Kingdom Entrepreneurship: A New Paradigm with Shawn Askinosie
Lawyer-turned-chocolatier Shawn Askinosie shares the life-altering story that took him from high-powered litigator to compassionate and principled entrepreneur.
In 2005, Shawn Askinosie left a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer to start a bean to bar chocolate factory. Askinosie Chocolate is a small batch, award winning chocolate factory in Springfield, Missouri, sourcing 100% of their beans directly from farmers.
Recently named by Forbes “One of the 25 Best Small Companies in America”, Askinosie Chocolate has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and numerous other international media outlets. The company is currently sustainably feeding over 1,600 students per day in Tanzania and the Philippines, without any donations. Shawn and Askinosie Chocolate have received numerous awards, including 3 Good Food Awards, considered to be the Oscars of food.
Shawn is the author of Amazon #1 New Release, “Meaningful Work: The Quest To Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul.” He is also the co-founder of Lost & Found, a grief center for children and families in southwest Missouri.
“Someone you know needs your broken heart.”
“Everything could fall apart, and it would still be fine.”
“Joy…was the unmasking of the great sorrow of my life.”
1. What is the great sorrow of your life?
2. It’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate.
3. Don’t let your need to win sacrifice your relationships.
4. Perfect the process.
5. Make prayer a central component of your life.
“Meaningful Work” by Shawn Askinosie
Ray: Well hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert and I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, and this is the program where we really love to focus on and discuss the intersection of faith, life, and business in the marketplace. Where we get the opportunity here to talk with the most amazing, Godly, Christian entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners, high capacity, high profile leaders in the marketplace, and we hear their stories. We learn how their faith shapes their leadership, how their faith has gotten them through difficult times and trials and difficult decisions in the process. We celebrate those stories and we want these examples of Godly leadership in the marketplace to be an encouragement to you as you look to do the same each day.
Today, on the phone lines, Shawn Askinosie. Shawn is the CEO and founder at Askinosie Chocolate. He is joining us from the Springfield, Missouri area. And let me just read a little bit about Shawn and his background. He was a criminal defense lawyer who in 2006 left that career and began a chocolate factory. But that’s really not the power of this story. The story is how God is using Shawn and his company literally to change the world. Just a couple of highlights, his company was recently named by Forbes as one of the 25 best small companies in America. He has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, on Bloomberg, MSNBC, and numerous other national and international media outlets. Was named by O, the Oprah magazine, one of 15 guys who are saving the world. And on and on, honorary doctorates, a number of awards. But Shawn, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Shawn: Thank you Ray, I’m really looking forward to this conversation.
Ray: Well I have been too. Shawn, for those who are regular listeners to our program, I think one of the things that our listeners have come to appreciate is just some of the incredible diversity of guests that we’ve had here on the program ranging from people like David Green, the CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby, athletes and actors and entertainers, but really this whole focus of CEOs and leaders, you didn’t always … I don’t know, did you set out to become the CEO of a chocolate company?
Shawn: No. I set out to be the best criminal defense lawyer I could be. I went to college and law school, worked hard and spent almost a lifetime in the courtroom, almost 20 years, never lost a criminal jury trial, specialized in murder and the defense of murder cases and other very serious felonies. But there came a time when I didn’t love it anymore, and I needed to find a new passion. I needed to find a new inspiration, and that took five years. So I didn’t start out certainly growing up saying hey someday I want to start a chocolate factory. But I believe at the end of those five years, which I hope we’ll get to talk about, that God answered my prayer, it just took five years, and the answer to that prayer was this little chocolate factory.
Ray: Okay. We absolutely want to get into that part of the story, but what was it about chocolate, was there a passion, was there something there that was behind this story, you could have perhaps done a number of different things, what was it about getting into the chocolate making business that was so attractive and appealing to you?
