Living Out Your Faith In A Large Public Company with Steve Ward
3:33– A little bit of my background
5:39– How did you come to a relationship with the Lord?
7:47– How has God used you in your roles at IBM?
Ray: Hello everyone, this is once again Ray Hilbert, your host here at the Bottom Line Faith program. This is the weekly program where we have the incredible privilege of traveling all around the country, and we get to interview some of the top Christian thought leaders, business owners, presidents, CEOs, executives, attorneys, doctors, you name it. We have a chance to talk with some of the most amazing Christian business and marketplace leaders where we learn from their story their journey, their victories, their struggles, how they live out their faith and how they believe God can use them in the marketplace. And this program is really designed to be a voice of encouragement, and so you’re going to hear some great words of encouragement on the program today. If this is your first time joining us here at Bottom Line Faith, we would like to encourage you to go to the website bottomlinefaith.org, and you can see dozens and dozens of episodes on the previous interviews. You can also scroll to the bottom of the website there and you could subscribe and receive this program on a weekly basis on your device, your laptop, your mobile phone, what have you, and you can do that through Google Play, iTunes, Stitcher, all of the traditional podcast subscription platforms. You can also check us out on social media. If you are a Christ follower and you are a president, CEO or business owner, and you’re looking for community with a group of your peers, go to truthatwork.org. We are the sponsoring ministry for the Bottom Line Faith program and click on that tab that says round tables, and you can learn more about the Round Table program offered through Truth At Work. It’s available in dozens of cities across the American. There’s hundreds of companies and Christ followers that are in the Truth at Work Round Table program. Well, enough of the interdictions from my end, folks. I am really excited to introduce you to our new friend here at Bottom Line Faith, Mr. Steve Ward. We’re in Birmingham, Alabama. Steve is a long term team mate and associate at the IBM, and he is the head of what is called their Worldwide Marketing Programs, and we’re going to learn more about Steve’s career with IBM and also a ministry that God has placed in his heart. I know you’re going to be encouraged to learn about this as well. Steve, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Steve: Ray, thank you so much. I think this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, and I appreciate it.
Ray: We’re going to have fun today.
Steve: Yes we are.
Ray: We’re going to have a great time, and I know you’ve heard the program before and I kind of encourage and joke around with every one of our guests; we call this the fastest thirty minutes on the airwaves, because I think we’re both going to be amazed, I think, with how fast this conversation is going to go. And I hope it’s fast for our audience as well.
Steve: I agree. It will be fun.
Ray: So let’s learn a little bit. We’re going to talk about your career and your faith in business and so forth. But give us a little bit of the background. Kind of, where did you grow up? Did you grow up in a Christian home? Tell us about your upbringing, and then kind of walk us through your career path.
Steve: Alright. I was born in Alabama; didn’t live there long. I was raised in Georgia. My dad was in television all of his life. Mom was a stay-at-home mom. We had a nice upbringing. We went to church, it may have been perfunctory in nature, but we did. My great grandad was a Methodist circuit pastor, so you know, church was in our family. In high school, I did well. The place I found myself most comfortable in. I was relatively smart, I was valedictorian of our school, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be the cool one; I wanted to be in the cool crowd, so that manifested itself a little more when I went to George Tech. I majored in industrial engineering there but my primary purpose I think was to party and have as good a time as I could while I was in college. That led to the start of my IBM career. I started in Arizona; I thought about the next 15 to 20 years of my life very much the way that it shows up in Ecclesiastes. In fact I’ve written about this that even though I didn’t know it at the time, I found myself searching for meaning and trying out various lifestyles to do that. I tried having a lot of fun and having adventures, and that didn’t work. I tried alcohol and recreational drugs, and that didn’t seem to work. I tried career advancement and achievement, I tried making the most money, I tried achieving the most knowledge, and all of those may have been paths that led to something, but they didn’t lead to ultimate meaning and purpose. And so that left me searching, and later I can tell you how that led to my faith journey, but that’s how I found myself moving forward into my thirties.
Ray: Yeah. So at least that first decade coming out of school, you tried all the world’s ways.
