This episode of Bottom Line Faith features Josh Wildman, CEO of The Wildman Business Group
“I’ve seen miracles happen in our business … I look at those and I say those are miracles and that’s God’s provision, because we were faithful.”
Ray: Well hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert, your host of Bottom Line Faith, and we would like to welcome you back to another edition of our audio podcast, where we feature some of America’s top Christian business and marketplace leaders. And as you’ve heard us describe on previous editions here at Bottom Line Faith, this is where we like to sort of lift the hood on the leadership of Christian business marketplace leaders, kind of tinker around a little bit in the engine of Christian leadership and see how they think, how they solve problems, how they overcome obstacles in life, and probably most importantly, how they work to integrate their Christian faith into all aspects of their life and leadership. And I gotta tell you, I am really, really excited about our guest for this edition of Bottom Line Faith. Folks, you’re going to hear from a dear friend of mine and a dear friend of ours here at Truth At Work. We’re going to be having a conversation today with Josh Wildman, who is the CEO of the Wildman Business Group, in beautiful Warsaw, Indiana. If you’re not familiar with Warsaw, Indiana, it is a town just a few miles outside of Fort Wayne, but a beautiful lake town. And Josh is actually a world-class water skier. He’s probably going to be very humble about that. But Josh, welcome to Bottom Line Faith; it is great to have you.
Josh: Thanks, Ray. Great to be here.
Ray: Folks, one of the things that you’re going to learn today is you’re going to hear from a man who I really had to poke and prod to get on our show, because he’s humble, he doesn’t like to be in the limelight. But he’s just living out his faith on a daily basis. And he’s going to share some ups and some downs, some successes and failures in his Christian leadership in his company. But Josh, let’s take just a moment and why don’t you just tell our listeners a little bit about the company here: what you do, you’ve got some different things going on. And just help us understand a little bit about the business.
Josh: You bet. Well, we are a third-generation family business started in 1952. We actually started as a retail dry cleaner, and my grandfather bought himself a job. Didn’t know anything about the laundry business, decided he wanted to be in business as an entrepreneur and left Standard Oil at the time, after being a World War II fighter pilot and came and bought a small dry cleaner in Nappanee, Indiana, and from there it was a small business for many years. But it provided an income to the family at that time. And my dad, the middle child, then in the mid ‘70s would join the business and out of necessity – still a small laundry dry cleaner – he would take us into uniform rental and more of the industrial laundry side of things and create himself a job just like my grandfather had done. And the business was just big enough to support two families then, and dad did a great job. He’s an entrepreneur at heart and really got after it and grew the business until about mid ‘90s. And then made a bold decision to buy a company here in town and double the size of the company, highly leveraged the business. I think he said 11 times he went to the bank, and it was on the back of a napkin he finally convinced the local bank, Lake City Bank, to loan us over $2 million.
And by the grace of God that all worked out, and my dad, you know, just in prayer, realized that he wasn’t the leader to move the business forward and was wise enough and humble enough to go outside and hire an outside CEO to really develop the business, integrate the two companies and train the next generation. And it was about that time that I joined the business and we would begin to diversify. Now we have five businesses. Wildman Uniform and Linen is our industrial laundry; it equates for about 40% of our business. We also have a facility service business that delivers first aid safety products, janitorial products to many businesses. It’s a nice compliment. We also have a parallel and promotional company, Wildman Imprints, which is a nice compliment to our laundry side and helps with branded apparel and promotional products as an extension to our customer base. And then we got a little outside the norm and we decided that some of the successes we’d had in diversifying and distribution would complement themselves as another business unit. We went into paper distribution and began distributing paper and janitorial products to other laundries, teaching them how to add those to their routes, market them, and sell them. That is Wynona Paper, just became Wynona Services.
And lastly, and this is a whole story in itself, we had a sales manager who had a relationship with Notre Dame and the sports division was born, which is our consumer products division. So we’re licensed with the NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL, all the major leagues, over 170 colleges and universities as well. And several different consumer products now to that company. But there’s a story behind all of it. And by the grace of God, he has provided the people and the resources to grow our business. And my father was – one thing he taught us very early on was to give and to tithe, not only have your money, but your time and your talent. And he set that example. And as a company we’ve honored that and as the good Word says, it has come back to overflowing and our barns are constantly needing expansions.