Shawn: When I was a lawyer, I didn’t have any hobbies, speaking of Hobby Lobby. I didn’t have any. I read about tactics for the courtroom, I read everything about cross examination, expert witnesses, I just didn’t have any other outside hobbies. So the first thing I started doing for a hobby was grilling. I bought a big green egg and then I bought another one and I started grilling all the time. Then I started baking. Then I started making chocolate desserts. And then I started making chocolate from scratch. That’s how it happened.
And I think the thing that really attracted me to this was that I knew that I would never fully master chocolate. It’s a very complicated thing to work with and it changes with the weather. I have to source cocoa beans which I do directly from farmers around the world, I travel and meet with them. I just got back from the Amazon last week. And I knew that that would afford me the chance to travel and meet with farmers and work with them directly. My grandparents were farmers here in southwest Missouri, and it’s part of the reason why I chose it, and that’s pretty much it.
Ray: Okay. I’m intrigued and I’m going to ask more about the business side of this and manufacturing in just a moment. But you talked about this five year journey or process from the calling of the courtroom to the calling in business and particularly Askinosie Chocolate. So can we now talk a little bit about that five year journey, what were you hearing from God? What was that like for you? Because you made a really big change in at least career vocational pathway. Walk us through that five year journey.
Shawn: Okay. Thank you for asking. I need a little bit of set up, and here’s the set up. Okay, my dad was raised Jewish in New York City, my grandmother was from Hungary, her relatives died in the Holocaust, my grandfather was from Russia, he was Jewish and kicked out of the country. My dad was in the Marine Corps for 14 years and somehow they transferred him to Springfield, Missouri. He converted to Christianity when he was in the Marine Corps. My mother was a southern baptist farm girl from southwest Missouri. So they raised me and my brother as an Episcopalian, which I am today.
But my father was a lawyer as well, and when I was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and that was really very hard for me, he was my hero, he was a really physically fit guy and I just never thought anything could happen to him. Well this was at a time in the early 70s when, if you can imagine, there was actually a charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church, and there was a prayer group at church that would come over to our house, I’m 13 years old at this point, and the prayer group would come at all hours of the day and night, lay hands on my father, say he would be healed, spoke in tongues, kind of scared me, they talked really loudly which also scared me.
But the leader of the prayer group told me to never speak with my father about death, because if I did, it would be a sign of doubt and that Jesus wouldn’t heal him. So we didn’t talk about it, and I helped take care of my dad, my mom couldn’t do a lot of the stuff and I did it myself, 13, 14 years old. I was with him when he died. The cancer had spread to his brain. He had tried a case in court the week before, but it was like a stroke that he had, and I was with him and I begged God out loud please don’t let him die, please let him live, and he died.
I spent the next 25 years thinking that I could prove to God that I did not need him, I could do just fine myself. So I went about accomplishing every single thing that I possibly could. I was Governor, I worked for the American Embassy in Thailand when I was 19 years old, I went to college, I went to law school, I was not a very smart guy, but I scored in the top of my law school class in the top 20%. Then I went out and worked for a huge firm in Texas and made a lot of money, then I went on my own to practice only criminal law, and as I mentioned earlier, never losing a criminal jury trial. It was win, win, win. And make money, lots of money.
Then, as this tape is running 25 years ahead, I realized I could not do that anymore, something was missing. And my daughter, who was nine at the time and my co-author of this book, but she was nine at the time, and she read a book to me out loud called Tuesdays with Morrie, and God spoke to me through that book. It changed my life, and I realized after hearing her read this book to me that I needed to do something and that I needed to have a conversation with the grief in my life that was unresolved over my fathers death.
So one of the things I did, still practicing law, still trying cases, is I started working on Fridays as a volunteer in the palliative care department of a local, large hospital. Palliative care, for those of your listeners who don’t know, it’s hospice in the hospital, essentially all the patients are dying in one form or another, and I was just a volunteer. So when I was in town, I did this. They would give me a list of patients in the hospital who have asked for a visit, many of them were alone, I would go in and I would just visit with them about whatever. They were all over the hospital, oncology, neurology, cardiology, and they were all in some stage of dying.
