From Penthouse to Jailhouse: A Story of Failure to Redemption with Mark Whitacre
3:44– A little about CBMC
7:43– What is the story behind you becoming one of the highest level executive to be an FBI informant?
23:00– Did you sense during that time that God was trying to turn you back to him or did you feel like it was all gonna be ok?
31:20– A piece of encouragement
Mark Whitacre is an Ivy League Ph.D. and the highest-ranked executive of any Fortune 500 company to become a whistleblower in US history, and is responsible for uncovering the ADM price-fixing scandal in the early 1990’s. Mark Whitacre is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Christian Business Men’s Connection, an organization that has impacted his life greatly the past two decades. Since December of 2006, he has also been the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief Science Officer at Cypress Systems, Inc.
His undercover work with the FBI during the ADM scandal was the inspiration for the major motion picture, “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre. Drawing from his unique history, Mark provides one-of-a-kind insight into corporate ethics, corporate greed, and the warning signs of a flawed corporate leadership.
Ray: Well, hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert, I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith. We’d like to welcome you back to another episode of the program where the analogy we like to use at Bottom Line Faith is we are going to lift the hood and we’re going to tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership in the marketplace. If you’re a regular listener you know that we have a chance to speak with some of America’s top Christians in business and leadership and in the marketplace, who are influencing the marketplace for Christ and living out their faith on a daily basis. Well folks, I am really excited about our guest on today’s program. Some of you are going to be familiar with our guest; he’s become famous for lots of reasons but most importantly what you need to know is this is a story of redemption, this is a story of what the devil meant for evil, God intended for good. Folks, my guest on today’s program is Mark Whitacre. Mark, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Mark: Thank you for having me; I’ve been excited about interviewing with you.
Ray: Well Mark, let’s just cut to the real point that a lot of our listeners are going to be familiar. A number of years ago, in fact in 2009, a major Hollywood motion picture was released about your, part of your life story. We’re going to talk about, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story today, but part of your life story was depicted in a movie that was released in 2009. Why don’t you tell us the name, the title of that movie? Maybe who played your role in there? And then we’ll come back and tell the backstory. What do we know about that?
Mark: Well the movie that came out in 2009 was The Informant, and Matt Damon played me. If you look up or Google me, look at my website, markwhitaker.com, you’ll see that Matt Damon and I are identical twins. He was a logical choice, and I do say that in exactly that way, there is no resemblance whatsoever, but he did play me in that movie. and it is basically a movie about a young executive. I was thirty-two at that time, so it’s twenty-eight years ago; I was thirty-two years-old at the time, and I was working for one of the largest companies in the world. Actually, the 56th largest company on the Fortune 500, which means the 56th largest public company in America at the time. 32,000 employees at the time, and I was number four as a rank executive. We had a CEO who was seventy-five, a President who was sixty-nine years old, and I wad the division president, reporting right to the Vice Chairman, and I was thirty-two years-old, less than half their age when I joined that company in 1989.
Ray: Well that is a story we’re going to revisit, and I’m sure you’ve told it hundreds if not thousands of times, so we will hit the pause button, and come back to that. Let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing today. That God had you in an amazing opportunity, an amazing position with CBMC International. Tell us about CBMC, what the ministry does, and what your title and role are there. Let’s talk about that for a moment.
Mark: Yes. CBMC is a wonderful organization, an eighty-eight year old non-profit ministry. Basically founded in Chicago in 1930, so you know, eighty-eight years ago. I don’t think there are that many non-profit ministries that exist almost a century like we do. Founded in Chicago basically during the Depression, to help men, to help Christian businessmen, so it is a men’s origination, but basically to help men learn how to integrate their faith in their work, and by doing that, by equipping men to reach the men around them that don’t know God. So basically to reach the lost and reach the unconvinced. We have about 10,000 members in the United States, so we’re currently in 369 cities, nine cities more than we were a year ago, and we have the vision to grow into 650 cities during the next ten years, so that’s almost double in the next ten years. And we’re in ninety-four countries outside the United States with about another 100,000 members involved outside of the U.S. Wonderful organization, how to integrate your faith in work, pretty much focus in evangelism and discipleship, 101 discipleship.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. What is your title and role there with CBMC?