Steve: I did, and loved them all.
Ray: And none of them quite seemed to work. There was always something missing right?
Ray: So what was it then? How was it that you came into that authentic relationship with your creator through his son, Jesus Christ, and what difference has that made in your life?
Steve: Well, he led me to him, and I found myself searching. The way that I’m wired, he needed to get to my heart through my head, so I ended up studying Christianity and I found myself saying to my wife, “Honey, if all this stuff is really true, wouldn’t that changed everything?” And so I was in the state of searching like that and we move to Orlando, Florida, and picked the house we were going to live in, to be next to the best public school in town, and near to a church we have been told about. Sure enough, our boys didn’t go to that school, and we went to a different Church. The people in that church, I think were a big part of my change, and one thing led to another, and I went with a group of them to a Promise Keepers event; this was back in the day, and I walked into Jacksonville Stadium, which is now Jaguar Stadium, one Friday evening and walked out of the upper deck and saw 60,000 men gathered there to worship Jesus Christ. And my life changed forever and I could see almost visually the milestones of my life that had led me to that moment, and that was just the start of a really incredible journey with God.
Ray: What year was that? Do you remember?
Steve: That would have been about 1995. That would be my guess, approximately; I would have to go back and check.
Ray: That’s fantastic. So spiritual birthday, 1995.
Steve: There you go, I haven’t thought about it. I need to find out what my spiritual birthday was.
Ray: So walking with Jesus for roughly 22, 23 years in an authentic way.
Ray: And thank you for sharing that. So God has really positioned you in one of the the largest global corporations on the planet today, at IBM, and you have been there for thirty…
Steve: Thirty-seven years.
Ray: Thirty-seven years. Okay, very good. And you’ve had a number of positions there, and you’re heading up now what is called the Worldwide Marketing Programs. Why don’t you share with us a few thoughts and reflections about how has God used you in that role, in your roles at IBM? How have you tried to model Christ and love people while there and live out your faith in what is obviously a global corporation? What does that look like for you?
Steve: It has been a great journey because I’ve been blessed to have a number of different careers; they’ve all just happened to be in one company. I started in industrial engineering, moved into strategic planning, got into sales, moved a number of times, and led some wonderful sales teams. Then that point, this is one of the hard decisions I had to make, when I found myself being successful in sales and making a lot of money and liking, frankly, the prestige of it. But when I thought about it, it didn’t really seem my natural bent the way I had been designed. And I felt like marketing, which is a little more strategic and planning in nature than sales was probably how God had designed me to be. And so I struggled for a little while. Could I walk away from a higher salary from what in fact was more prestigious in our job? And finally made that decision to move into marketing and I’ve done a number of global marketing jobs since then.
Ray: And what I think is really interesting is you started in this pathway of engineering and sales, is not naturally a progression for someone, but it sounds like this marketing then kind of pulls you back into systems and processes and structure, which is that engineering piece. Would you agree with that?
Steve: I would. That’s actually pretty intuitive. You know, when I was in engineering, I was more creative and planning oriented than that career path was going to be. Even though I think like an industrial engineer, I think process and origination, that was a too confining career. Sales probably flipped me over to the other end of the spectrum, wide-open dealing with customers, talking about business everyday, talking about their business, but again I’d probably swing that pendulum a little too far and marketing brought me back in the middle where I can use creativity, and planning, and organization, and project management to still think about customers in a business content.
Ray: Sounds like more of a sweet spot for you.
Steve: I think so.
Ray: So specifically what’s it been like from a faith standpoint for you to be in that environment? How do you think God used you? How do you try to live out your faith and witness in and bring glory to the Lord?
