This episode of Bottom Line Faith features CEO of The Danberry Company, Lynn Fruth.
“We need to focus on Christ. We have to understand thats not a lonely journey, but we take that journey with others. And not just that we live it, but that we live it with the boldness that Christ has asked us to.”
Ray: Well, hello, everyone. This is Ray Hilbert, your co-host of the Bottom Line Faith podcast, and welcome back for another edition of the podcast where we lift the hood on leadership for Christian business leaders, athletes, professionals, non-profit leaders, and so forth, where we really take a deep dive into what leadership looks like from a biblical perspective. We want to learn how these high-capacity, high-performance leaders, how they live, how they lead, how they think, how they solve problems, lessons learned along the way, and so forth. As mentioned, I am your co-host Ray Hilbert. Our other co-host is Adam Ritz. Adam is out of town and on assignment this week, so I get the incredible privilege of interviewing this week’s guest, which is Mr. Lynn Fruth. We are in Toledo, Ohio, and Lynn is the CEO of The Danberry Company, and Lynn, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Lynn: Great to be here.
Ray: Well, Lynn, take just a couple of moments. Share with us a little bit about The Danberry Company, who you are, what you do, and what you’re all about here. This is exciting stuff.
Lynn: Well, The Danbury Company is the largest regional real-estate brokerage in Southeast Michigan and Northwest Ohio. I’m the CEO, which means I cast vision, I help grow leaders, and oversee the operation.
Ray: And how long you’ve been here?
Lynn: I joined Danberry in 1985, I became an owner in 1995, and just two years ago, I became the sole owner of the company.
Ray: Fantastic. So did you always envision this is how life would turn out for you?
Lynn: Well, not quite. In fact, a very interesting story in that regard. Back in the early 70s, my dad was a small town real-estate broker, and he needed help because he was having double cataract surgery. I was an undergraduate at the University of Toledo, and I said, “That’s fine.” Back then, you didn’t have to take courses to get a real estate license. I got my license, I helped him that summer, and I said the real profound words, “I’ll never use that license again.” And, you know, fast-forward a couple more years, and instead of practicing law, which is what I have a degree in, I decided to become a real-estate professional.
Ray: And it’s been all roses and easy ever since, right?
Lynn: Well, not quite. A lot of bumps in the road. But another interesting story. I worked for other companies before I came to Danberry. I had such a high regard for The Danberry Company. I didn’t think I belonged there; I didn’t think I was good enough. And I think 10 years after I had those thoughts, I was working for the company. So maybe I underestimated myself and overestimated Danberry.
Ray: Well, I was tongue-in-cheek when I said it’s been an easy pathway because I know that it’s not. Because like any leader, you’ve had your challenges along the way. We’re going to talk about that in this interview. And so, Lynn, before we get into more of the business questions and leadership, just take a moment and share with our audience a little bit about how it was, what were the circumstances surrounding your coming to Christ?
Lynn: Well, like a lot of kids in the 1950s and 60s, growing up in the Midwest, we attended church. I was very involved: Youth Fellowship president, I went to summer church camp. Then I came to college, and my first three weeks, I walked a couple miles to a denominational church that was the same as what I grew up in. I wasn’t welcomed by anybody; no one reached out. And then I took about a 25-year hiatus from the church. And it was then, in 1995, that my wife and I had a baby, and we agreed – we weren’t married in the church – but we agreed that we wanted to bring our daughter up in that kind of environment. And I have a saying: I might have had the wrong motives, but I put myself on the railroad track towards finding the Lord, and by God, the train ran over me and I did that.
Ray: God has a plan.
Lynn: He had a plan, and I’m glad he revealed it to me eventually.
Ray: That is terrific. So let’s just jump right into some of these questions that we want to talk about, and learn from your journey as a leader and a follower of Christ. So, Lynn, as you look back over your career, tell us about maybe the hardest decision or one of those really, really difficult decisions that you had to make, and what role did your faith play in that?