Ray: Well, at that point, you know, one of the things that has amazed me, we’ve probably known each other now, I think, three or four years, somewhere, maybe five, I’m not sure. But you really have demonstrated that faithfulness of tithing and giving. And I know we’ll get into some of this causes that the business supports and those sorts of things. So thank you for that background, that’s very helpful to understand a little bit about the company. And so you’ve got some synergy in some of those companies, but there’s some diversity there, too, which I’m sure is going to be part of our conversation on some of those challenges. But take just a moment and share maybe just for a moment or two about your spiritual background. Did you grow up in a Christian home, or what was that like? Just walk us through that real quickly.
Josh: Absolutely. I would say I grew up in the quintessential Midwestern Christian family home, and we went to the Grace Brethren church, We were in church, you know, if the doors were open, we were there. And it was a wonderful upbringing and godly parents. We’ve got a long legacy of missionary work and a heritage of following and honoring Christ in everything we do as a family. But it’s one thing to grow up that way. It’s another thing to have that personal walk with Jesus Christ. And I always knew Christ and was baptized at an early age and had made that commitment at the age of five. But I’ll say it was actually the business that brought me to Jesus Christ, to a true personal relationship. And that’s a neat story in and of itself. I would say that I was pursuing very much myself growing up. And even as I started in the business here, I didn’t intend to work at the family business.
In fact, I remember seeing the middle of the plant when I think I was 12 after cleaning under the ironer on a Saturday, saying, “I will never work in the laundry business.” And that is a fact. And, you know, isn’t it funny how God puts you in the most unlikely places so he can teach and grow you. So as Ray had mentioned, you know, I grew up on the lake. And I had grown up waterskiing and was very fortunate at the age when wakeboarding was just entering the X-Games, really exploding, to have the opportunity to progress very fast and to wakeboard at a very high level. I became a Semi-Pro national champion when I was 21, and had dreams of joining the Pro Tour the next year, and moving my new bride to Florida, where we would pursue the wakeboarding career and enjoy that time in our life. But as God would have it, he was going to slow me down and redirect my path, no matter what I thought. And that summer, I broke my leg very severely, lost my sponsorships, lost my job opportunity in Florida, and newly married, I needed a job. And as it would be, my father had a route open, and so I would end up in the laundry business, which was a great opportunity. I had been going to school for business, and my father very much wanted me to join the business. But at the same time, I still was not interested; I was still thinking I would get back on the wakeboard career path and make some changes.
But it was a job. And over about five years, I realized the wakeboard path wasn’t going to happen. And this job became a career option. And as we began to diversify and grow the business, and we were winning and having fun, I realized that this would be my career. And that was such an awesome thing to see how God can direct your path. And it was about that time and as Ray had mentioned, you know, growing up by my Christian walk, and just kind of give you my brief testimony there, but it was really the business that brought me to know Jesus Christ and it would happen. Again, it’s so funny how you never say never. I did not want to go on a missions trip. My wife badly wanted me to go to Guatemala on a missions trip. I felt very comfortable you know, we could be in business, we could give money. I didn’t need to go spend my time, and it just wasn’t something that had grabbed my heart. But I went to Guatemala, and it would change my life and her life forever. And it just struck me that, you know, I have to bring people from our company to see this and really experience Jesus Christ. And it was really there that God ignited what was a job that became a career, and it became a calling to the point, you know, where I was, it doesn’t matter my position and any of the things that come with it, I would do it no matter what.
Ray: I actually love that, Josh. There’s a word picture in my mind as you were sharing that story, that I could see a natural progression that really so many of our listeners should pay attention to. And that is the process of a job to a career to a calling. Much of it began by telling the Lord, “Never. Not going to do this.” But then he had another plan and took some things from you that you wanted, right? Your wakeboarding and that sort of thing. But now in hindsight, I think it’s pretty obvious what was happening there.
Well folks, we are talking with my dear friend, Josh Wildman, he is the CEO of the Wildman Business Group. So, Josh, on this whole topic of business and ministry, we’ll get into some of the challenges in just a moment, and some of the lessons you’ve learned over the past few years. But tell us just real quickly, what are some of the projects, the causes? How do you live out your faith here at the company? What’s it look like?