Steve: Some things have worked wonderfully well, some have been a… struggle is not the right word, but I would say a frustration. The things that have worked very well are the experiences in the skills that God has given me working through a company like that have been an incredible platform for working with my church and in the ministry environment. I’ve worked with a number of nonprofits, and I’ve found that the things that people in a business environment take for granted are like solid gold to a lot of nonprofits. You know, nonprofits are started with an incredible heart and wonderful calling, and they may not understand business, or project management, or Administration, so I’ve been blessed in that way. And that the skills I picked up in business I think I’ve been able to apply those in the community and in the church. Inside, it’s actually been a little harder because I’ve had a lot of global jobs; I tend to work with people all over the world and I tend to work with them electronically. In a corporation these days, there are certain things you can do and not do in terms of being openly evangelical, so I think the sweet spot I found is just one is to be who I am and then even in a work environment to be more vulnerable than people are used to being. Especially with some of our family situations. You know I mentioned that I had a son, or I haven’t mentioned yet, but I had a son who did get into drugs and alcohol problems and I found that even in a business environment, to let something like that be known all of a sudden, the conversation changes and the relationship changes, and you quickly get about three or four levels closer toward the real rather than the superficial. So it’s really been connecting with people one by one, the way that God has allowed it.
Ray: So let’s just pause a moment. You’re in a large global corporation, you’ve been there thirty-seven years, multiple careers that you’ve been able to have inside of that corporation. What word of encouragement would you have for somebody who’s listening to the program, listening to our conversation; how can they live out their faith, how can they be an effective witness for Christ in a big company, in a big culture?
Steve: I would actually, perhaps suggest two different answers for two different types of people. For some of them, I would say you’re not alone and understand that even though you have issues, and you don’t know how to be open about those in a business context, everybody around you does. So there’s some people who get lost in a big company, and yes, they may be very successful doing their piece of it, but they’re wearing a mask while they’re at work. And they think that the issues they have at home, and you know, that everybody around them doesn’t because everybody has that work persona going. And so they don’t see that. In a typical global company, you’re not wearing your emotions on your sleeve that way. So for those people, feel that you’re not alone. Everybody has issues, and it is okay to be vulnerable. Then there are people who on the outside seem to be extremely successful, they tend to be hard chargers. They may be senior executives, they may be manager level but maybe they’re driven by pride or maybe they’re driven by an inherent idol around achievement. For those, I would have probably a different suggestion. It would start with the same place, though. Is you need to understand yourself and learn what’s going on with yourself, and then perhaps the road is to be vulnerable with God and then be vulnerable with others. And it may be that you don’t know what you don’t know, and you may be heading for a crash that you don’t even see coming because all you can see is yourself, and your own pride, and your own goals. So it’s perhaps two different conversations.
Ray: I think that’s very good, and what I hear in much of what you’re saying is that we have to, as Christ followers have enough faith in the Lord and his plan for us, that we may have to demonstrate some vulnerability in some very potentially uncomfortable scenarios. Is that what you’re saying?
Steve: Absolutely. It’s been one of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned, is that I went from probably a persona of thinking about image both in a work and a personal standpoint, to quite the opposite. To think that the way that people, I guess demonstrate realness and demonstrate connection, is to let themselves be known. And that can start by letting, you know, our weaknesses be known, and our experiences be known, and that way people are drawn to that, and they’re connected to that, and all of a sudden, you find yourself talking on a different level, and you’re reaching people that you wouldn’t have reached before.
Ray: Yeah, that’s very good. Folks, we are speaking with Steve Ward. He is with IBM, and he heads up their Worldwide Marketing Programs, and this is kind of a division, or department, or at least an initiative inside IBM that you have started, you’ve headed this up. But what exactly do you do in Worldwide Marketing Programs?
Steve: Well, I wouldn’t say that I started it. I did sort of create the position I’m in. After thirty-seven years, I was starting to say, “Where do I want to go from here?” And I wanted to get a job in corporate headquarters that was looking across how we operate marketing across the business and around the world. So that’s what we do; we look at how our different business units execute marketing programs and are we doing them in a way that meets out customers’ needs and is also efficient at the same time? So it’s been a wonderful job for the last couple of years.
Ray: Tell us a little about this blossoming next chapter of your life?