Lynn: Sure, I probably should start out with this caveat. I don’t have a great memory. And I think that maybe it’s some kind of defense mechanism, but I seem to put any bad experience of the past so far away that it’s hard to recall them. But I can think of a time, not that long ago, where we had one of our assistant managers, that it was clear to us she was not going to work out in that position. She had great sales skills; we knew we could salvage her for the company. We knew that would be in her best interest. We didn’t want to kick her to the curb, and force her to go to work for a competitor. So the manager that hired her met with her, but that meeting didn’t go well, and he suggested that she come to see me and we met and it was obvious to me right away, her hang-up was a pride issue. I had been coaching her a little up to that point, and I knew that she had a blind spot in that area. We talked for about an hour, one Saturday morning, and I just threw out a couple examples of where I’d seen pride in her life. And the reason why she was having trouble, in her mind, just going into sales and away from management was a pride issue. And since that time, she gave me a big hug and a thank you. I knew she was a Christ follower, and I shared a couple things out of Proverbs on pride and it really resonated with her.
Ray: So you were really able to take such a difficult circumstance with one of your leaders in your company and apply a biblical principle, and really talk about the destruction behind pride, is what it sounds like.
Lynn: Exactly, and you know, the thing about a blind spot: we don’t know we have it because they’re blind spots. I put her in a position where we had trust and she was willing to listen. And I think once she deep down, listened inside, and then the Scripture on top of the relationship I had with her was really what turned her around that day.
Ray: Those are great stories of redemption. And they don’t always turn out so well, but that does sound like it was a great example of her being able to come to grips with her own blind spot, as you said. Is she still with the company and doing well?
Lynn: She’s doing great. In fact, she’s probably doing better than she would have, had she stayed on her leadership track.
Ray: Wow, very good. Very good. Well, let’s talk a little bit about how – you’ve given us an example right there, of course – but let’s talk a little bit further about how you try to live out your faith. Some of the best practices based on biblical principles, that you try to live out in your leadership here at The Danberry Company.
Lynn: Sure. A lot of these principles and practices really came from failings on my part, initially. You know, the first one is leaders need to listen. I was a horrible listener early in my leadership career. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it leadership. Early in my management career. Because I wasn’t leading and I wasn’t a good listener. And I think good listeners listen. And, you know, one of my favorite biblical quotes is that we need to, you know, listen first, then speak, and then slowly grow to anger, if at all. I think one of the qualities that followers like best in leaders is that they listen.
Ray: Absolutely. I once heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth, time to use the majority, the majority of the time, right? So out of James, it does talk about being quick to listen, slow to speak. How do you go about – you’ve given us an example with this employee that you sat down with, you mentored her, you invested in her. But do you have any intentionality behind the way you develop leaders or how you mentor others?
Lynn: I sure do. I have dozen people on my leadership team, and I meet monthly with each one individually for one hour. You know, a lot of times, it’s not necessarily the same subject matter for each leader. Oftentimes, it might be, most recently, in fact, it was over a two-month period, covered a series called 10 Realities. It’s about Christian leadership specifically. And part of that is, I think that one hesitation that a lot of leaders have in organizations is they want to share their faith, but they don’t want to overdo it. And that was a great two-month series for me and my leaders. Because, you know, among other things, I got to ask them: “Do you think that I come on too strong in sharing my faith?” And they said, “Absolutely not.” Which, of course, for me was a green light to push harder on the gas pedal, which I’ve done so. But it also was encouraging to them to know it’s all right when someone comes in with a problem to say, “Is it alright if I pray for you? Or can I pray with you?” You know, it’s funny, It took a lot of guts the first time I asked somebody who came in to see me with a problem to do that, but, you know, when they hugged me on their way out and thanked me and said, “No one’s ever prayed for me like that. Thank you very much.” It was very encouraging.
Ray: I love that. You know, there’s so much publicity and stories out there around, you know, you can’t share your faith in the marketplace and those sorts of things. And we actually can, can’t we?
Lynn: We absolutely can.
Ray: Lynn, let’s talk a little bit about how do you work, you’ve got a great business or you got a successful business here, as you said, a leading agency in this part of the country. What are ways that you work to leverage the company, to serve the community, reach out? How do you try to leverage the company and resources to serve those around you?