I would talk with them about their younger days or whatever, pie recipes, and I would often read to them, and I would read scripture to them. And at the end of my visit, I would always ask, “Hey, one of the things I do as a volunteer is pray for people, would you like me to say a prayer for you?” And one of the things I learned is 99% of dying people will take a prayer, if offered, and this is the key, this is what happened. I said “What would you like me to pray for?” And let me just say, this is the opposite of how I was treated as a teenager by this prayer group. I asked them, ma’am or sir, what would you like me to pray for? And some would say “Would you pray that I die today? I’m in pain, I’m ready to go. Would you pray that I’m healed and that I can walk out of here? Would you pray that I live two more weeks to my 60th wedding anniversary?”
Yes. I listened to them, and listening to them tell me what they wanted me to pray for often opened up massive conversation between us or family members who were present, and then what I did is I repeated their exact words back to them without judging the prayer. I’d ask if I could touch their hand, or their shoulder while I prayed for them, and I did that, and I did that sometimes 15 patients a day, sometimes five, and there were days, I’m not saying this happened every time, but there were days that I would leave the hospital, and as I was walking to my car I was walking on air. It was as if my feet weren’t on the ground. What is that? It’s called joy. It’s indescribable joy.
That was the unmasking of the great sorrow of my life. And so what God did, this is why it’s so hard for me to answer this question, why chocolate? I am a type A, driven guy. I research everything. So I was trying to say what business can I buy? What business can I start? God, please show me a business, show me something to do. It wasn’t happening. So what God did was opened my heart to something that I would have never otherwise come to on my own, and create a space in my spirit to contemplate and consider another path, and that path was chocolate. And it came to me while I was driving in my car on the way to a funeral of a distant relative, and I had no idea where chocolate came from, even though I was working with it, I had no idea. That’s it.
Within three months of that I was in the Amazon, studying how farmers harvest cocoa beans. That’s a long story, and I’m really sorry, but I felt like I needed to share that with your listeners.
Ray: Thank you Shawn, I’m really glad you did because it is as much about the context as it is about the content. But thank you for that, because what I’m going to take away from this part of our conversation is at a very young age, you had some, I believe, well intentioned, well hearted Christ followers that painted a certain picture of faith and experience with God, but God wanted to reveal with you over a 25 year period of time, when you were not walking with him, but he wanted to eventually bring you to another place, and that’s understanding his grace and his mercy and his compassion. Hopefully I kind of have a summation of that, did I get that about right as far as the big narrative here?
Shawn: About right, except during those 25 years I was walking with him, I just didn’t know it.
Ray: Got it. Got it.
Shawn: I was there, he was there, oftentimes I just didn’t recognize him.
Ray: Got it.
Shawn: I wasn’t fully aware. But I don’t think … he certainly never left me.
Ray: That’s right.
Shawn: I might have left him.
Ray: I appreciate that. And we’ll probably touch base on this a little bit later but just I caught something you shared there, because I knew we were going to talk about this, but you mentioned your book that you co-authored, you and your daughter, Meaningful Work: The Quest to do Great Business and Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul. We’re going to talk in a few moments about what’s in that book, but how can our audience learn about you or your book? What’s the best way for them to learn about you?
Shawn: To learn about the book, they can go to Amazon.com, not the place where I was last week, the Amazon, the can go to Amazon.com. Isn’t it funny now that when people say Amazon, they just automatically think .com and not the place south of here.
Shawn: Anyway. So Amazon.com on the book, just search my name or Meaningful Work, and then for our chocolate its askinosie.com our website, and then I have a blog, it’s shawnaskinosie.com. Those are the best ways to learn, thank you for asking.
