Gray Shipley is a partner at both the Birmingham Technology Group and Shipley Farms Beef Company. The Birmingham Technology Group (BTG), based out of Birmingham, Alabama, provides metal manufacturing and fabrication to customers throughout the Southeast. Their goal is to build a successful and profitable missions-focused manufacturing business that reaches people for the gospel.
Gray is also a fifth-generation partner in the Shipley Farms Beef Company. Shipley Farms began in 1872 when Nathan and Sarah Shipley purchased 115 acres of farmland in Vilas, NC. Since then, the Shipley family has been breeding and raising premium quality beef on the family farm in the heart of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
7:57–Shipley Farm Beef
9:37–Birmingham Technology Group
19:58–What do you see in this next generation that they are getting right? And what advice would you give to them about something they may need to focus on?
24:13–The 4:23 question
Ray: Hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, we’d like to welcome you back for another edition of the program where we lift the hood andL we’re going to tinker around in the engine of Christian Leadership. So here at Bottom ine Faith, we interview CEOs, business owners, celebrities, entertainers, folks from all walks of life, but what all of our guests have in common is they’re Christ followers who are seeking to live out their faith in and through the Marketplace and to build their companies, their organizations and their platforms on biblical principles. And so, we’d like to ask about the way their faith intercepts with the way they conduct leadership. We like to learn failures, we like to learn successes and how their faith has played a role in all of those things. And so we are really excited that you have decided to join us if you are a first time listener, welcome to Bottom Line Faith. We’d like to encourage you to check out our website at bottomlinefaith.org and you can listen to all previous interviews there if you’re a long time listener, of course, thanks for joining us for the weekly program here at Bottom Line Faith.
If you’re a Christ follower in in business, and you’re looking for a way to connect with other business owners, presidents and CEOs check out our website at truthatwork.org. We are the host ministry here for Bottom Line Faith, click on that tab that says Roundtables and you can connect with one of our groups in dozens of cities across the country. So, we are excited that you have decided to join us again and our guest today, we are once again and beautiful Birmingham, Alabama. If you’ve listened to some previous interviews, when I’ve been in Birmingham, I’ve called this kind of my home away from home and my guest today is Gray Shipley and we’re going to learn all about Gray, but two things from a title standpoint and what he does career wise. He is a partner in the Birmingham Technology Group, we’re going to learn about that and their desire to build that as a Christ-honoring company. And he’s also a fifth-generation partner and engaged with the Shipley Farms Beef Company out of North Carolina. So, we’re going to learn about both of those as we go through the program. Gray, welcome.
Gray: Thank you, Ray. Good to be here.
Ray: You doing all right, today?
Gray: Doing great and beautiful day.
Ray: It’s great. So, tell us a little bit more about just kind of your background and your pathway. And we’re going to dive into the companies and what God has you doing, but just give us a little bit of your upbringing, your family life, what it was like being young, Gray Shipley and how you came to Christ, all that good stuff.
Gray: Sure, sure. So, grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, ended up coming to school in Alabama, went to school in Tuscaloosa and moved around for a bit worked over in Georgia for a while I went to grad school up north in New Hampshire, and then came back here after grad school. Ended up back working in Birmingham here, so that’s how I got here. But you know, I’m somebody like solving problems and so that’s what took me initially to engineering school. It’s kind of a mindset to solving problems. And I found when I got into their that found it too wrapped up in the technical and to me, solving business problems, people problems is more impactful than solving the technical problems. And so, at that point, that’s when I decided to head back to school for business and kind of set off in a career fixing and building businesses.