Steve: Alright, well I think it starts – I’ll go back to when I found myself come in the faith. And I mentioned the Promise Keeper story, and that led to a period which I think of the as the golden period. We went a number of years where everything in life seems to be going right. We loved where we live in, we loved our neighborhood, we loved our church, our boys were young, and everything was going well; our marriage was great. In retrospect, faith was probably still untested and in many areas, we didn’t know what we didn’t know at the time. We later ended up moving back to Atlanta and a decade later, everything was going wrong. I discovered what I’d probably been denying for a while, that I was an alcoholic, my wife had issues as well, perhaps the most traumatic of it, our son was going down the road of drugs and alcohol as well, and that became a traumatic journey as he went through his teens. So all of that going on in one family leads to marriage tension and eventually-
Ray: I suspect that you’re putting that mildly.
Steve: In retrospect, I almost smile when I tell the story because it was horrible at the time but I would not undo a minute of it, as crazy as that sounds.
Ray: Well, it shaped who you are and who you become.
Steve: It did. It changed the whole dynamic, I think, of my life and the direction of it. It led to a ministry, where are we spent so much time in recovery, and I saw this thing called the twelve steps, which were the world’s best recovery program but nobody outside of recovery knows anything about them. I looked at them and saw that they were very strong, biblically-based principles, that anyone could use to live life and achieve more peace, joy, and purpose in their life. So I said, “Why doesn’t the rest of the world talk about this all the time? Why don’t they study this at college? Why don’t they teach this in business? Why don’t they teach this in a parenting class?” And I decided to write a book to take the principals and the wisdom of recovery to the rest of the world, and that’s what Steps was all about.
Ray: Tell us a little bit about what’s in this book, and what you sensed God calling this next chapter to look like for you. And be a specific as God is revealed, don’t have to make it up, but as specific as God has revealed it to you.
Steve: Well, I think he has. In other words, God has, first of all, revealed his wisdom in the word that he has given us, right? I think one of the things that drew me to recovery and to the Twelve Steps ,was that it was Biblically sound philosophically, in terms of what it represented, so the foundation was there. And then what I found is that you can apply God’s word in a number of different environments, so since the book, I’ve had a blog as well, and I’ve written about leadership in business.
Ray: Before you go on. How can our listeners find your blog and learn more about what we’re talking about right now?
Steve: My website is lifeimprovementsteps.com.
Steve: That’s right. And it’s easy to sign up for the weekly blog; it comes every Monday. It’s a 500 to 700 word blog that will be practical on how to approach day to day living, but in a way that will lead you to more peace, joy, and purpose. That’s what the blog is about.
Ray: Where is this headed?
Steve: It’s already taken me in a number of directions. I already feel that my life has become a ministry almost of it’s entirety. So as you see, probably with this podcast, when you’re in the business of communicating, it keeps your mind always thinking about how is God’s word applied to different people. It just makes that, I don’t know, that it stays closer to your conscious mind all the time, which is fun. It’s fun to write, it’s fun to put out a weekly blog, but it’s also fun to to look at people in different environments and think, “How do God’s principles apply to senior executive, who’s working seventy hours a week, who’s driven by pride, and control, and has no idea he’s headed for a crash? How does this deal to a middle manager who’s dealing with pornography or alcohol issues on the side, and he’s hiding it from everyone, but he’s heading for a crash? How does this help parents who’re dealing with teenagers in today’s environment, who are exposed to what culture has put in front of them? What can they do to help their kids? You know, to prevent their kids from going down that route? You know, how does it apply to manage a family, to be a husband or be a wife?” So it has become a wonderful adventure to figure out how do you apply these principles that God’s put in place, and God has used in recovery for decades? How do you apply those to the parts of life that we all go through?
Ray: That is really exciting. So you see this, you’re going to be helping to bring this into ministries, and to organizations, and to companies, and coaching leaders around the principles that God’s given you.
Steve: Absolutely. I hope that for the rest of my life, I’m working with business leaders, but also moms and dads, and those who lead in church organizations, and para-church organizations to say, “Hey, God has given us an instruction book, He’s made some tools available. If we just apply them, than whatever we would do, that we would be more successful and more effective, but would also lead to more peace and joy.”
Ray: Yeah, so this was birthed out of your own personal journey, your own personal brokenness, right?