Ray: You bet. And we’ll get to the contents of the book in a minute. Okay. So let’s take a couple of moments, let’s talk business, let’s talk process. You said you had to learn what chocolate came from. Walk us through where does it come from? What does it look like for you, you mentioned you go to the Amazon, you go directly to the direct sourcing to the farmers, walk us through, help us understand, at least from your standpoint, how your chocolate is made. Take us through the process.
Shawn: Sure. Like last week for instance, as I was in Ecuador, at one origin and then South Ecuador on the boarder of Peru and the Amazon, I was looking at our next crop of cocoa beans, and these are grown 20 degrees north and south of the equator on trees that reach 20, 30 feet tall, and the beans are inside a pod, it’s about the size of maybe a small football, and there might be 60, 70 beans in a pod, they don’t taste anything like chocolate. They’ve very sweet and there’s a lot of pulp around these beans or seeds. And they need to be fermented, naturally fermented for about six days, and then dried in the sun for about 10 days. And they’re put in burlap sacks and then put on a container ship for me and then they come to my factory in Springfield, Missouri, and we’re one of the few chocolate makers in the United States that also directly imports these beans.
I pay the farmers direct, and then I profit share with them, and we open our books to them. We translate our financials into their language, so when I profit shared last week, my financial statements were in Spanish. In two months when I’m in Tanzania, our financials will be in Swahili. But the beans arrive at our factory. We roast those in what looks like a coffee roaster, and then we grind them in a mill and it makes a paste. The beans make a paste, and then we add cocoa butter that we make here from scratch out of those same cocoa beans, and then we add organic sugar and we grind that up together and it reaches a very smooth consistency, and then we mold those into chocolate bars and package them up and that’s it, and I skipped about 40 steps. That’s it pretty much.
Ray: I’m sure. But it’s important for our audience to understand why it’s important to you to deal directly with these farmers, and why your business model, you talked about opening your books, you talked about the transparency there, why do you run your business model as you do?
Shawn: Well, the first thing that you were asking about is the farmers. My grandparents were what we call small holder farmers. They had a small farm, and they had cattle and some crops. They were very simple people. My grandfather only made it to the sixth grade, they were members of the same church for over 60 years. Lived in that same farm for over 60, 70 years. And growing up I spent a lot of time on their farm. And at the time I didn’t really respect it. I didn’t know what I had. And I told myself when I was young that I would never go back there and I was “better than that”. And I wish I could talk to my grandparents now and let them know how wrong I was.
Because I honor my grandparents by working directly with these farmers around the world. This trip I took last week was my 43rd origin trip to meet with cocoa farmers since I started the business, and some of these trips take a long time. But I believe that I’m in some sense not only honoring my grandparents, but that I’m with my grandparents. When I’m with farmers in fill in the blank country, all of these farmers that I work with are very poor, they’re in remote conditions. Now, to your question about why the transparency, why do I share profits, every aspect of my work and my life is centered aspirationally in my faith.
So the reason I say aspirationally is because as Paul would say, I’m working out my salvation. I don’t want someone to misinterpret what I’m saying, I’m not saying that I am working my salvation, I’m working out my salvation. I’m not saying that good works is the key, but what I am saying is that these works, the way I am and who I am, is not just part of my business, it’s part of my product, and I write about this extensively in my book. And one of the things that we say here at the chocolate factory is it’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate. And that is a confounding phrase for many people, but what I’m saying is transparency, profit sharing, working with farmers, we work with students, which I haven’t talked about yet, all of that stuff, that doesn’t have anything to do with chocolate. It has to do with how we are as business people, how we operate the business.
On the other hand, it has everything to do with chocolate. Why? Because we could not separate who I am as a business person, how we operate this business, from the resulting chocolate itself. Those two things are inseparable. Just like your podcast. You could give somebody a script and say the exact same words that you say, it wouldn’t be the same.