Lynn: Well, that’s a great question. We have a real focus. It’s in our mission statement, among other places that we not only care for each other, but we care for the community. And for about 20 years now, we’ve had what’s called the Danberry Treasure Chest Auction. It’s to benefit the most needy of children at the children’s hospital. These are kids who have a chronic or serious illness, oftentimes their parents will have to quit their job because it’s full-time to help the child to get through whatever it is. So we’re a fund of last resort for the caseworkers, and we’ve raised for those needy families. We’ve helped a little over 750 of those. Since we started, we’ve raised over $645,000 for the cause. And I know the local writer for the newspaper that covers these kinds of things. She says, you know, the one thing why she likes our charity so much and covers our event. Most people doing the fundraising, they’re doing it for themselves. We don’t do it for ourselves. We do it for another entity: that children’s hospital. So you know, just recently, I created what we call the Danberry Community Benefit Program. And it’s real simple this first year to meet the requirement. All my people in the company – we have around 285 people – have to donate only one hour of service time to the community. And if they do that, they get invited to a really neat fun event next summer. Now what they don’t know is this is the introductory year, we just launched this. Next year, it’ll be 10 hours of community work. But you know, when people get exposed to the great rewards of giving yourself back to the community, I don’t think getting them to do 10 more hours next year is going to be a hard thing. In fact, we hope that this year, once they get a taste of community service, will give a lot more than just one hour back to the community.
Ray: Those are excellent examples. That’s very exciting to hear about how you’re leveraging the resources and relationships and people that God has entrusted to you. Ladies and gentlemen, we are speaking with Lynn Fruth, the CEO of The Danberry Company in Toledo, Ohio. I am your co-host for the Bottom Line Faith podcast. My name is Ray Hilbert, and we are learning about Christ centered-leadership in the marketplace. Lynn, I guess you’re probably a busy guy. 285 teammates here, right?
Lynn: That’s correct.
Ray: You’ve got church, you’ve got community, you’ve got family – a number of things going on in your life. How do you balance it all? How do you work it all out?
Lynn: Well, it starts with a plan. And I’m a big believer. Early in my real-estate career, I think I was one of the few people I know that engaged in goal setting and business planning. Since that time, I’ve evolved into life planning. In fact, I can recall when I first introduced the concept of life planning to my agents who were used to just myopically focused in on their business. That was met with some surprise, because what’s this? We should be planning recreation time and time for our health and family and faith and finances? But that’s what I do, and I’m very strict about it. I have two- or three-page typed-out goals for all those areas. And that’s good by itself, but I believe accountability is an important element of that. Every two weeks, I have an accountability partner, he’s a local plastic surgeon, we meet for breakfast, we have each other’s list. We don’t go down, obviously, three pages, but we’ll focus on one or two things. Then I’m in a group called Truth At Work, and that’s a great accountability group that I meet with for four hours every month.
Ray: So those are things that help keep perspective, maybe new ideas, new perspectives in order. So those are really good things. Let me ask you this. Biggest mistake, you know. You and I aren’t spring chickens anymore. So as you look back over your life in business and career, can you tell us what do you think’s maybe the biggest mistake you’ve made in business, and what you learned from it?
Lynn: Well, in fact, I probably still battle this in some way every day. I was very prideful, and so much so that it probably hurt my business. I didn’t see it; it was my blind spot. You know, I probably made the justification for a while that I’m really confident or have a high opinion of my value to the organization. You know, we all come up with our own rationale why our behavior should be acceptable to others. But, you know, early on, I probably had people approach me that I just rebuffed their efforts to point it out. But somewhere along the line, I saw the pride in myself. And, you know, since that time, probably the quality that I appreciate most in other leaders is humility. And it’s something I don’t, I’m not going to say I don’t fight pride, but I think that most people that have known me over a long period of time will say that I probably fit in more of the humble cycle more than the prideful one.
Ray: That can be hard to say, right? Kind of like, “Hey, got a minute? Let me tell you how humble I am.” But that really is an important lesson to, you know, you learn that through mistakes, and perhaps putting yourself in situations that later, you weren’t proud of the way you handled it. Or maybe you got some critique, we talked about that earlier, before going on the air today, about just letting things go and having a high level of self-awareness. What advice would you have for a young leader that’s coming up, that is discovering who they are as a leader, and what they’re about, and their gifts and skill sets, based on your own experience? What advice would you have for a next gen leader?
Lynn: Well, you know, confidence is often critical for leaders to have. I think that we just need to understand what the source of the confidence is. And I’m blessed that everyone in my leadership team is a Christian, and they may need to be reminded that all the gifts that they have – including our leadership – comes from our Lord and Savior. And if you keep that in mind, then it’s going to be hard for pride to enter the picture. And it’s going to be, if we’re going to emulate Christ, humility should come pretty naturally.