Ray: Pain, and I’m looking here just at the title of chapter 13, “Dealing with Tough Times and Recovery.” What would you say to someone listening to the program that maybe something’s going on in their family? Maybe a loss of a loved one or maybe there’s a child with chemical addiction issues. You’ve talked about that, or maybe they’re going through those kinds of things. What advice or encouragement would you have for somebody who’s listening right now, who’s going through a tough time. How can they get through it and what would recovery look like?
Steve: It starts by first recognizing there is a problem and then deciding that you’re not going to try to solve it all by yourself. So getting past the denial stage. It’s hard for some people, but you first have to recognize that there is a problem or help someone else recognize that there is. Then there’s a tendency, especially today, that people you know batten down the hatches, and they’re scared to talk to people. Either because they’re embarrassed of themselves or what’s going on in their family, and that’s actually the last possible thing you should do. So the process of recovery is really, one is, getting honest with yourself, becoming self-aware and that you know what’s going on in your own life, and then you go through a stage where you admit that to God and you and God have an honest conversation about that. And then you admit it to another person, and go through that, and then you start to deal with perhaps some of the bridges that you burned along the way. And then you put a set of habits in place every day through prayer and meditation to continue that, and then recovery leads you toward a life of service. You know, how do you take what you’ve been through and the experience you’ve been through, and how do you use that than to connect with and help other people?
Ray: One of the things that I think, and I’m almost 52 years old, and I think one of the biggest lessons that of the last, I’m going to say 5 to 10 years, 7 years, 5 to 7 years, that God has revealed to me, is that there is beauty in brokenness and there is healing in transparency and authenticity. And I think so often we think that, well, if I share this, if I let people know what I’m going through, I’m going to appear weak, I’m going to be a failure, they’re going to be embarrassed, or not going to want to know me. That’s quite the opposite; there is a welcoming, right? When we open up and share in community, we see Scripture after Scripture this way. So there is that healing, there is that recovery, but it almost always has to be in community, right? Both communion with God, but community with one another. I got to believe that’s part of your-
Steve: Oh, absolutely. In fact, it is top of mind for me now, cause the last two blogs I’ve written were kind of related to each other. One was called, “How to Escape Living in Shame.” Right now that’s not a topic a lot of guys, or a lot of business leaders are used to dealing with, right? So I had to figure out a context for how to do that, but I’ve met with enough business leaders to know that they’re all dealing with issues of shame whether they know it or not, whether they knew it or not. So the one I just wrote last week, “Why Guys Do What They Do.” And so this was meant to be a little more palatable to say, “Here’s four mythical guys. So there’s Mr. Right, there’s The Worker, here are 4% of different guys. I’m pretty sure you can find yourself in one of those four, and there are certain behaviors you probably do.” And it was meant to help them then kind of unravel, why do you do the things that you do, and how do you perhaps change that inner voice that has been convincing you for so long to do those things? So this concept of helping people become vulnerable, but the two main things these articles ask people do to, is move forward. One is to be to become open with God and surrender yourself to His will; that’s the first. The second is to be vulnerable with other people; that’s the very act of becoming vulnerable and transparent with other people, put you on the road to recovery. I’ve actually written about in a work environment. So the answer is not just to pick people randomly and go up and talk to them.
Ray: I’m relieved to hear that.
Steve: That’s it. I would think most people would be able to turn the meter a little bit toward vulnerability, and there is still a long way to go, but I think if you have a really serious issues to deal with, you know you start from the inside out. Who are those closest to you? They probably know more then you think they know anyway, and you start there. But the more you share what’s really going on in your life, the more it becomes not only comfortable but more than comfortable, but almost thrilling, because you find yourself living life more authentically and dealing with people at a leave that you didn’t know you could life. You know, I can walk into a recovery meeting. I can visit a recovery meeting in another city, and sit down next to someone and probably in five minutes be having a more intimate, real conversation than people I’ve dealt with in business for fifteen, twenty years. Once you get used to living that way it becomes a very attractive way to live.