Shawn: It’s not the same. And so I want to infuse every single part of my business and my life with this practice. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Ray: I absolutely love that, and thank you for sharing that with us. That really is at the heart and the core of what we’re trying to communicate in this program at Bottom Line Faith, that’s the mindset and the world view that we’re trying to encourage other Christ followers, there is no separation, it’s the integration, I opened up the program by saying it is the intersection of those things that’s really foundational. And so I love that.
I would like to just, on the business side, talk a little bit about maybe some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way, some of the mistakes. As you look back, you’ve been in business roughly 13 years now, is that right?
Shawn: Yeah, 13 years in this business and 20 years in the lawyer business.
Ray: Absolutely. So I’ll really let you answer this however you feel led to do so, but as you look back over the course of your career, what would you say is the hardest, most difficult business decision you ever had to make, and what role did your faith play in that?
Shawn: I would say that one of the most difficult decisions that comes to mind a few years ago was in East Africa and Tanzania, and we had a container of cocoa beans that we’d ordered from our farmers, it’s about 14 metric tons of cocoa beans and it would have represented a years supply for us. We also, at the time, were funding and managing and staffing a school lunch program for malnourished children in remote Tanzania. The way we funded it was with no donations. The farmers there, and the PTA members and teachers sold us rice in one kilo packages, this beautiful gourmet rice, and we sold that rice in the American marketplace and took all, not a portion, all of the sales proceeds, pushed it back to the school monthly to feed 1000 kids a day in that school.
Well they could not fit the rice on the container. It wouldn’t fit. And I needed to have about a metric ton of that to fund a years worth of school lunches. So I had to make the decision whether I was going to take cocoa beans off that container that I had already paid for, give them back to the farmers and let them just have it and sell it again, and I wouldn’t have enough cocoa beans, or put the rice on the container and fund the school lunches. That was not an easy decision, but it was an easy decision. What did I do? What do you think I did?
Ray: Well, I’ve been doing this long enough to know the wise thing for me to do is say what did you do, Shawn? I think I know, but I want to hear, you’ve got me on the edge of my seat, I’ll tell you that much.
Shawn: I took the beans off and gave it back to the farmers and let them sell it again.
Ray: Yeah. That’s right. That’s powerful.
Shawn: Here’s the deal. Was it a hard decision? Not really. But it was tough, because I knew I would be shorting our business. But here’s the thing, this is what I want to impart, the feeding program that we have, we still have a feeding program in the Philippines, we have provided, we only have 16 people in our company total, one six, that’s it, we’re very small. We just surpassed 1.2 million school lunches that we’ve provided for kids in the Philippines and Tanzania that we manage, we do this ourselves, and what I’m trying to say is in making that decision, the community work that we do is so enmeshed and intertwined in the business, the so called business in air quotes, there is no difference.
So that’s what I’m trying to say is that I knew it would be okay one way or the other. No, I think it’s even more than that. We’re profitable here, but not hugely, and I give profits to farmers as well, and I make a lot less money than I did as a lawyer. I have a loan at the bank for the real estate here, but here’s the thing, this whole thing can fall into a hole tomorrow. My business could be gone, something could happen, I don’t have a lot of reserves, I don’t have an investor, I don’t have a partner, so what I just told you about this decision that I made, what I’m trying to say is that everything could fall apart, and it would still be fine. It’s going to be okay.
Ray: That’s the faith part, trusting God, but here’s why I hesitated to answer your question, because sometimes as Christ followers in business, we do have very difficult decisions, and if that decision meant that, because I try to play the movie to the end, or go to the back of the book first. If that decision to not bring those beans back meant that you were going to have to close down your company, it was a years supply, 16 people, families, could potentially lose their jobs, the company that is sustaining and causing all of these incredible kingdom activities to occur could go away, to your point, and sometimes those are difficult decisions, because you had the immediate decision of the rice versus perhaps the longterm sustainability of the company, and sometimes … well those are just difficult decisions.
