ray: That’s incredible. And maybe on another time we can talk it reminds me of, Stanley Tam, God Owns My Business from up in Lima, Ohio. Was there any inspiration from Stanley’s story?
Alan: I heard Stanley story a little after that. But you know, very similar concept. And, and I think it some people think it’s crazy. But I think for for believers, it’s makes perfect sense. It’s just a natural extension of what we believe God owns everything, everything has come from him. And if having it having the the shares of the stock in a different entity is beneficial to the kingdom, then why would we not do it?
Ray: That’s phenomenal. So, this was roughly, what, eight or nine years ago that you were going through this planning process, it sounds like. What did that do for you or in you? In in your, your, your heart or day to day, your thought process? What what what was that like for you to go through that process?
Alan: Well, it was not a traumatic thing. We had, in 1986, when we started the company, we had said that God owns the business and all the way along, we have just taken a salary from the company and use the proceeds of the company for Kingdom purposes. And so that started from the very beginning. And so, when we decided to put the company into this trust, it was not some gut wrenching, hard life decision. We had done that back in ’86.
Ray: And so, did you feel any sense of relief, or you talked about getting the IRS out of the equation? Maybe that that was a good thing.
Alan: Oh, it was. That’s, that’s exactly what it was. It was it was relief. We were stewards and we want to be good stewards. And we felt like we had a hole in our stewardship as well, you know, if one of us had died, we hadn’t really been good stewards of that potential issue. And so putting this in place gave us additional freedom.
Ray: And have you, you’ve had a chance you shared this story all across probably the globe, perhaps, right? And almost speculate here, because we haven’t talked about this, but I’m going to speculate that perhaps you’ve shared this story. And, and maybe there was some rich young business person that’s come up to you and said, “I could never do that.” And maybe there’s one listening right now to the program thinking, “Wow, I could never do that.” What, what would you say to them?
Alan: Well, you know, I mean, some people do think it’s kind of crazy. We get this when we’re in our 40s. And our first set of advisors said, this is a bad idea, don’t do this, but, but to me, it just, I’m an engineer, and I’m trying to I’m logical in the way I approach things. And this just seemed a logical progression of what I believe, I believe that everything I have is come from God, I believe I’m gonna live forever. I believe my life on this earth is a small speck of my total existence. And I think being a steward has been a experience of freedom, not an experience of bondage. So, we’ve had 30 years or more of walking this and we’ve just seen it as a not somebody gut-wrenching, hard, discipline thing, but just as freedom that comes from God. So we, we seen it as a natural, logical thing to do.
Ray: But what what kind of principled advice would you get and please also talk about the dangers of money? I I wrote that down. Yeah, that was a statement you made.
Alan: Yeah, yeah, I mean, well, the dangers of money, Jesus talks so much about it. And he said, it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. He said, watch out be on your guard against all forms of greed, on and on. He, when he told the parables of the the four soils and have a third soil was the deceitfulness of wealth choked out the fruitfulness of the person, and on and on in Scripture, you can’t serve God and money. There are just so many verses that would talk about money being a danger. And so as I read that, I read through those when I was when I was in my early 20s. And it really is what set the trajectory for us as we were looking all these verses, and the concern about both the reality of stewardship and the danger of affluence is what caused us to put some of the things in place that we did when we started the– when my brother and I started our company 1986.
Ray: And so what advice would you have?
Alan: Well, I’d say, I would say, handle money with care. Jesus talks so much about it. And this was before Madison Avenue, this was 2000 years ago, it was a big deal then, it’s a big deal today. Do it on purpose. When it comes to decisions about money, I think that most believers would say God owns at all. So, ask the owner what he wants you to do, and, and don’t do what comes naturally in this area. Like, like many areas, if we don’t do it, if we do what comes naturally we’ll mess up. And if we if we’d be in if we’re intentional, and looking at what Scripture has to say, it will lead to freedom, the constraints in our life, lead to freedom and a life without constraints leads to bondage. And I think so, Godly constraints, constraints that come from Scripture are there to to lead us into freedom. And that’s what we found.
Ray: You’ve had an opportunity to travel globally and, and share this story. Is there ever any danger in that in the, the notoriety of that? And how do you process that?
Alan: Yeah, it’s been, it’s been a big deal for us. For the first 15 years, we were in business, we didn’t tell anybody our story, we just put our head down and worked and made money and–and contributed to ministries. And–and, but some people challenged us and they said, “This is not your story.” This is God’s story. He’s done an amazing thing at your company. And you need to be willing to tell it, it will be an encouragement to others. And so, we–we kind of embarked on that adventure. And we had a stewardship of the story a bit, and we’ve been willing to tell the story and not a great speaker and I’m not on some speaking tour. But when people you know, some of the time when people asked were willing to go and share the story, and I’m not just myself, but several other guys here in the business.
Ray: Is there anything else that you would share? Maybe as a word of encouragement, perhaps there’s a business owner or leader listening to this program, someone who’s dis discouraged in their leadership. Any last words of encouragement that you’d care to pass along?
Alan: I would say just continue to be faithful where God puts you and everyone’s story is going to be different. God has given us all different opportunities. Be faithful where you are.
Ray: Well, folks, there you have it from Alan Barnhart. Alan, thank you so much. You’re so kind to extend this time today and just appreciate it.
Alan: Well, thank you very much.
Ray: Folks, we’ll catch you next time at Bottom Line Faith. This is Ray Hilbert, saying we’ll see you soon.