So that’s what my focus has been career ranging from Cotton Jenning to 3D medical imaging technology, you know, everything from small entrepreneurial ventures, to working with investors on turnaround projects and working with some larger corporate companies. So that’s kind of my story. And my, I guess, path for faith is grew up in a in a great Christian home and a solid family and mentioned to you before, I’m a bit of a processor, I think slowly, it takes me a while to kind of to grasp and process things. So, you know, I grew up in church and at home and at summer camp, always hearing the gospel and hearing sin and our need for Christ explained to me and what I heard was kinda there’s this, “Yes, we have this issue and yes, I’m sinful, and I need God.” And so, there’s this prayer fixes everything. So, pray the prayer and then everything will be fixed. And, and I never understood what that transaction was. What’s the magic of this prayer? I remember as a kid over and over, you know, sometimes every few days, “Well, maybe didn’t take last time. Maybe it ought to pray this prayer again.” And so, I would, and you know.
Ray: I really mean it this time.
Gray: Yeah, I really mean it. It didn’t take last time. I just want to reiterate than I am a sinner, and I recognize—and so I process things slowly. It took me a long time and I can’t point to a particular conversion experience or time of my life, but just over a period of realizing that this magical prayer thing doesn’t make sense. It finally occurred to me, I think, somewhere along the way, that all right, it’s not a magical prayer. It’s a surrender and a relationship and a recognition of what our sin is and what that means and our need for Christ and love of God that is reflected in that. And so that’s my story of faith. I tell people that I think along the way my naivety protected me from my depravity
Ray: That’s good, that’s very good. And so, married? What’s your –
Gray: No, not married. Single guy.
Ray: Very good, very good.
Ray: And but your family, you’re a fifth generation?
Gray: At least fifth, yeah.
Ray: Tell us a little bit about that side of the story.
Gray: So, my granddad’s granddad purchased the current farm property that we have in North Carolina, little town on the west side of Boone, Watauga County one of the most beautiful places on earth. So, property that we have now came into the family in 1872, and my granddad was owner and proprietor for 86 years, he inherited it when he was in December 1929.
Ray: You know this history really well, this is very impressive.
Gray: It was a month and a half after the stock market crash. He’s a freshman at Virginia Tech, 17 years old and gets, I imagine a letter not a call at that time, that his uncle had passed away and left the farm to him. So, he had it until he passed at 103, just a few years ago, but I had to the benefit of being a business partner with my granddad for a few years and just working on investing in the family business and still get to work on it with my dad which is just a tremendous privilege. He is the most impressive example of Christ of any person I’ve ever come across and opportunity to work with him and learn from him and be a partner in that is just a tremendous blessing.
Ray: Well, take just a moment, because I’m somewhat fascinated about this, but also will come back to that. Tell us about Shipley Farms Beef. What it is what you do there?
Gray: Easy to talk about that. So, Appalachian-grown, pasture-raised beef. Our theme is, “Beef the way beef used to be, the way we’ve always done it. No shortcuts.” So, our family heritage is in–and we talked a little bit about this before–you know, a little beef and a little basketball. But, our family heritage is in English breeds, Hereford’s and so forth. We–I think my great granddad brought Hereford farming to North Carolina, if you know any about the beef breeds. So anyway, that’s kind of where we are. So it’s a pasture raised program, just no steroids or antibiotics or feedlots or any of that kind of stuff and just producing beef. We sell to retail, we sell the high-end butcher shops, and top-end chefs and just people that really care about what’s in their food, what’s not in their food and man it’s just it’s a lot of fun to be out on the farm.
Ray: And I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. It’s just sounds really good. Just for our listeners who might also be salivating right now, Gray, how can they find out about the family business?
Gray: Well, shipleyfarmsbeef.com is our website we got our story on there.
Ray: Can have it shipped to them?
Gray: Absolutely. Anywhere on the East Coast, we can ship direct to your door.
Ray: shipleyfarmsbeef.com, check out the website, I know you’re going to want to order some.
Gray: Well, that’s great. I wasn’t expecting to get a promo here today. Free marketing, thank you.
Ray: That’s awesome. Fifth generation and you’re a part of that, but God has you in another place now and let’s talk a little bit about this venture, this idea, this concept, this business as mission thing that you’re engaged in. And what is BTG? You’re a partner in this business, in this venture, tell us about it. What you’re hoping to accomplish with that, what the goals are.