And so I really wanted to hear you play that story out, how God led you, I appreciate that, I think that’s powerful, and what I’m hearing here, and I hope our listeners are hearing as well, is that last comment you just made. It could all go away tomorrow. It could all go away tomorrow. So tell me more about that, Shawn, how do you run a company with such an open hand and an open heart in trusting God at that level? That’s not an easy thing to do for most of us.
Shawn: It’s okay, I’m 58 years old, and remember what I said, I do this, I practice this, and I have a particular practice and a prayer practice every day, but this is aspirational, so I want to make sure people understand, I approach this with humility and an understanding that I am not perfect at this, at this process, but it works like this, and I talk about this in chapter five of my book. But I have had the opportunity, particularly in Africa, but in some other places, over the last 13 or 14 years to experience and witness glimpses of the divine. What do I mean?
I mean that when I’m on these trips and we take local high school students to Tanzania every other year as part of our chocolate university program so they can meet cocoa farmers and see how we do business and experience transformation. What I’m saying is I pray before I go and when I’m on these trips, God I know I’m going to see you, and it’s going to be where I’m not expecting it. And now I’ve done this enough that I know I’m going to experience this divine moment, or two, or three. It’s not long, it’s often just a glimpse, and I could say maybe three or four days that this has happened in Tanzania.
Well this is an other worldly experience where the veil is lifted for a moment, and I have the chance to see and peak into divinity, into eternity. It’s heaven on earth. And what that does is it gives me an opportunity to, let’s use your word, to integrate that experience into the real world. It lets me bring that thread back to my home, to my community, to my business, and it gives me a faith that is palpable, and not unrealistic either. And not expecting that there won’t ever be suffering or pain, because there will be, but it’s a true, authentic, experience that gives me an opportunity to practice my faith.
Ray: It’s incredible. Take just a moment, I’ve got a couple questions here in this section of our conversation, take just a moment, tell us a little bit more about chocolate university, I was intrigued by that.
Shawn: Sure. When I built this factory, I put it into a part of our community that’s going through revitalization and has a lot of poverty surrounding it, there was a homeless shelter down the block from my factory when I first started with 80 kids. So what we decided to do 13 years ago when we started was to start a program called chocolate university to engage the elementary students in our neighborhood. And we’ve been doing that now since we started. They come here, we go there to their school, and they really feel like they’re kind of part of the company by the years end. And we have a middle school program with the nearby school, summer school program now that we’ve done for three or four years, and then the big one is the high school program.
Juniors and seniors in high school compete to be selected as one of 14 students. Half of them are private pay, their parents are doctors and they can afford the $4000. The other half we raise the money for, these our kids who are in poverty that are very, very bright, and they have a business emerging program where they spend a week on the university campus near our factory learning about our business, Tanzania culture, language, and history, they go home and pack, meet me at the airport, we take them to Tanzania. And they have a deepening of their immersion experience with a front row seat to an international business transaction. And they’re meeting with local farmers that I’ve known for over a decade. So the farmers treat them as if they’re members of the family, which is a very, very unique aspect of this experience, and like I said, we’ve been doing that thing since 2009, and I meet with students to this day who were part of that program from the very beginning.
Ray: That’s so incredible. I loved what you said, you’re getting glimpses of the divine, and you are responding in obedience to what it says back in the book of Isaiah about serving the orphans and those who are without family and those who are in poverty, and this is how we show the love of God to this world, you’re reaching farmers, you talked about your grandparents and that heritage and that culture, this is really an amazing, amazing model. So I want to first of all say thank you for modeling obedience, and then I want to follow up with this question. I want us to imagine that right now someone’s listening to this conversation, perhaps they’re a business owner like yourself, or they’re high capacity leader or manager, what have you, and Shawn, maybe they’re wrestling with this concept or idea about letting go, or about how do I really take what God has given to me to build and to lead and to grow, and how do I use that for the kingdom, how do I use that for his glory. What words of encouragement, what words of advice kind of help coach our audience on what would you say to that person who’s wrestling with this concept right now?