Mark: I’ll tell you my title at CBMC is COO. I report right to the CEO, my Chief Officer, and also the Director of Field Operations, responsible for the 369 cities that we’re currently in and also responsible for the growth. And I meet CMBC through twenty-one years ago when I was involved with this huge scandal with the company I mentioned I was with, Archer Daniels Midland, commonly know as ADM. And when I was involved in that scandal, I was in the newspapers a lot because I was working with the FBI, by cooperating and someone from CBMC reached out to me and I didn’t know God at the time, and they discipled me through the tool that they use at CBMC that is very active at CBMC, called Operation Timothy. And they discipled me through Operation Timothy, introduced me to God, introduced me to Jesus, I became a Christian during that time over twenty years ago, so CBMC has had such an impact on my life. I’ve been very active with it as a volunteer for, well, for the last twenty years, because the impact it had on my life. I’m even discipling four guys, still today through Operation Timothy, but I actually joined them full time on staff about four years ago.
Ray: That’s got to be exciting. I’m sure that a number of years ago that’s probably not what you would have envisioned, that you would be doing this at this stage in life. That would be my guess anyway, is that correct?
Mark: No it wasn’t, but I’ll tell you even over the last decade, I’ve been COO of a cancer research, a PhD bio chemist from Cornell, and have mostly been in management most of my career at three Fortune 500 companies. And I was for the last decade, I’ve been COO of a bio tech company involved with prostate cancer research and I’m still on the board of that company today, even after I joined CBMC. And I’ll tell you even with the impact CBMC had on me, I still saw that entire last decade as a way, basically as a mission field. That there’s no better place for a mission than the marketplace, and I saw that even when I was a COO of a corporation for the last decade before I joined CMBC full-time.
Ray: Well, that’s exciting, so that’s really a great way to segway back to where we kind of started this conversation. So long before you knew the Lord, long before you were involved with one of the most proficient and prolific organizations in the world in the discipling Christians in the marketplace, and building Christians, and evangelizing, you had a pre-Jesus life. And in your career, that eventually led to a movie, so tell us, walk us through the story of what was happening, what was going on, and what was it that lead eventually to you, if I read it correctly, becoming the highest-ranking corporate executive in U.S. history to become an informant for the FBI? Is that correct ,and I understand that correctly?
Mark: That is correct. The FBI still today, say twenty-five years later, say publicly. I’ve done several events for the FBI, including the Quantico FBI Academy; I was their keynote speaker, and they say today I was the highest level executive to turn whistleblower in U.S. history. They still say today, twenty-five years later.
Ray: So walk us through, how did that come to be? How was it that you became a whistleblower for the FBI? Walk us through that story.
Mark: Well, I’ll tell you I joined ADM as I mentioned in 1989 as a divisional president, the 4th ranked, the 4th highest rank executive out of 32,000 employees. We were about seventy billion in revenue. I think ADM today, it’s the 41st largest company on the Fortune 500. We were 56th largest then so they’ve grown even more since that point. Boy, I was obsessed with that life. Ray, I’ll tell you I thought if there’s a Heaven, this is it, right where I was, being the 4th rank executive. I worked there almost eight and half years, seven figures a year. I was there with my base salary bonuses and stock options and keep in mind that was seven figures in 1989, nearly thirty years ago. My first week at work, the CEO came back to my office, it is October ’89, and here I am thirty-two years old and fresh and young, and he comes back to my office. I’m almost a third of his age and he said, “Mark, the seven top executives each get their own Falcon 50, their own operate jet. You’re number four. He introduced me to two pilots, they took me out show me where the corporate jet that they assigned to me, and for those eight years I had two pilots assigned to me and a corporate jet just for my use, during that time. And I remember my second week at work, when I was moving my family, and I ended up buying from the CEO; he wanted to move to a smaller home, I ended up buying his home, my second week of work, which is this 13,000 square-foot house, eight car garage. And I’ll tell you, being so full of myself and this is an example of selfish leadership, not servant leader that I’m describing now before I knew God, I filled up, in a couple months time, I ended up filling up the eight-car garage with eight cars. Ferraris, BMWs, Mercedes, and I said look out, Bon Jovi, it’s on. I felt like a rockstar, during that period of my life.
