Today’s show features Steve Znachko, President and CEO of Znachko and Associates.
“He said ‘Steve, I realized that when I would come out of a transplant, and I would save a child, and the family would look at me and say, ‘Thank God,’ I actually had in my mind that I saved that child not God, because I did the skill, I did the touch, I did this thing. I realize today that outside of God’s touch I am no better than that hammer that is on your workbench.’ And it set him free.”
Ray: Well, everyone, this is Ray Hilbert. I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, and the analogy we like to use here at Bottom Line Faith is where we lift the hood, and we tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership, business leaders, thought leaders across the country. And it is amazing some of the people we get to talk to here, some of the personalities that we learn from. Folks, every once in a while, I get the incredible privilege to interview a personal friend here at Bottom Line Faith. And so that’s why I’m so excited about today’s episode. We are speaking with my dear friend and brother in Christ, Steve Znachko. Steve is the President and CEO of Znachko Associates in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. And in just a moment, we’ll hear from Steve and learn more about his business. Check out the podcast; you can subscribe at iTunes and Stitcher and on the Google Play Store. So let’s jump right in. Let’s talk with Steve’s Znachko. Steve, good morning and welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Steve: Morning, Ray. Great to be here with you, as always.
Ray: We’ve known each other for several years.
Steve: Yes. And actually, I think we were introduced years before that. But these last four or five, we’ve gotten to spend more personal time together, which I’ve really enjoyed. I tell you, gang, I’m going to say this. And Steve, just close your ears because I know you’ll be embarrassed by this. Friends, every once in a while, God brings people into your life that really, really, really show you intimacy and new ways with Christ. And Steve is just one of those guys that I’ve grown to know and love and respect so much. I’ve heard him preach several times, and as impressive as that is, what I’m most inspired by is just your faithfulness in walking with the Lord. And you’ve not had an easy journey. We’re going to hear a little that story today. So brother, welcome to the show.
Steve: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Ray: We’ve talked just briefly, we given the name of your company, Znachko Associates. Just take a moment help our audience to understand what your company does, what you do, maybe a little bit how you got started and why?
Steve: Sure. The company, really it’s a fairly simple process. But I am hired, and my company is hired to get into high-valued brick and mortar locations, mainly in the membership club business. So when you think of Costco and Sam’s Club, those are two outlets that have a very, very specific business path, require very, very specific pricing, packaging, logistics. And so companies, they’re highly sought after, difficult to get into because they carry so few amount of products. And so companies hire me to help them from beginning to end to both package, price, logistics, setup, and then actually to sell the product into outlets like Sam’s and Costco.
Ray: So this may be a bad analogy, so correct me, but it’s almost like a private Shark Tank in terms of what we see happen on that TV show. You’re really in the distribution acquisition business.
Ray: Is that fair?
Steve: Yes. And clubs have a specific model, and so it’s very counterintuitive. For instance, they work on very low margins. People think they get their great pricing because they beat up on their suppliers. They don’t; they just work on an entirely different model. And so it’s really critical that you approach them on the model that they need to see. That’s something I’ve 30 years of experience in, and so that experience is really my value.
Ray: It really is a fun story. And we’re going to really spend the bulk of our time today talking about your faith, and how its impacted not only your leadership but some of the things God has you doing globally as a result of business and success and those sorts of things. But I’d be remiss if I at least didn’t hear a little bit of the story. How did you get in this very interesting line of work? How’d that come about?
Steve: Yeah, and there’s no false humility in saying, not by plan. And this is an encouragement that I have for anybody that’s looking at a business is that we had actually started a business with a different direction, that was going to be aimed at grocery stores drugstores and selling product into outlets like that. I honestly didn’t even know at that time there; the membership clubs were not widespread. I didn’t know them; I didn’t target them as an account. It just so happened that what we were building in the other chains of distribution, then someone had actually suggested, you know, this might work for this thing at the time called Price Club out in San Diego. And so it wasn’t even a brainstorm of mine; it was something that I went out with very little understanding of very little hope. And then you look, and you watch God’s hand in that, that we eventually left every other marketplace and focused 100% on these clubs. And so I can honestly say, it had nothing to do with my plan. It had much more to do with being prepared when an opportunity presented itself. But I didn’t create the opportunity; the opportunity was there. And so we jumped in, got in on the ground floor when the clubs were small, and then they grew in a huge way. And so our business grew.