Shawn: I would say Christ said take up your cross and follow me, and what he’s saying is, and Paul said this repeatedly, to die to yourself, and that is easy to read in black and white and not as easy to execute, and the way to execute it is like this, you listener, you have a broken heart, and if you don’t have a broken heart then we have a whole nother hour conversation we need to talk to you about, because you have a broken heart. What I’m asking you to do is to stop analyzing all of this, and know that someone that you know needs your broken heart, and they need you to serve them without expecting anything in return. And what I’m asking you to do is serve someone out of that spot of your own broken heart. That is when we will have the opportunity for clarity, and that is when God … let me just say this, if you pray that Christ will reveal to you someone or a group of people who need your broken heart, I promise you that that prayer will be answered, without question.
What happens after that is the mystery. It’s the mystery of living in the present moment and recognizing that answers will come in a way that you didn’t expect. That’s what will happen, that’s what I encourage people to do.
Ray: That is so incredibly powerful, thank you for that. Shawn, one more time, how can our audience reach out to you, learn more about you, your company, we’re going to talk just a moment more about your book, but what’s the best way for folks to check up on you?
Shawn: Sure. The best way is our website, askinosie.com A-S-K-I-N-O-S-I-E, and then my own personal website is Shawn, S-H-A-W-N, askinosie.com and my email is on there, people can email me and read blogs and of course they can order chocolate and we ship it all over the country. Thank you for that.
Ray: Fantastic. Shawn, let’s talk just for a moment about your new book, it’s entitled Meaningful Work: The Quest to do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul. Tell us a little bit about your book and what was that process like?
Shawn: The process was a gut wrencher, because we did actually write it. And it took almost three years to write it. Running a chocolate factory and traveling all over the world while we wrote it. I think one of the things that made it harder to write is this isn’t just the Shawn Askinosie story, oh hey look at this, it’s written in such a way that we can use our chocolate factory and the model that you and I have been discussing as a back drop, but it’s written in a way that that backdrop can hopefully be a guide for other entrepreneurs, leaders, and people who are searching for their vocation, for their calling, both individually and collectively as an organization because I believe that organizations can also share the collective vocation and calling that they can live out as part of their business.
Ray: And your co-author is your daughter.
Shawn: Yes, my daughter is our chief marketing officer and she is just an amazingly gifted writer and the brand voice that people see and hear in our company is really her. She started working for me when she was 16, she’s 29 now. So really, since we started the company. So working on this together was one of the greatest experiences of my life. If only one person bought the book it wouldn’t really … well of course I hope my publisher didn’t hear me say that, but I mean just the chance to do with with her, and remember what I said before, she’s the one that read that book to me out loud, and when Lauren was a little girl, this was right about that 25 year mark when I was like wow what am I doing? Right about the time when she read this book to me, she was like nine years old, and she’s the one who got me praying again.
I started praying with her every night before we would tuck her into bed. So she started me in my adult prayer life to this day, and prayer is a central, central component of my life. I start every morning with that and have for several years. But anyways, to answer that, it was a great experience working with her on this book. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Ray: Well, we’re going to transition, Shawn, to the last kind of section of our conversation today, so as you look back, again, over the course of your 13 years in business, or all those decades before as a criminal defense lawyer, what’s the biggest mistake you could ever recall making, biggest failure you went through, and what did God teach you as a result of that?
Shawn: The biggest mistake was I allowed the need to win to supersede my relationship with people, in particular a couple of friends that I went to law school with, one who was a prosecutor and he was in my study group and I was in his wedding, and I was against him in cases and I allowed our friendship to deteriorate and supersede my desire and need to win. And I allowed myself to be tricked into thinking that I could justify the ends by whatever means, and that was wrong. And that friend ended up getting brain cancer and it was about the time of my sort of return to faith, and he was one of the first people who I really started my practice of intercessory prayer. And I’m proud to say he’s still alive, still a lawyer, still trying cases, and we’re great friends, and we have lunch often with another friend of mine from school, and the lesson that I learned with this is that we have to have perspective, and we have to have the perspective of love.