Josh: Well, we’ve taken a bold stand in just saying that it’s our vision, that through the services and products that we offer, that everyone we come into contact with would have an opportunity to come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. And some of the things that we’ve put in place, you know, in building culture, it takes being very intentional in living that out. You can’t just say it. You know, we have a world outreach program that we put in place where our employees can earn five extra vacation days every year to go serve. It can be locally, it can be globally, as long as it’s in line with the vision that we’ve placed. We’re going to support them; we’re going to help them get there. And part of that is that we do two company-sponsored trips to the Dominican Republic every year. We’ve taken over 150 people on 20+ trips down to the Dominican Republic.
We’ve seen many, many people come to know the Lord; we’ve had a baptism on almost every trip. It’s just been phenomenal, every trip, how the Holy Spirit moves, and always God is glorified in that. We’ve made a commitment as a business, 20% of our profits annually are given away and that has been in the midst of growth and all the challenges of cash flow and supporting everything that we have going as a business. That has been an awesome thing to sacrificially give that money away and just see it do awesome things throughout the world and locally. We’ve been able to bring in organizations that we support to talk at our company meetings. And that’s been incredible. In addition to the world outreach, so that’s spiritual emphasis. We do a discipleship program called Christianity Explored which has been great in helping people as they come to know the Lord, to develop that faith and really understand what it is they believe. We do a marriage retreat annually in Hawaii that my parents sponsor and bring four couples there, to be more than just another midsize family business.
Ray: That’s really powerful stuff. And you know, I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine, we’re at the gym and on the treadmills, and we’re talking back and forth. He was talking about – he was really under attack in his life and in a spiritual journey. And I just said to him, I said, “You know, I would only worry if I were you if you weren’t under attack, because Satan only attacks those who are a threat to him.” So in what ways, what challenges do you face as a Christ follower, leading a company, doing all these incredible things in the community globally, and, of course, with your employees? Tell us a little bit about some of the challenges you have just in your leadership.
Josh: You know, that’s a really good point. And I think it’s easy to say, you know, we’re going to go live out this business model in marketplace ministry, and we really do pray and have the teams praying for the company. And the fact that we know there’s a massive spiritual war going on over what we’re doing. Because we truly believe through the marketplace, we have resources to impact the kingdom in a major way. And the more businesses that get on board with this type of marketplace ministry, we can do powerful, powerful things. It’s where people spend most of their time. They spend more time at work than they spend with their families. And you know, with that, let’s make it fun, and let’s do some really awesome stuff. But there’s a big war going on over what we’re doing. And so we protect that in prayer.
Ray: I love that. And prayer is perhaps the most powerful weapon we can have. And especially as we’re seeking to honor Christ in the marketplace. And so in the midst of that, just because we’re Christ followers, doesn’t mean we’re perfect, doesn’t mean we do everything right. So share with our audience, maybe a mistake or two that you’ve made in your leadership that now as you look back, you say, wow, I’d really like to do that one over again or I’ve learned my lesson there. What’s a great learning point that you’d be happy to share with our audience?
Josh: It was my mentor, often said that you can dig a lot of little holes, just don’t dig the really big hole. And if you’re shoveling over your head, you might be getting too deep. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. And ultimately, I think the mistakes sometimes aren’t the big mistakes, it’s when you know that your character was not what it should have been as a Christ follower that most disappoints. And I think probably some of the ones that have most upset me was where I knew I let my fallen, sinful nature get the best of me and I either became angry, short-tempered, didn’t take the time to think something through, and hurt somebody’s feelings or left them with a perception that was not of Jesus Christ. I mean, we’ve made big mistakes financially, we’ve made big mistakes strategy-wise, but you know, it’s the little ones that actually, I think, mean the most. Because you don’t know, in the great scheme of things when you look back it, I think it’s going to be the things that Jesus Christ looks at and goes, that was your opportunity to be – you missed it. But that was your opportunity. I didn’t care about the $100,000 mistake you made on signing a certain contract. I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for, but I know the times where I most sit back and reflect and had felt most convicted were where I was acting in flesh and not as Jesus Christ would have acted.