Ray: Good word there for sure. Let’s talk about that leadership team for just a moment. You mentioned that they’re all followers of Christ. Was that by design? Did that just play itself out? How’d that come about?
Lynn: Well, that’s a great question. And it’s something that I probably didn’t even realize until after I purchased the entire company. My former partner was not a Christ follower. And for that reason, there are some things that we’re doing today that we just couldn’t do before. But as I mentioned, I started one-on-one coaching about two years ago, which was when I was negotiating the purchase of the company from my partner. And, you know, it’s important to me to know where people are, because if they haven’t found my Lord and Savior, that’s important for me to help them find a way to do that. So I would ask people, quite honestly, just directly, where are you in your faith? And people, they course knew where I was before that, but, you know, they would tell me and we’ve worked on developing their faith. You know, one of the things I discovered, I mentioned this 10 Realities series that I went through, 2 of my 12 put their faith in a compartment, in a silo. And so now, I’ve identified a challenge, you know, they don’t look at the workplace as a place that they should be living their faith. I mean, they live their faith, but they’re not evangelizing. They see separation. So for those two people, that’s one of my challenges. One of my mentoring goals will be to help them overcome that.
Ray: So while not necessarily by design, it just looks like God’s kind of placed those folks there, but you have intentionality. You are being very intentional about witnessing, about living out your faith and sharing the opportunity for not only your leadership team, but company-wide, it sounds like.
Lynn: Well, we are. And one of my favorite sessions, we have a six-part series for the new agents that come on board to the company. And I teach the first session, because I want to make sure that culturally, we’re compatible, you know. I don’t care how great you can be if we’re not going to be compatible culturally. And we need to identify that early on and save everybody a lot of time. And one of the things I share with all those new people coming into the company is, these are my values. And this is what the company stands for. You don’t have to be a Christian to come in. In fact, that’s fine that you’re not. But as long as you share these values, that’s what’s important. And I have so many people after that session, come up to me and thank me for being open and discussing those issues. They’re very proud to be working at a company that’s going to live their faith that way.
Ray: That’s really good, you know, and so often, as we mentioned, a few moments ago, we seem to be in this litigious society, right? And so, you know, attorneys and experts and human resources, you can’t talk about your faith. But I’ve really found, and you’re communicating this as well, that when you do so with love and transparency, and like, this is who I am, this is where I’m coming from, It just it cuts the edge off of that. I think it’s when the perception that it’s pounded down somebody’s throat is when we get in trouble. Would you agree with that?
Lynn: Well, that’s right. And, you know, we’re not a publicly traded company. But even if we were, we’re not dictating anything. We’re saying, “This is where I am and if you like where I am, great, come and seek it out. But you don’t have to.” We have behavioral expectations. They happen to mirror what you can find in Christ’s teachings.
Ray: Kind of funny how that works. Just straight forward. Ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking with Lynn Fruth, the CEO of the Danberry company. We are in Toledo, Ohio, in studio, conducting the Bottom Line Faith audio podcast. I’m your co-host, Ray Hilbert. As I mentioned earlier, the other co-host Adam Ritz’s out on the road and out of town on assignment, unable to be with us for this particular interview. So, Lynn, you talked about the people around you. You mentioned your Truth At Work group, you mentioned other resources and other people. Why is that so important to not do this leadership thing alone?
Lynn: Well, I touched on the topic of blind spots earlier, and, you know, we all have them. And if you don’t think you have them, ask your spouse. The thing about a group like Truth At Work, where you build trust with those that are in the group, they’re not afraid to say, “Hey, Lynn, we hear what you’re saying about that situation, but have you looked at what you’re saying, and your conduct and behavior in this?” And I want to tell you, for me, you know, maybe you might blush a little because you’re embarrassed that you know what? They’re right. But then you feel so joyful, that you surround yourself with people that are willing to tell you that you might be wrong. And they do it in a loving way, but we all need to hear that. And we have something, we’ve converted that same message within the company. We call it our broccoli talk. And we say, well, you know, we, what really bugs me the most in our society is great friends oftentimes don’t speak the truth to their friends when they think it might embarrass them. And think of the situation at a party where someone – a friend of yours – they come up to you, they have broccoli in their teeth. I can guarantee most people won’t tell that person they have broccoli in their teeth. So what happens, they go around for an hour with broccoli in their teeth. They go home, look in the mirror and they say, Oh my gosh, why didn’t my good friend, Lynn, tell me I had broccoli in my teeth. And for whatever reason, most people are wired where they don’t want to do that. We’ve empowered each other in our leadership team, and Truth At Work is the same way, to tell us “You have broccoli in your teeth, Lynn.” And we appreciate it because we know that’s in our best interest.