Ray: And so you’re two weeks into the job, you’ve now got pilots, and you’ve bought this amazing home, and you’re filling the eight-car garage, you described. I can’t imagine that you were waking up each day thinking that you’re going to be a part of a scandal, that you were going to be part of something that would eventually lead you to imprisonment. What happened? Walk us through that process of your journey, how you went from that excited young executive to what transpired after that.
Mark: What happened during that time, was, I was about two years with the company before I became a whistleblower. About two and a half years, so I was getting closer to thirty-five years-old, and I started at thirty-two. My wife was sitting, watching this play out, my wife I met when she was in 7th grade and I was in 8th grade. We were in the school band together, went to all of our proms together in high school. We were gifted students, I was Senior Class President, she was Treasurer of her class, we were the Homecoming King and Queen, so at that stage in my life, if someone would have told me I would be involved with one of the largest white-collar scandals in history, I would have thought that was the craziest thing, ever. I couldn’t imagine doing anything that was morally or ethically wrong during that stage of my life. I didn’t have God in my life, but I definitely had a good moral compass in that stage of my life. But my wife saw this play out, that I was getting obsessed with greed, and the house, and the title, and I couldn’t even wait to move up the corporate ladder even farther, when these other CEOs, were you know heading towards eighty-years-old, right. I had the opportunity and was likely to replace them when they retired, and so she saw this playing out, and one evening after two years with the company, she sat me down and said, “Mark, what’s going on with your life?” And I said, “Ginger, what do you mean? We live in a mansion, we fly around in a corporate jet. If there’s a Heaven, this is it.” And she said, “Mark, I can tell you this is in no way Heaven.” She said, “I’m really having a relationship with Jesus, and I’ve surrendered to Jesus, and I can tell you this is no Heaven.” She said, “You’re addicted to your work. You’re a workaholic. You work from the minute you get up to the minute you go to bed.” She said, “Especially for the last seven months.”
Keep in mind I was there about two-and-half years at that point. “The last seven months, you’re on the phone two, three, four hours a night after dinner and this is when you’re not traveling. So you don’t spent any time with her, or the three children.” I said, “Ginger, I have to be on the phone at night, because of the company, now that they trust me. And I’ve been there a couple of years, they’re teaching me to do price-fixing, and they’ve been doing it for twelve years, and they’re teaching me how to do it, and they expect me to take their place someday. Because they’re heading on to eighty-years-old and they’ve been doing it for twelve years.” And I’ll never forget, she’s a stay-at-home-mom and she said, “What is price-fixing? What is that?” I said, “Well, it is an international cartel and all of the ingredients that go into all the feeds around the world.” The food that your listeners would be buying on a daily basis at the grocery store. I said, “We’re fixing the prices of those and the company earns an extra billion dollars a year by doing that. Not a million dollars, but a billion.” She said, “Wow, Mark, is that legal?” I said, “It’s not legal, but they tell me you have to do this to be in the commodity business. For me to continue to move up, I’m going to have to be a part of this. If I want to stay at this company and move up the corporate ladder.” And she said, “Boy, Mark, I don’t know if I can live with this.” She said she was going to go back to her study and pray about it. I’ll never forget this, it’s November 5th 1992, and she came back about an hour and a half after she prayed about it, and she said, “Mark, what a perfect time for you to turn yourself in and blow the whistle on this case.” I said, “Ginger, I could go to jail for price-fixing, it is illegal. The CEO is good friends with President Clinton.” I said, “He’s a billionaire, and he’ll come at us with everything they have. It would be the craziest thing to do in the world, to blow the whistle.” She said, “Well, I’m telling you Mark, I just prayed about it, and God is leading me to turn you in to the FBI, to expose this case.” And-
Ray: Hang on one second Mark, I want to make sure that I heard what I think I just heard, and on behalf of our listeners. Are you saying that your wife actually said that she was lead through prayer, that she was possibly going to turn you in on this issue? Is that what I heard you say?