Gray: Sure. So, this comes out of a really neat group/network of businessman and investors that has formed here in Birmingham over the past 10 or 12 years. And it’s been a blessing just to be a part of some of what these guys, Chuck Weldon who was here with you previously, Tom Phillips, and others, I think guys that you’ve talked to, but just to be alongside what some of these guys are doing investing in businesses around the world. But the theme is the way I like to describe it as, you don’t have to go to seminary, learn Greek and Hebrew, raise a bunch of funds and set off and plant a church somewhere to have a meaningful impact on people. And in fact, business is really a an under-tapped platform through which you can impact people in a really significant way. And so, what we’re looking to do with BTG is do just that here in Birmingham.
Ray: And BTG stands for?
Gray: Birmingham Technology Group.
Ray: All right, great.
Gray: So, our focus is on building a successful and profitable, but missions-focused manufacturing business, built on kind of Birmingham’s rich manufacturing and steel history and in the process, both build a great business and also have a great impact on people for the gospel through what we’re working on.
Ray: So, what we what success look like, you know, as we looked, and we hear this term, we talked about this term “business as mission.” If I’ve never heard that term before, what would you tell me about that? What does that mean, Business as Mission? Sounds intriguing to me, Gray. Tell me about that.
Gray: Ray, one way to look at it is, if you and I were, say we wanted to have an impact on Haiti. We can go raise $100,000, we could go down there, and we could give away $100,000, and come back and tell people the stories of the impact that we’re able to have.
Ray: And maybe we maybe we build a wall or paint a church or—
Gray: Right. And maybe we’d be able to raise another $100,00 based on what we did. But if we raised $100,000, and took it to Haiti, and invested it in a business that could provide a return, make a profit, but also have an impact on people and we came back with $200,000, along with stories about people that we employed, and how we created access to capital and change lives through that, there’s no limit to the amount of money we can take back. And it’s not just about money, but it’s about a sustainable model. You know, so much of—I love the book “When Helping Hurts” that talks about–a great book, if you haven’t read it–just talks about how so much well-meaning effort that really the West has put out into the world has been more harmful than helpful. And so, it’s not a sustainable model, saying, just the Western world is going to continue to support and send money and send resources and create dependencies and address people’s needs for them, instead of helping to empower and create opportunity, and allow people the dignity of solving their own problems, and addressing their own needs, through having that assistance and facilitation and access to capital and opportunity that we do have a here in the West. And so that’s in a sense of better thing to export.
Ray: So, what I what I hear in that there, there’s just this a biblical worldview is of stewardship and leveraging of resources. Jesus gives the story of the talents, right? And he was most pleased with those servants who took those talents, invested them and brought back a return. That’s what I hear you talking about, right here.
Ray: So, that is a real biblical principle at play here. And so you and this company is an idea about, you know, reaching vendors and even competitors, frankly, but customers and, and the marketplace and modeling Christ but actually bringing a return, so we can reinvest it, and reinvest it and reinvest it in the kingdom and the people. That’s what I’m hearing.
Gray: Yeah, you know, to me, part of the underlying philosophy is business is really about people, it is not about profits, you know, the reason we want profits is ultimately because of the impact that we can have on people. If I gave you a wheelbarrow of cash, said you can have as much as you want, the only thing you can’t do is spend it or give it away. It’s really pretty useless, right? So, that’s philosophy there about just what we’re really trying to do.
Ray: Yeah, I love it. I love it. And so, let’s kind of shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk about just kind of your career path, and lessons learned, and so forth. So, as you kind of look back over your career path, you’ve had an opportunity to be involved with turnaround in many companies and projects. What would you say is the biggest mistake you ever made? What did you learn from that? How did your faith play a role in that? Help us understand.
Gray: In grad school, one of my favorite professors gave us the rule of, you know, think about what you do in terms of, “What if it was written on the front page of The Wall Street Journal tomorrow?” And so, it’s a pretty good guideline, and one of my granddad’s favorite quotes was, “You’re never gonna live long enough to make all the mistakes yourself. So, you need to learn from those of others.” And so I’ve been fortunate, not so much to make great mistakes of my own, but to see some things go wrong, you know, the common thread that I’ve noticed, and whether it’s business, whether it’s church, whether it’s personal, or family, there are a lot of ways to fail.