Ray: I’ll tell you one of the things in what I do in getting to talk to with top high performance, high-capacity leaders in all walks of life. One of the things that has helped me is I’m trying to learn to look at every person through the lens of their brokenness, because even if they appear like they got it all together, every single one of us are broken, imperfect, and fallible. And that’s kind of a freeing thing. This person might look and appear like it’s all together. I just need to find out where they’re brokenness is, cause that’s where my ministry opportunities is going to be.
Steve: Absolutely. We’re going to say there are two main areas of inhibitors that are keeping a lot of business leaders from really moving past the things that are bothering them. One of them is just the brokenness they may or may not understand. They probably don’t, and if they do, they may be in denial or they don’t know how to deal with it, so it is dealing with their own brokenness. The other’s just become intentional, and intentional about the right things. Especially most business leaders are very proactive and hard workers and they’re probably leaders, so they think they’re being intentional, but they’re being intentional about the wrong things. And to learn to focus on those things that are important but aren’t necessarily urgent. And if you’re a leader, that may mean spend your time with your people in your values rather than putting out the next fire, as an example. So intentional and to learn to be open and transparent and vulnerable are two of, I think, of the secrets.
Ray: And isn’t it freeing every once in awhile to say to your team, to say your co-workers, to say to whomever you know what, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t have the answer; will you help me”?
Steve: Yeah, it’s freeing. And what’s amazing is God’s principles, they actually work in real life, and they actually work in business. If you look at studies of effective leaders, one of the characteristics that is most commonly cited in studies, is trust. Another one is empathy, right? So those people who share of themselves, earn trust and became empathetic; those actually are very directly correlated to those who are the top leaders, you know.
Ray: Folks, we have been speaking with Steve Ward. He is with IBM and with Worldwide Marketing Programs, but he also has an amazing book called, “Steps: A Daily Journey to a Better Life,” and God is launching and birthing a ministry that Steve is taking out to business leaders and organizations. And would you get us that website one more time so that our listeners can check out what you’re doing?
Ray: That’s lifeimprovementsteps.com. Well Steve, we’re at the end of the program, and this is the one question that we ask every guest, and that’s what we call our 4:23 question. It’s based out of Proverbs 4, verse 23, where Solomon says, “Above all else, guard your heart for from it flows the wellspring of life.” And so Steve, let’s just kind of move the clock forward. You’re toward the tail end of this time at 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 would say above all else.
Steve: I love that Scripture and it’s interesting and really when you think about it, the answer to your question is in the question. In other words, the answer I would give is to seek your heart and to seek the heart of God. In other words, is to focus your life on loving God as well as you can, and the tricky part of that, that’s tricky for most people, it is certainly been tricky for me, is that that involves allowing God to love you. That sounds backwards. And the hard part for me is to truly understand that God doesn’t just love me in a corporate fashion, as one of his many people, but he loves me individually. And that he designed me individually and so when you really accept that, then that allows you, I think, to love God in the way he deserves and that becomes the core for everything else, for loving others, and for being content, and for being productive.
Ray: Incredible, incredible counselor advice. Steve, wow, we’re going to have to do this again.
Steve: I’d love to.
Ray: God has really, really blessed you with an amazing career, amazing journey, amazing story, and something is telling me it’s just getting started. Does it feel that way to you?
Steve: It does. I can’t wait for the next twenty or thirty years.
Ray: That’s good stuff. And I know that many business leaders and companies and ministries and organizations are going to be blessed by these priceable and in this way of living and leading that you’re describing to us. Folks, can’t believe it’s already the end of another edition here at Bottom Line Faith. And check out our other interviews at bottomlinefaith.org. If you’re a Christ following business owner, or you’re a president or a CEO and you want to learn about the Truth At Work Round Table program, go to truthatwork.org. We are the host ministry for the Bottom Line Faith program. Click on that tab called, “Round Tables” and check it out. Learn what it looks like to be in community with other Christ following business leaders in a national community, national network in chapters in groups around the country. Listen, Steve, thanks again for being our guest today on the program, and folks, until next time this is your host at Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to live out your faith in the marketplace and be a blessing to those that God has called you to lead. God bless and see you soon.