Mark: Yeah, that’s correct, that’s exactly what happened. She, basically the largest price-fixing case in history would have never happened if it wasn’t for my wife, Ginger.
Ray: Oh, my goodness.
Mark: And God lead her to that, and then I told her, “Ginger, the company is more powerful than the government. This is a billionaire family that owns this company. The major shareholders are this family. So they have resources, they went on President Clinton’s plane to President Nixon’s funeral; that’s how powerful they are.” And she said, “You know what Mark, God will protect us. But my grandma is on $200 a week.” She said her grandma was on $200 a week, Social Security, “and she’s paying as a victim of these higher prices for groceries because of the price-fixing of the ingredients in the foods.” And she said, “We can’t be living in a mansion and my grandma paying for this. We’re going to expose this case and we’re going to expose it today.” A case that was going on for twelve years before I even joined the company, and I was only involved for seven months. The case was blown, the whistle really by my wife, Ginger.
Ray: I just can’t even imagine in that moment. I know how upset I get with my wife when she turns the ball game off before it is over, so I can’t imagine what that was like.
Mark: It was a multi-hour conversation.
Ray: Then what happened?
Mark: Well, I tried to talk her out of it. I’ve known her since she was thirteen-years-old and I was fourteen, and I knew she wasn’t going to change her mind. And she said, “Mark, I would rather be homeless than live in a house with illegal activity.” We had a mansion. Eight-car garage, millions of dollars, stock options, you know. I was a number four executive in the 56th largest company in America, with 32,000 employees, and basically being groomed to replace the president, the number two. So I was going to go from the Divisional President to the Corporate President. Basically, the way the world defined success. We had everything. But to my wife it meant, nothing. She had Jesus. Jesus was becoming so strong in her life during that time when I joined ADM. As I was growing toward money being my god, she was having a relationship with Jesus, and her faith was growing so strongly that she wanted nothing to do with it. So, within a couple of hours after we talked, we’re sitting for hours with the FBI, and I’m telling you it is an interesting thing to tell the FBI that you’re stealing a billion dollars a year. I mean that phone was ringing off the hook, there was Janet Reno, William Sessions, the Director of the FBI at that time, shortly before Louis Free was the director, and it because the largest white-collar price-fixing case in U.S. history, started by my wife. If you go to the museum today, for the FBI, it has the equipment I wore undercover in the museum.
Ray: Wow. So you ended up moving from whistle blower/ informant to actually, you served time. How did that come about? You actually, yourself ended up going to federal prison. How did that happen?
Mark: Yes, I did. Basically I got full immunity, the FBI wired me up every day, Ray. They said, “Look, Mark, if these guys catch you, they are going to kill you.” They wired me up at six o’clock every morning, they shaved my chest, hooked microphones to my chest. I have three different tape recorders, one in a briefcase, one in a special notebook, and one attached to me back with an athletic band; an elastic, athletic band, and I got wired up by the FBI at six o’clock in the morning for three years. The longest duration of anyone wearing a wire in history is three years and they wired me up for nine, ten, eleven hours a day for three years. And when they wired me up, like I said, they would say, “Mark, if these guys catch you, they are going to kill you.” So that gave me full immunity. They were so appreciative that I was only involved with something for seven months, for something that’s been going on for twelve years, they gave me full immunity, to never be charged, as long as I didn’t get in my own way, as long as I shared everything with them. I had full immunity. I had a written agreement by the U.S. attorney out of Chicago. The problem was, and there is a documentary on my website markwhitacre.com and this is a 2010 Discovery Channel documentary with the four real FBI agents all retired now, and my wife and I, and the prosecutor, all the real people involved with this case. And on this documentary the longest scene is what I’m about to describe right now. Is how I ended up going to prison, because I had an immunity prior to this.