And business is tough, a lot of ways that things can go wrong, but if you want to have a spectacular go down in history, make the front page of The Wall Street Journal kind of a failure, you really can’t do it without arrogance and resistance to transparency and accountability and so just bring in, and we talked about this before, humility. It’s coming to it with humility. And having that mindset is really what helps you prevent that and avoid those colossal mistakes and then, you know, hopefully, you’re able to learn from the smaller ones as you go along.
Ray: Yeah, that’s really good. And so, one of the things that we define a success here at Bottom Line Faith is that if there’s just one person listening, they’re listening to this conversation right now and they just hear a word that encourages them, or maybe helps them just move one step beyond where they are, helps them overcome a fear maybe, maybe God’s given them a dream, a vision or an idea, and something’s been holding them back and do something they hear in this conversation is going to spur them on to take that step to take that leap of faith. And that’s success for this program, right?
Ray: So, if someone is listening right now, and maybe they have a hard time at, you know, coming to a point of humility, and you talked about, you hope that you don’t make the kind of mistake that’s so big and so bad, that lack of humility caused you to get there, if that makes sense. So, what word of encouragement would you have for somebody who’s maybe wrestling with right now, this whole issue of humility? They don’t even know that’s the hard part, right? They may not know it?
Ray: What would what would be a warning sign? What would be something they should look out for that indicates they don’t have it, and they may be heading toward a fall?
Gray: You mentioned success, how you define success, kind of a pet peeve of mine is success is not an absolute term, success is a relative term, you’re successful at what you set out to accomplish. You’re not successful, and just kind of a nebulous, generic, kind of a sense. And so, the idea that you start with why you identify what is your purpose? What do you when you get up in the morning? What is it that you’re setting out to accomplish? One of Jonathan Edwards quotes was, “He was resolved to live as I will wish that I had lived when I come to die.” Identify with that purpose. And so, if you take a hard look at what is my purpose, what am I really trying to accomplish? Then you’re going to see, all right, if I’m driven by arrogance, then my purposes in furthering my own identity, my own recognition, my own wealth, my own prosperity, and if that’s what’s driving you, then you really need to take a harder look at that and understand, you know, suppose you get to the end of life, and that’s what you really invested in. Where is the meaning in that?
Ray: Yeah, maybe in some of our common language is like now “live with the end in mind.” Right?
Ray: Play that movie to the end, and then each day live according to that ideal turnout, right? And some of you may or may not be familiar with this, where this story came from, but the Nobel Peace Prize and–I love to share this story–and Alfred Nobel, a lot of people may or may not know this, he invented TNT, dynamite, right. And so what happened was, he had a twin brother who died, but Alfred Nobel’s hometown newspaper, actually accidentally published Alfred’s obituary, not his brothers. Well, so he opens up his newspaper, and he reads that in his own obituary, and right there, it said, he died a very wealthy man, but many people died due to the result of his product and many buildings were destroyed and the world was not a good place as a result of Alfred Nobel having been here, is essentially what he read. And what most people don’t know is where the Nobel Peace Prize came from. What happened was, he read that obituary, how he was going to be remembered, and he was so distraught that he from that day forward the rest of his life, took all of his wealth, and all of his time and all of his resources and dedicated it to peace, and not destruction and that’s where we got the Nobel Peace Prize. So, Alfred Nobel had the chance to, like, see how he was going to be remembered and change the course of his life.
Gray: Great story. I’ve never heard that one before.
Ray: It’s fascinating, right? But Alfred Nobel had that chance to do exactly what you said was, he got to go back and then live each day as he ideally wanted to be remembered. So, I think that’s great council and I thought, just kind of fun to inject that, you know.
Gray: Yeah, great story!