Ray: You just grew with them.
Ray: I love that part of the story, Steve, that it really God took you in a path in a direction that you didn’t really have planned.
Ray: And that seems to be kind of the theme of your life. And we’re going to get into that in our program today. Let’s kind of start a little bit now along the faith pathway, and we’ll integrate this back into business and some of the challenges and so forth that you’ve faced. But give us just a snapshot of your spiritual journey. Did you grow up in a Christian home, or did you come to Christ later in life? What’s that look like for you?
Steve: I grew up in a God, what I would call a God fearing home. We honored God, believed in God, feared God, went to church. And I’m really grateful to my parents for what they gave me in that. In terms of understanding a personal relationship with God, that is not something that I understood. And honestly, I’m very surprised, even through high school and college that I heard very, very little about. And so I wasn’t exposed to that. And so I grew up with a great reverence for God, a great fear of God, but no understanding of a relationship and believing that I could both speak to him, that he would speak to me, that his Word was alive. So I spent no time in the scriptures; I wasn’t encouraged in that. And so that was kind of my background coming up through high school and college. I graduated college, I was the Presidential Scholar of my university in marketing, so I was highly sought after for jobs.
So I had lots of job offers, ended up taking, long story short, a great job with Dow Chemical Company, one of the top 35 companies in the world. At that time, I was growing in success. They put me on a fast track program, quite honestly, I was moving faster and being paid more than I deserved at that age and from my experience. But still, in my yearning, it wasn’t fast enough. And so I began a journey to look at creating my own path for faster success, really tied to faster money. There was no doubt that I believed my contentment and my success was going to be tied to my income. I don’t think I would have worn that outwardly. But there was no question that my inward struggle always had to do with the question, do I have enough, measured against other people, all of those things which drove me.
So I left Dow, started this business, which then created kind of a paradigm shift for me where I was with Dow, I could see anybody I wanted to at the time, because I had the business card, right, and the company behind me. Now I’m on my own, and I can’t get past secretaries for appointments. So the first thing that starts to happen is I started realizing how much of my path that I was feeling successful had to do with my resume, and the company behind me, and how little it had to do with Steve Znachko. That was a big challenge for me. My discontent always drove me back to the answer of saying, well, if I just made more money, if I can create my path, I will then be content and happy again.
So again, long story short, over the next three years, we really struggled in the business like a lot of new businesses do. But each year, I would make paths forward. Each year, I would set an income goal and say, if I would reach this income, I’m going to be all set, I’m going to be at peace, I’m going to be content. And each year, I passed that income goal. On the fourth year in which I passed that goal, and now I was making, quite honestly, more than I would have ever dreamed of when I came out of college. It was way bigger than my first figure – four times it. And I just passed it by and was convinced that now I had arrived at the place that I needed. I was driving on the road, and my life changed because the second I had received that bonus and thought I was content, within two minutes of driving in my sports car to my gym, I was in tears, realizing that once again, that the endpoint had shifted on me again. And then I did not feel any differently than when I passed the other three goals. And I was desperate and feeling like I’m never going to get there. Had no answers. And I met a young man on the side of the road, who was broken down on the side of the road. And that meeting changed my life and the trajectory of my life.
Ray: You’ve shared that story with me. So I think it’d be really important and got lots to talk about here. By the way, we call this the fastest 30 minutes online. So this is going to go fast. I promise you, and I promise our audience, it always does. But that really was a transformational encounter. Give us the highlights of what happened there.