I’m out on the driveway at three in the morning during this horrific thunderstorm, blowing leaves off the driveway, I had worn a wire for two years at that point, and I had another year to go, so it’s 1994. I started wearing a wire in ’92. Ginger heard me out with the leaf blower out on the driveway during this thunderstorm. I have microphones taped to my chest, had my shirt and tie still on, and I’m blowing these leaves during this horrific thunderstorm in Decatur, Illinois, where the headquarters are, the world headquarters. So Ginger heard the gas leaf blower, she comes running out on the driveway with an umbrella over her head and she says, “Mark, you have to meet the FBI at six.” I said, “Ginger, I know I have to meet them at six.” It’s three in the morning now. “I’ve been meeting them at six for two years. I know what I’ve got to do.” And I said, “Ginger, it is all your fault. That I’m meeting them, all your fault. You’re the one that got me in this mess.” And she said, “Boy, Mark, you need God in your life.” And I said “Ginger, why would I need God? I’m doing just fine without him.” She said, “Mark, you’re blowing a driveway at three in the morning during a thunderstorm. You don’t think you need help? You need God more than ever.” And then I said, “Ginger, why would I need God? I’m going to be the new president of ADM. They just announced in Future magazine that when our president retires, who is now in his seventies, that I’m taking his place. I’m going from number four, Divisional President to the Company President which is the number two executive. Why would I need God?” I told her. She said, “Mark, the only reason that they announced that you’re the next President is because they don’t know that you’re the informant. They don’t know that you’re the one wearing the wire, and they are all going to go to prison because of you. The board members are best friends with the CEO, his son’s on the board, his nephew, his brother, his daughter, it is mostly family members on that board. They are going to come after you with everything they have. Surely you don’t think you can go to work like nothing happened when they go to prison.” And then she went back into that house, and I realized she’s right. I looked at that house, we had inside riding, horse stables, where the kids could ride the inside arena in the winter time, I mean it was a mansion, three golf greens, swimming pool. It’s a house that you would see, I mean, it was an absolute mansion, eight-car garage and I just couldn’t imagine after having that for seven years, I couldn’t imagine life without that life.
So basically when she went back in, I thought, she’s right. I am going to get fired, there is no way I’m going to survive this, I’m in denial that I can keep this when they learn that I’m the whistleblower, and I’m going to have to testify against them. So then I thought, would the company give me a severance package where I can continue to make this type of living? Well, then I thought they aren’t going to give me a golden parachute, I’m going to be a witness against them in a federal trial in the courts in Chicago. So then I thought they just announced that I’m the next President. I’ll just write my own severance package. I thought about, they owed me about nine million dollars in stock options, the stock options then said that I had five years to be exercised, I had about a year and a half, the problem was I was going to be fired and the case was going to be exposed, and they would know I was the informant before that year and a half date ended. So I wasn’t going to get to that exercise date to exercise those bonuses or that particular set of stock options. So I made a decision. I’ll write the nine million dollars to myself and I can prove that the company owed me that sum down the road so the jury will be sympathetic that I had to get those funds early because I was going get fired for being an informant. So I went in the next day, I wrote a three and half million dollar check to myself. I wrote five checks in total over a couple month period, which was nine million dollars, and I thought, “Thank God I went to Cornell; I’m the smartest guy in the room,” I thought. And the day that they learned I was the informant, the very day, they called the FBI and they said, “He’s no knight in white informant. He stole nine million dollars from us, the same time he worked for the FBI.” So basically it was okay when I was with them, but once they learned I put them in flames, they put me in flames too. So they went to prison for the price-fixing, they’re in a national cartel, and I went to prison for the nine million dollar fraud. We ended up telling on each other and all went to prison.
Ray: Wow, so in all of this, Mark, did you sense, you know, you got your wife, she was a representative of the Lord Himself, speaking into your life. Did you sense at all in this time frame that God was trying to get your attention? That God was trying to turn your heart back to Him? Or were you just going about thinking you were going, that this was all going to turn out okay?