Ray: I think it’s an actually a perfect response to the question, in that, as you were sharing, I’m reminded of the passage in the Song of Songs, it says that it’s the little foxes that destroy the vineyard, right? And so it’s sometimes – I don’t want to say easier – but it’s certainly more obvious, some of those big glaring mistakes, and everybody knows you’ve blown it. But I think our character is shaped perhaps most in those smaller ones, right? That it’s just us and the Lord. And that’s when the conviction comes in. And then what we’re going to do about it, you know, are we just going to sit on it because we know we’re the only ones, or are we going to go and address it? So I think it’s a perfect response, and God shapes you in those moments, right? And then, okay, we’re going to be humble, are we going to go try to correct them and those sorts of things? And I’m sure you’ve had the challenge that, you know, nearly every Christ follower in business that I talked to, you know, people will judge, you know, well, if you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t make that decision, or you wouldn’t fire this employee, or wouldn’t do this or wouldn’t do that. I’m sure you face those things as well in the marketplace. So, well, let’s talk a little bit then about – you mentioned just a moment ago, that advice that your mentor gave you about just, you know, don’t dig the big hole that’s over your head. But what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given either growing up or since you’ve become CEO here? But what’s some of the best advice you’ve been given as a Christ follower, as a business leader, and how does that advice continue to impact you today?
Josh: I would start with people. And I would say, again, another week, we call them “country boy principles.” That’s what our mentor, the CEO I mentioned, used to call them, is that people have an ROI too. And I think it’s really, really important that, you know, at the end of the day, business gets done across the table, one person to another, and when you’re selling, you’re really out there trying to make a friend. And when you’re negotiating, you’re really just trying to collaborate and come to an agreement where you both can win. And there’s so much truth to it. It’s really about your relationships. And so people matter and people, have an ROI. We really look at that and say, what matters to the individual? And do I know them really, really well, personally? And where does that fit in our strategy as a business, and how can we maximize that?
So at the end of the day, I mean, if you get the right people on board that align with your vision, and mission and values, and then you put them in the right seat, anything’s possible. And it’s a constant work in process, because people evolve and change throughout that, but, you know, people have an ROI is very important. And then, too, I think another thing that we really like to talk about is what gets measured, gets managed. And I know that sounds simple, but our business has grown tenfold in the last 15 years. And that has been based on that mantra of really creating a strategic plan, coming up with the key performance indicators and then holding the scorecard that you meet on regularly with your leadership team and your management team, and review how you’re doing against your plan. And we’ve lived that out weekly with diligence and discipline. And in the right people with the right plan, get a good scorecard that you measure every week, and then create that tempo of accountability, where you’re meeting, and you’re talking. And I’m talking quality meetings where conflict happens and things are put on the table and decisions are made that move the company forward, that are proactive, not reactive.
So what gets measured, gets managed. And then I think at the end of the day, you, and this is really probably not a business mantra, but boy, I just, I look at the example my father set with tithing. And I mean, miracles, like getting an NFL contract after two “No”s, and they shouldn’t have given it to us. You know, miracles, I’ve seen miracles happen in our business, and I just flat-out, somebody came, you know, being provided at a time when you needed a key person literally walked in the door. And, you know, I look at those. And I say, those are miracles. And that’s God’s provision because we were faithful. And I love that. And I love telling those stories when they happen. Because that was not our own doing. He literally interceded and said “no” at the right time and said “yes” at the right time. I love that.
Ray: Well, let me ask you on that point, not only a fascinating point, that’s a very solid Biblical illustration you’re sharing there. But have you always had that commitment to tithing, even when cash flows were tight, even when you didn’t know when the next contract was coming from or, you know, we’re headed with this probably wasn’t one of those work. Okay, we got things solid, solidified. We’ve got cash flow. Now, let’s start tithing. Tell us about that.
Josh: Okay, so yeah, good question. And I, this is not prudent business advice. So my father, our local church that we’ve gone to for many years – we’re a community church – great local church, had decided to build a building after, I think it was about 10 years, you know, renting from every space that could house us as we continued to grow. And dad came to Steve and I, at that time, when we were not tithing as a company, we had not made the commitment to tithe as a company, it was left to the individual. And said, “I would like to give the church a quarter of a million dollars.” And at that time, we were borrowing from a line of credit to make payroll.
And because we were trying to get the company kickstarted and growing, we didn’t have a lot of things going on, but we were literally, you know, barely keeping our heads above water. And dad wanted to give a quarter of a million dollars away. And Steve and I talked about it and dad, and Steve was our CEO at that time, decided we’re going to go out on faith, and we’re going to do this. And we literally borrowed money to give it away, which is not prudent business advice. But I think it was more God saying, “Do you trust me? You know, if the person that I’ve made responsible for this business at this time is feeling convicted and led by the Holy Spirit to give this money away, do you trust me?” You know, you might look at it on the balance sheet and say, you’re borrowing money, you look at it as an investment that you’re making in me, because I’ll return it tenfold. And then it was from then on, you can literally look at our growth charts and see that it went like crazy. And we’ve given 20% has been the minimum. There’s been years where we’ve given 35% because somebody needed it, and it’s always just worked out. We’re never totally comfortable. But we’ve always got enough. So that’s cool.