Steve: Driving down, broken-hearted, in a sports car, going to my club, dressed in my Nike get-up, feeling like the world would look and say, I’ve got it all going on, had reached my fourth income goal. And I went on the entrance ramp to a highway, and there was a man broken down on the side of the road. It was really cold; it was December. And for some reason, still don’t know today, I decided, even in my discontent, I decided I would stop and help him. And I will keep this brief. But basically, he had an old, old car; he was about my age, I was under 30. At the time, I was making real good money. He was under 30, and he had an old beat-up car that he couldn’t even keep running. I walked up to the car and knocked on the front windows; they were frozen. And the back windows rolled down, and there was a man in the back with a coat, gloves, hat, and scarf, reading his Bible.
And my first thought was, you’re nuts. You’re going to freeze to death here. And you’re not even asking for help. No one knows you’re here. But as I began to speak with him, he asked me, he said, if you just turn your car around and give me a jump on my battery, I’ll be on my way home. So I began to turn my car around, set up the battery. But as I did this man start to share his life with me. And he started sharing about the conversation he had had with his wife that day. He started sharing about what he was going to do with his kids that night; he started sharing about their story time, and the meals that they share. And I found myself listening to this man and realizing that I was so intrigued with his life. He could not have been more in direct contrast to what I was feeling in my life. And what kept going through my mind, Ray is that I kept saying, and you don’t even have enough money to fix an old beat-up car. And in my mind, I could not reconcile the peace that he had, with the obvious financial struggles that he was under. My sports car was actually too small to jump his battery.
So I had to try and get some other people to pull over; nobody would pull over. I got angry; I started yelling at car coming by. He walked up and put his arms on my shoulders and said, Don’t worry, Steve, God will take care of it. And I promise I wanted to turn to him and say, how do you know that? Why are you so sure that things are going to be okay? Cause I’m not. And as we finished up, I just remember this incredible, like no feeling I’ve had, of saying, I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted to sit down and talk to him. I wanted to find out. He had not shared the gospel with me. He had not done it, said any of that; he just shared his life with me. And as he drove off, he rolled down his window and yelled out backward, God bless you, Steve. And I sat on the side of the road, and I wept for 30 minutes. And my worlds crashed in because I realized on that highway, everybody that drove by that saw my sports car, my gym membership, my Nike get-up, would walk by and say, that’s the guy who’s got it going on. And anybody who drove by him was going say, that’s the guy who’s struggling. And yet that day, I knew as he drove off, I didn’t have one thing that he longed for. And yet, as he drove off, I sat there saying over and over and over again, I’d give anything to have what he had. All I knew is, he found it in the Bible. And that started a lifelong journey of just saying, I actually went to a Christian bookstore, said I wanted to buy the Bible, and that started a journey for both my wife and I that led to that relationship with Christ that became life altering for us.
Ray: This is still real and raw for you. Folks, if you are looking into Steve’s eyes as I am, you’re emotional about that; this is real. It’s got to feel like it’s almost yesterday.
Ray: Maybe right now, there’s a business person who’s maybe they’re driving in their car like you were, they’ve got the trappings they’ve got, you know, success in the world’s eyes, but they know something deep inside them is not quite right. Maybe they just drove by somebody who’s broken down, I don’t know. Maybe they’re on their elliptical machine, working out, running, listening to the program, whatever. And they’re discouraged like you were, they’re lost like you were. How could you encourage them, just with the story you just shared, and we’ll talk more in a moment, but how would you encourage that person right now?
Steve: The encouragement would be this, what did I just experience? What am I feeling? Why is this? I went to the Proverbs and was reading the Proverbs, and there is a proverb that says, “Stop chasing after wealth, for when you chase it, it will sprout itself wings like an eagle, and fly to the heavens.” And I remember again, breaking down and saying, that’s me, I had this picture of somebody climbing the edge of a cliff, and you get to this eagle’s nest, and right as you almost got there, it took off and flew just a little bit higher, and then I would climb again, and then it would fly a little higher, and it would climb again, always just out of reach.