Ray: Not everybody really knows about. Well, let’s talk about, you’re still a fairly young guy, I think?
Gray: Yeah, feel that way!
Ray: Good. Good. What do you see your generation and in this upcoming generation that they’re getting it right. Maybe they’ve got some perspectives that are a little different than the older generation? And then what advice would you give to the younger generation about maybe what they need to focus on or tweak.
Gray: Two things come to mind. One is, and we talked a little bit about basketball before, you’re from Indiana, I’m from North Carolina, both great basketball states. Arthur Ashe, adequate successes, undramatic, what makes a great basketball player is not the ability to hit the hard shots, but the discipline to work for the easy shots. I think, first is diligence, not looking for drama, and glory, and just having a spectacular day every day, but just the willingness to go and work hard and be consistent-
Ray: Just chip away.
Gray: –and purposeful. Yeah, and just, you know, grind away at and then that and that I think, really is what makes success and what makes heroes and the other is I think, especially for us as believers, don’t compromise on quality. There’s often I think, too much of a mindset that what faith kind of gives us an excuse a little bit.
Ray: Well, I call this spiritualizing sloppiness.
Gray: Yeah! I like that.
Ray: Sloppy grace.
Gray: Yeah, I like that!
Ray: Yeah, yeah.
Gray: You know, people don’t want to buy a sandwich because it’s a Christian sandwich.
Ray: That’s right.
Gray: People want to buy a sandwich because it tastes good and it’s good quality. And so, you know, let faith raise our bar, not lower it.
Ray: Great advice. And so, there’s a balance there, because you talked about getting up every day. And I call it just, you know, put your head down and chipping away just go chop wood day by day. And I call these in 40-year overnight success stories, right? You wake up, years later, “Wow, something great just happened.” So, you combine that of just being willing to get up do the small things, be faithful in the small things, but doing them with excellence? That’s a great recipe and I think that’s great advice. And also hear you say that one of the things you admire about this next generation of leaders is that they’re willing to kind of challenge the status quo. I know, my generation, you know, it was kind of like, you know, just go out and have a great career path, make a lot of money and retire.
Ray: And I think that our younger folks are challenging that status quo and I think that that’s a good thing.
Gray: Oh, and one other thing that comes to mind, I’ll add, you can tell I’m a guy who likes quotes, Lou Holtz, one of the things Lou Holtz says, is, “As a leader, father, politician, coach, business leader, whatever the case may be, as a leader, there’s three things that people want to know about you before they’re willing to follow you. And it’s, can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? And do you care about me as a person? And if you can say yes, to those three things, people will go through the wall for you. If you can’t, then you know, you’re not going to inspire and you’re not going to get people really behind you.” And so, it’s back to what we talked about before, Ray. Business is about people, and so is focus on the people that you impact and how you impact them. And creating those relationships, I think is really important. That’s been fantastic. So, I’m gonna, if you don’t mind, I want to ask you repeat that again, because, you know, we know that our listeners sometimes are taking notes and following along.
Ray: What were those three components? Those three questions that Lou Holtz said, were paramount to lead.
Gray: Three things people want to know about you as a leader, can I trust you? Are you committed to excellence? And do you care about me as a person?
Ray: Well, you know, great. One of the one of the things we’ve mentioned practically on every single program here at Bottom Line Faith is that this is like the fastest 30 minutes on the airwaves. And it just goes so fast, because having these kind of conversations, they just flow and God gives us great insight and great wisdom. I know they go fast for me, I hope they go fast for you and I know they go fast for our audience so you know, one of the things that we want to make sure we do at the end of every interview and believe it or not, we’re at that time frame, is we have one question that we ask every guest to address and we call it our 4:23 question. And if you’re a long-time listener here, Bottom Line Faith, you know, this is how we end every program. And so, it’s based out of Proverbs chapter 4, verse 23, where Solomon who is the wisest man who ever lived.