Ray: Well, I thank you for sharing that because I know you well enough, that’s not easy for you to share that story publicly like that. And that takes a lot of courage and thank you. And so if you’re a business leader, listening to this program, in fact, I will tell you that before we started recording this interview with Josh, we prayed, and we prayed specifically that something that would be shared in this interview would be an encouragement and would be a blessing. Someone, you’re driving in your car right now, or you’re listening to this program with your headphones on, and you’re discouraged and you’re not sure, can you really trust God? You’re wondering, you know, where’s that next contract going to come from? Where’s the next payroll going to come from? And Josh just shared with us an encouragement of this biblical principle and that is the question. Will you trust God? And what a phenomenal story.
He was in full disclosure, saying that wasn’t great business advice from a worldly standpoint, but he and his family demonstrated the test when God says, test me. Put me to the test around the tithe. And God has blessed them and their company ever since. Well folks, this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith. We are talking with Josh Wildman, who is the CEO of the Wildman Business Group, and once again, I just want to remind you to check out their website – incredible company, incredible products and services that they provide to companies all across the country. You can learn about their missions work as well. Check out their website at wildmanbusinessgroup.com. Josh, we call this our 4:23 Moment here at Bottom Line Faith. And this question is based out of Proverbs 4:23, and for our regular listeners to the program, they know this is how I end every interview here at Bottom Line Faith. And I read this passage from Proverbs chapter 4, verse 23. These are the words of Solomon, who says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” So Josh, let’s fast-forward. You’re a young man at this point, a father, business owner, CEO, leader, and so forth. But now let’s fast-forward the clock, and you’re at the end of your time here on Earth, whenever that may be, and you have a chance to give your “above all else” counsel to anyone who would listen. What would you say? Fill in the blank: above all else…
Josh: Honor God with your time, talent and resources. And I guess the thing I’d say most of all is, and maybe it’s more of a confession, is you know, I struggle with work/life balance. I work too much. It’s too easy to say, this is God’s calling, this is our vision, this is the fruits. And the reality of it is God wants our heart and He wants our trust in that, and I struggle with that personally. And so it’s a constant reminder to go home to make sure the priorities and the time line up with those things. And I think that’s really important. And I think one thing that helps me, because I could easily work 100 hours a week 100 is a lot, it’s harder, but I could work too much – is to put wise people around me that are going to hold me accountable.
And Ray did not pay me to do this, but one of the neatest days of my life was when I walked into an America’s Best Hope Conference and realized, hey, this thing we were trying to struggle and do as far as marketplace ministry, there’s a whole organization that’s really about helping leaders do that successfully. And not only that, but helping build them up and prepare them and hold them accountable. And I just think Truth At Work and the Round Tables and everything that they’re doing with America’s Best Hope is just awesome. And I would highly encourage anybody to get plugged in and involved with a Round Table or a like organization. And I know Ray, as much as he wants to drive Truth At Work, would say, just if it’s not us, get plugged in. Because we’re only as strong as this and it’s easy for Satan to isolate us and then attack us, and just I would encourage that. So, you know, just honor God with your time, talent, and resources.
Ray: Those are great closing words, and from a very dear friend and someone I have grown to tremendously admire and respect who is really not perfect, but doing all that he can do to faithfully honor the Lord in the leadership of his company. We have been talking with Josh Wildman, the CEO at the Wildman Group. One more time, the website there is wildmanbusinessgroup.com; you can check out their various businesses there, learn about some of their ministries and outreaches. Folks, this is really a company that is modeling living out their faith on a daily basis – not with perfection, but with commitment and with dignity. And with Christlike honor. We’d like to also encourage you, if this interview with Josh Wildman has been a blessing to you, forward the link bottomlinefaith.org to 10 of your friends today. Ask them to get signed up to get this free podcast. It comes out each week and you will be blessed and encouraged. Until next time, I’m your host, Ray Hilbert, and we’ll see you soon at Bottom Line Faith.