Ray: I love that example. And we need that, you know, it’s much better to be quote-unquote embarrassed in the privacy and intimacy of a conversation or friendship like that, than publicly and that’s, you know, I think that’s one of the things we see as a downfall of many leaders is isolation. They get doing what they’re doing, and they don’t have wise advisors around. They don’t open themselves up and share what they’re going through. And ultimately, quite often, they end up making decisions or heading down a pathway that’s destructive, because they isolated themselves from godly counsel. Would you kind of buy into that as a mindset?
Lynn: Well, that’s one of my key principles, that if you’d asked me to go list four or five earlier, that would have been right on the list. Because, you know, one of the benefits that the body of Christ offers is that you don’t have to go it alone. And although I have a dozen Christian leaders on my team, oftentimes I need to talk to a non-team member for counsel, and Truth At Work is one source of that. Other friends I have in my life group from church that are business people are another source for that. I think that’s one of the greatest things that we can do for each other. But you have to swallow your pride and ask for advice. You have to have a trusting relationship, which, based around Christ is a good way to build those kinds of relationships. So absolutely, I agree.
Ray: Well, I think that the core of that is what you were talking about earlier. And that’s having a spirit of humility, willing to have a hard word spoken in love. Without that, it’s going to be quite offensive. Well, believe it or not, Lynn, we are at the end. Isn’t it amazing how fast this half-hour has gone? It does to me. I mean, I’m learning from you, and having a great time here with you. So we’re down to literally our last question. And folks, for those of you who listen to our program regularly, you know, we call this our 4:23 Question. It’s based out of Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes these words: “Above all else, guard your heart, for your heart determines the course of your life.” There are many biblical scholars, Lynn, we were talking about this before we went on the air here, that there are many biblical scholars who believe that these were among some of the last words that Solomon penned. And we know he wrote all these Proverbs and Psalms and was believed to be the wisest man who ever lived. But there’s this body of biblical scholars that believed these were perhaps written from his deathbed. And so in my mind, I go to the picture that he’s gathered his family, his friends and his loved ones, and he’s pulled them around. And he says, “Look, I know I’ve given you all this wisdom, I know that I’ve shared with you everything I possibly could have shared. Now there’s this one thing, above all else…” and then he gives the answer. So Lynn, if we were to turn the clock forward and it’s the end of your life this side of eternity, you’ve gathered your friends, you’ve gathered your loved ones, you’ve gathered your business associates, and it’s time for you to dispense your “above all else “advice. So Lynn, above all else…
Lynn: Well, above all else, I think that we have to recognize we live in a world that the enemy has great power, and he’s going to do everything he can to challenge our faith. And above all else, we need to focus on Christ, we have to understand that that’s not a lonely journey, that we take that journey with others, that it’s important that we have other Christ followers in our life. And, you know, not just that we live it, but that we live it with the boldness that Christ had asked us to do. I mean, his last words of wisdom on this planet were that we’re to go to all corners of this world, and that we’re to share the good news of his coming to this earth and what he did for all of us. So that would be the words of wisdom and what I’d share on my deathbed to those around me.
Ray: Okay, that is terrific. Terrific insight and wisdom. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have been speaking with Lynn Fruth, the CEO of The Danberry Company in Toledo, Ohio. Lynn. Any closing words or comments or advice or encouragement that you’d like to leave with our audience?
Lynn: Well, I think there’s great wisdom and listening to this radio program, so I hope you tune in every week.
Ray: That’s very kind of you. Well, this has been your co-host, Ray Hilbert at Bottom Line Faith podcast, and Lynn, where can we learn, where can we find you on the web, Danberry Company?
Lynn: That’s danberry.com. If you want to reach me by email, it’s email@example.com.
Ray: Very, very good. Folks, please check out Lynn and his company at The Danberry Company. Well, folks, we can’t wait to see you for the next edition of the Bottom Line Faith podcast. Thanks so much. God bless, and we’ll see you soon.