He gives us all the Proverbs and much of Ecclesiastes and he really gives us the foundational principles for living life. And he comes to this and there are many biblical scholars, Gray, that believe this is a statement that comes from him at the end of his life. And kind of the picture is he’s gathered his loved ones around and he’s, you know, kind of given that last season address, and he’s saying, “Look, I’ve given you all these truths. I given you all these principles. However, there’s one thing I want you to remember above everything else above all else.” Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows the wellspring of life.” So, as we mentioned, you’re still a fairly young guy. But let’s just fast forward that clock towards the tail end of your time, this side of eternity, and you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you, and you have a chance to pass along that one piece of advice that you want to be what you’re remembered as, above all else, fill in the blank for me…
Gray: At the risk of sounding like a Baptist preacher here, I’ve got three points. No, I think we’ve covered a couple.
Ray: It’s all right.
Gray: One is, start with why, you know, live life with purpose. Two is, humility, use that Wall Street Journal rule. But the one we haven’t covered is–we still kind of have—but business is about people. One of the things that I tried to integrate in any company that I’m leading is, leave everyone you touch better off than you found them. And just keep a focus on the people that you’re investing in the relationships that you have, and how you have an impact on everyone. Whether it’s an employee, a vendor, a customer, if it’s somebody that comes in and interviews and you don’t even hire them, it’s to have a mindset that I want that interaction to leave that person in some way better off than when I found them. I mentioned to you, I like solving problems and have a bit of a knack for that and enjoy business. So, I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with a group called the Freedom Business Alliance. I travelled just a few months ago to their global forum conference that they put on in Thailand and just had a chance to go over there and work with some small businesses that are spread out across Asia.
And Freedom Business Alliance is a business’s mission organization that’s specifically focused on creating jobs and economic development to combat human trafficking. Which you know, really to me is just the face of evil in our world today. And so to see what they’re doing and some really neat businesses, small entrepreneurial businesses, some larger successful businesses as well, that are just working to create jobs to give women other opportunities to stay out of a human trafficking situation or in many cases people that have been there because they didn’t have other opportunities because they were forced, if they’re able to leave and they’re often rejected by their families and by culture and community and just don’t have a lot of places to go. And so it’s business and jobs and economic development is a really powerful tool to impact even something like human trafficking and so the FBA, Freedom Business Alliance, what they’re doing has been neat to be involved in and it was just a tremendous a lot of fun to be able to go over and just work through some of their business problems and help them understand, “How do I raise the bar? How can I just be great at what we do in business, provide value to customers and create something that can be sustainable?” So, a lot of fun and a great trip and a great organization.
Ray: Folks, we have had the incredible privilege on today’s episode of Bottom Line Faith of speaking with Gray Shipley, partner in several businesses but two that we’ve talked about today are BTG, Birmingham Technology Group and Shipley Farms Beef and so you can check out and learn about Gray on his LinkedIn profile that’s Gray Shipley and you can learn about the BTG and Shipley Family Farms Beef and all those wonderful things that he’s involved with. You know, it gives me great encouragement to know that and I consider you like a next generation leader, and that’s a compliment, but it gives me great encouragement to know that God is raising up leaders like you in business and in leadership and I just want to tell you thank you for your faithfulness and thanks for your time on the program today.
Gray: Well, Ray, thanks for having me and don’t quite understand why you’d need me here, but it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.
Ray: Well, here’s the deal, here’s what we say, somebody today listening this is going to be encouraged by your story. One of these quotes, one of these principles that you lead and live by is going to be the blessing. So, we know that God’s got that in store.
Gray: Well, thank you.
Ray: Thanks so much for being here. Well folks, this is Ray Hilbert, your host here at Bottom Line Faith, let me just remind you once again to check out our website at bottomlinefaith.org. The host ministry here is Truth at Work, check us out at truthatwork.org. If you’re a Christ following business owner, leader, President, CEO. Well, until next time, this is your host Ray Hilbert at Bottom Line Faith, go out and live your faith in the marketplace and be an encouragement to all those that God brings into your pathway. This is Ray Hilbert saying so long and God bless.