Mark: Yeah, I really did think it was going to turn out okay. And let me tell you what happened, and really how I met God. And how I got to the point that I surrendered my life to Jesus is that when the FBI was told about the nine million, I got full immunity, is that they came to my house, and all four of the agents met with Ginger and I. And they said, “Mark, Ginger has been telling us,” the agent said, “Ginger has been telling us that you needed to be hospitalized. That you’ve been having a nervous breakdown, not sleeping at night; knowing that your life was in danger for three years while you were wearing this wire.” And the agent said, “We should have never taken you undercover that long. Three years was was too long, but we knew if you were hospitalized or saw a doctor, the doctor would not let you wear a wire any more because you are under pressure.” And then they wouldn’t get the evidence they needed, so they felt so bad that they didn’t let Ginger let me see a doctor or, a psychiatrist, or be hospitalized, you know for the breakdown, the mental breakdown that I was having. They felt so bad about that they said, “Look, Mark, we can’t get you immunity, but we’re going to get the best plea agreement that we can get for you. And they went to the U.S. attorney and described all the things that I did in this multi-billion dollar case, a billion dollars a year, wearing a wire for three years and that I helped, you know, prove the evidence through all the tapes that I made to solve this case, and prosecute and convict everyone in this case, that the prosecutor to the FBI’s a six month sentence at a Federal camp with no fence, and it was a deal of a lifetime. The lawyer called me in Chicago and said, “Mark, It’s a deal of the lifetime; six months in Federal prisons.” That he and the FBI agents help get from the U.S. attorney, the lead prosecutor and then Ginger said, “Mark, I beg you sign this, put it behind us; this is a deal of a lifetime.” And I said, “Ginger, you’re the one that got me into this mess in the first place. I’m going to the do the opposite you want me to do, and I took that plea agreement and I ripped it up, thew it in the trashcan, fired that lawyer on the spot.
I hired several lawyers the next day, fought the case for three and a half years to get a ten year sentence instead, three years later. I’m my own worst enemy every step of the way. And when I had a ten year sentence, there is no parole in the federal system, and I thought, boy, I could have had six months. Now I got to do eight and a half years. You get 15% for good behavior in the federal system; parole doesn’t exist, since the 80s in the Federal system. That’s a state thing, but its not in Federal cases. So I was going to have eight and half years on ten, which means I would have went to prison at forty-one and got out at forty-nine. With the six months, I would have got out in the same year I went in, 1998. So I pulled my car in the garage, Ray, and I wrote a seventeen-page letter to Ginger, before I did that, and my kids. And I tried to take my own life. I tried to kill myself. I couldn’t imagine going to prison for nine years, and then it was in all the newspapers. About the six month plea agreement, how I threw it in the trash can, how I tried to take my own life, and somebody read about it. His name is Ian House, he owned a large pharmaceutical company, read about it. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him, and he was part of CBMC, Christian Business Men’s Connection as a volunteer. Along with his job, he disciples guys. He read about me and showed up at my house, and I’ll never forget this, and he said, “Mark, prison is going to be the beginning of your life, and you’re going to find your true purpose in life with the journey. You ready to start? That was in 1997, twenty-one years ago. And I ran into the kitchen and told Ginger, I said, “Ginger, there is a man out on the porch that is crazier than I am. He thinks this is going to be the beginning of my life and I’m getting ready to go to prison for nine years. And she fell to her knees and she said, “Praise God. Thank God, he sent somebody.” And she said, “Mark, I’ve been praying for you for ten years, and I pray that you go out and listen to this man.” And I went out and listened to Ian. He started to disciple me through Operation Timothy and he spend six, seven hours a week with me for seven months before I went to prison. And then my second week in prison, Chuck Colson, you might know that name, Chuck Colson, he was the White House council for President Nixon during Watergate, he went to prison in the 70s for the Watergate scandal. He showed up my second week of prison and he kind of took off where he had more experience in the prison system than Ian. Ian was a CFO of a pharmaceutical company, so Chuck Colson started to disciple me in prison. And between Ian House and Chuck Colson, they both planted that seed that lead me to Jesus. Three months after I met Chuck Colson, which was my third month in prison, I became a Christian. At age forty-one, and basically the seed planted by Ian House and Chuck Colson.