I think this is really important. I think that Christ calls us to love, above all else, and I think we can lose ourselves if we’re not careful, and I did lose myself and I’m thankful for the opportunity to return to what I believe is the right way, and then to have the chance to pray for him. That was a gift. That was a gift and I am thankful for that. I was spared something. It could have been a lot worse.
Ray: What a great lesson learned. I’m so glad you were able to share that. And, that this particular friend is still alive and God’s restored that relationship. So if you had the chance to go back and give advice to the 20 year old Shawn, what advice would you give to the 20 year old you?
Shawn: I wouldn’t give any advice. Here’s what I would do, I would go up to him and I would give him a big hug and I would hold the hug uncomfortably long and the message to him would be the heart to heart message that it’s going to be okay. That’s what I would tell him, that’s the way I would treat him.
Ray: Wow. That’s so good, so good. If you were to give advice or encouragement to other Christ followers in business, in leadership, in the marketplace, who want to live out their faith in a deeper more real profound way, for they too could have, as you described earlier, a glimpse of the divine, what advice or encouragement would you give them?
Shawn: The advice would be two fold. One, practice awareness and have the faith that God will grant you both the awareness, and the glimpse. We’re never going to see it if we’re not aware, and I think one of the best ways to be aware is to ask. It’s right here. It’s right in front of us. Even people who’ve spent years seeing it and practicing it are only seeing a tiny fraction. It’s here, it’s right in front of us, and God wants us to see it. We have to ask.
Ray: That’s beautiful. Shawn, okay, now, for our listeners, Shawn, who tune in on a weekly basis or at least a regular basis here on Bottom Line Faith, they know that this is always my last question, and I call it my 4:23 question, it’s based out of Proverbs 4:23 where Solomon writes above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life. So Shawn, if you have an opportunity towards the tail end of your life, or at any point, to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you, and you’re going to have the opportunity to pass along one piece of advice, I’d like you to fill in the blank. Above all else …
Shawn: Above all else … very simple, and it’s to love each other. And I know that I could come up with something more philosophically profound, but that’s where I would say, I had a dream one time when my dad was sick, and in the dream I was a disciple, not an apostle, I was a follower of Christ, and we were walking down this meadow, and Jesus himself turned to me and he said “Why can’t people just love each other?” And I’ve remembered that dream my whole life, and I think it’s the way to a joyful life, and it’s the way to a life that we can practice our faith. It’s the way we show the fruit of the spirit, and that’s where I would tell my loved ones, above all else, love each other.
Ray: Thank you. That is fantastic, Shawn. What a great encapsulation of our entire conversation today. Shawn, one more time, if our listeners want to learn more about you, your company, order your book, what’s the best way for them to do so?
Shawn: The book is on Amazon.com, Meaningful Work, and they can just search my name or meaningful work and our chocolate and our story and a lot of really interesting things about chocolate and the places you buy it, askinosie.com, and then my blog is shawnaskinosie.com.
Ray: Shawn, thank you so much for being our guest here today at Bottom Line Faith, what an encouragement, what an inspiration, thank you for your obedience, of God’s calling on your life, for faithfully living out your faith and business in the marketplace and literally impacting the world. Thank you for being on our program today.
Shawn: Well thank you for having me.
Ray: Well folks, what an amazing conversation we’ve had with Shawn today. I pray, I pray that you have been encouraged, that you have been inspired, that this has lifted your heart, lifted your spirit about what it means and what it looks like to be a follower of Christ in business and in leadership. So until next time, I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, encouraging you to faithfully live out your gut calling in the marketplace everyday.