Ray: And at that point, you still had a long time ahead of you in prison. So what was that like? How did you then begin to experience the Lord? This was part of his plan for you at this point. He wants to use you, what did that look like, behind those prison walls?
Mark: Well, I’ll tell you during my quiet time, I said, “God, Ian House, and Chuck Colson both told me that I would find the purpose in my life. What can that be with over eight years of prison left? What can my purpose be, while I’m in here? I pray that you get me out early, for some miracle to get me out early, but if not, what can my purpose be? And I looked at those Operations Timothy books, that Ian House was taking me through, and Chuck Colson and I looked at that Bible that Chuck Colson gave me, and I thought, “Where in the world are people more helpless and hopeless than in federal prison?” 700 inmates that all were thinking about suicide like I attempted before I went to prison. And I started taking these guys one by one discipleship just like Ian and Chuck did me through Operation Timothy. And I took sixty-one guys through Operation Timothy, one by one. Which is about a one and a half year program, to get completely through it. Sixty-one guys, I took through it, at an hour or two each week, each guy for nine years. And I’ll tell you something, Ray, at twenty dollars a month for nine years, after I earned two to three million a year for eight years before that, they were the most productive years of my life, was Federal prison. And I got out twelve years ago.
Ray: Out twelve years ago. As I mentioned in the opening of the program, what the devil meant for evil, God has surely used for good, right?
Mark: Yes, and I tell you, discipling these guys, helping them get their GEDs, learn how to read, learn how to write, I’ll tell you, Ray, it was the first time in my life that I was helping someone besides myself. And I found how rewarding it was to be a servant leader instead of a selfish leader, that I was, and how rewarding it was to help see these people improve their lives. There was no bonus, no house, no mansion, no corporate jet that was ever more rewarding than what I experienced in prison. I look back at all those years, I really became a free man when I went to prison. I was imprisoned by that life of greed, before prison. That was prison, the life of greed.
Ray: Wow, Mark, we’re going to run out of time here long before I wish we would. But what I’m hoping by our audience hearing this story and you do get a chance, you share this story all over the world dozens and dozens and dozens of times, perhaps a hundred or more times a year, is that not true?
Mark: About seven or eight times a month, usually about ninety-five to a hundred a year for the last several years.
Ray: Yeah, so what I would like to do, as we kind of wind-down our time together, would you be kind enough to, let’s just for a moment pause. There is somebody listening to the program right now, who’s listening to this story, as I know they do across the planet, their jaws dropped. They may not have heard this story, or maybe they’ve seen the movie, but now they understand the, you know, inside track of this thing and the emotion and what you went through. What advice, what encouragement, what wisdom would you pass along to somebody who’s listening to this right now? And maybe they’re faced with temptation, maybe they’re trapped in prestige, and power, and money, and those sorts of things, or maybe God is speaking to their heart to do the right thing, even though it would be the hard thing. What advice, what counsel would you have for someone who’s listening right now and needs to hear wisdom and encouragement from you? What would you say?
Mark: I would tell them this, that the most important decision that I ever made in my live, was to surrender my life to Jesus Christ on June 4th, 1998, twenty years ago. And God took my life from ashes to beauty. The divorce rate, if you serve five years or longer, divorce official statistics is 99% divorce rate. No family survives it. It is 1%, Ginger and I, served eight and a half, almost double that, five for the 99% and we’re thirty-nine years married this June. And our marriage is closer and stronger than ever. Not only did we survive, we thrived, and our children, too. I was employed the day I got out of prison. I had four different offers. Sure I didn’t move up and start off as a COO of a company, but I had four promotions were I eventually became the COO. But God gave me a fresh start all over again twelve years ago when I got out. God turned my life from ashes into beauty and our family is stronger than ever. Even the companies that we stole from, the victims of price-fixing, they won hundreds of millions of dollars back in fines. They put a trust-fund together that took care of my family, the nine years that I was in federal prison for Ginger turning me in. A case that would probably still be going on today, if it wasn’t for Ginger exposing that case, and I believe that God touched the hearts of those lawyers. I don’t just live on faith alone anymore, Ray, I’ve seen the evidence. I’ve seen the evidence as a scientist, that God exists because statistics were against me getting a job, statistics were against my family staying together, and the FBI agents, my biggest supporters, you’d think they threw the key away and forgot about me. They are my biggest supporters today. I tell you, God touched hearts and gave me a second chance. If they are going through challenges in life, surrendering their lives to Jesus is the most important thing that they can do.
Ray: Thank you, and as I’m listening to this, I’m just thinking back to that moment, when you had tried to end your life and Satan was telling you all these lies and everything else, and the prayers of your wife and the wisdom that God had placed, and the truth in her heart is what pulled joy out of that, because she had been praying that this would be the beginning of your life and not the end. And you saw it, and you’re living proof that redemption and hope are the most powerful words that we can ever encounter.
Mark: Absolutely. And look, if I would have signed that six month deal, I would have came out the same greedy man that I went in. I wouldn’t have even listened to Ian House or Chuck Colson. My wife and I both look back and we feel adamantly that with this case, God gave me exactly what I needed, which was nice years in prison. Because a six month sentence, I don’t believe I would have got to know God.
Ray: We read in Scripture he hardened Pharaoh’s heart for his purpose, and just perhaps at that season in your journey, he hardened your heart to allow that pride to stick just long enough for you to tear up that six month sentence so you get those eight and a half years.
Ray: What I’m taking away from our conversation, Mark, is that God is in every aspect of our journey and our story, even our stupidity, even our pride, even our arrogance, even our lust, and thirst for power and money and all those things. He can, in fact, use it all to His glory, but we have to come to that breaking point. And you came to that, and now look at what God has done. Here we are today, and God is using you on a global basis to bring about redemption.
Mark: Yeah. I believe Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord live according to his purpose.” That God will take the good, bad, and ugly, and use it all for good if you give it to Him.
Ray: Amen. And those are absolutely perfect words as we end our conversation. Mark, any last words, any thoughts, any advice that you like to pass along as we wind down our time together?
Mark: I’d just like to pass along, that like Ian House reached out to me twenty-one years ago, we don’t have to look too far to look at somebody in need, who doesn’t know God. But maybe someone in your own home, like I was for my wife, maybe a neighbor across the street, maybe across the hall in your company, someone employed by the same business that you work at, and I just praise God, I pray that all of us will step out like Ian does and be used by God to plant seeds in those that don’t really know God. And I believe that’s what marketplace ministry is all about.
Ray: It absolutely is, and Mark, you mentioned it earlier, but would you mind one more time just sharing the website where folks can learn more about your story, your journey, or perhaps even CBMC.? How can how can we learn more about your ministry?
Mark: Yeah, both the website for me, and my testimony, and the video of a prayer event is on my website. And a lot of other things Discovery Channel, a Forbes interview, I did recently, and that’s www.markwhitacre.com and Whitacre is W-H-I-T-A-C-R-E, so markwhiteacre.com. And then CBMC is www.CBMC.com, Christian Business Men’s Connection, is what CBMC stands for, and that’s to really equip guys like I described with Chuck Colson and Ian House about reaching out in your sphere of influence, introduce them to Jesus.
Ray: Well, Mark, thank you so much for not only taking the time to invest in sharing your story with us here at Bottom Line Faith, but thank you for the obedient path that you are now following, the incredible story and witness that you are allowing the Lord to use you to literally transform the world for Christ. Thank you so much.
Mark: Thank you, thanks for having me. I’ll be praying for your ministry. Thank you.
Ray: Thank you. Well, folks, our guest today has been Mark Whitacre, as he shared, you can learn more about his story at markwhitacre.com and you can learn more about CBMC at their website. So, folks, we are so grateful that Mark has invested in us today, I just pray that you would be encouraged, take the words, take the story that Mark has shared, and use this as your moment of encouragement. Check out the rest of our interviews that we have available for you at bottomlinefaith.org. Again, if you’re not a subscriber, check us out, scroll to the bottom of the page there and become a regular listener here at the program where we learn from America’s top leaders about how to integrate faith into the marketplace. Until next time, I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert. God bless and we’ll see you soon.