And if I could encourage all of us, it would be to lock into the truth that God has confirmed; there is never enough, never enough to get there by getting more than one of my favorite quotes is that the truly content man is not the one who has everything in the world, but the one who needs nothing from the world. We are taught to try and get that contentment by getting more. And if I could encourage you to say that discontent that you’re feeling, don’t let it feel like you just haven’t climbed quite high enough and that the next ridge will get you there. It will lead you on a journey. I promise what you’re feeling now will be the next feeling that you get when you get the next goal. You’ve got to change your focus. Otherwise, the result doesn’t change.
Ray: Folks, we’re talking with Steve’s Znachko, the President and CEO of Znachko Associates here in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Steve is giving us incredible stories of really how God broke him from the trappings of this world. And instead, Steve, you’ve had tremendous success in your business. And we talked a little bit about that. But I know that’s not why you’re here today. You’re really here to share your faith journey and how that’s played out. So what lessons have you learned in terms of leading and building your business and the role of your faith? Or have you tried to integrate it? What’s that all mean for you?
Steve: I’m going to try and answer it in more of a big idea kind of way, is that I found that I really needed a shift in my focus, and my overall focus, and realizing that everything ran through, I have three sayings written on my office wall. And I realized that every decision I make runs through one of these grids, and the first thing is, is it going to be God or me? The second is, is it going to be the kingdom or the world? And the third is, am I going to live for now or for then? And when I look at the scriptures, I realized that I face, almost every decision I face every day of my life, puts me in conflict, and right in the middle of one of those decisions, am I going to dictate my life, or is God? Am I going to be my own God, which we see in Genesis from the very beginning, as a struggle of man? Or am I going to trust God in whatever it is before me, little or big?
Secondly, that there is a grand difference between living for the kingdom of God and living for the world. I have to say; I feel like we’ve been given more permission and maybe delusion into believing that the world and the kingdom are fairly close together and that we can find a comfortable middle place. I have found that in almost every decision, it leads me that I will have to decide, just like Jesus said, which one will actually drive me? And third, do I live now? Just for the now? Or do I live for the then? And to me, that then brings every decision I have in my day, whether it’s how I’m spending my time, whether it’s what I say in a meeting, whether it’s how I take on a contract or not take on a contract, and what I give and what I keep. All of it runs through one of those questions, or maybe all three. And those three questions really help bring me into perspective of saying, do I have right focus? Now, the other thing that I think is really important is that I’ve discovered is, I feel like when I first stepped into the faith, I believed that the whole encouragement to do it God’s way was kind of because God was God, and he had the right to ask us to do that.
And as I dug into the scriptures, and as I live more of my life, I realized God has got this heart for us that says, I’m not asking you not to chase money, because money can deliver and I can deliver. But I want you to choose me. It’s very obvious in 1 Samuel and a number of the places where he says, when you leave me, when you lose focus of me, you will focus on things that are futile and cannot deliver. 1 Peter calls it and says, those are things that will war against your soul, that there is a loving father that says, don’t lose your focus, because nothing else out there can deliver what I can deliver for you. So that overall focus runs through every business decision, every interaction I have with a customer with an employee, it doesn’t matter, with a waitress, it just changes everything,
Ray: Folks, just real quick, and I’ve taken notes here, these three questions. It’s really your guiding philosophy if I’m tracking here. Looking at a decision or situation, is it going to be about God or about me? Am I going to focus on the kingdom, God’s kingdom, or about this world? And am I going to make this decision for the short term now or for the long term then or eternity? And are there times you struggle with that? Can you think of an example where man, I really blew it in that, and you had to recalibrate? Does anything come to mind there that?
Steve: Absolutely. And I can confess, it’s a struggle that I’ll wrestle with every day. And that’s why I don’t like to tie just the big things. I feel like even in little things, there are times when I lose my focus. But focus is absolutely critical. And I feel like one of the things that drives me away is when I start to believe that outcomes are up to me and that as a capable business person, that I feel like we get pulled into, and actually are even told by people that depend on us, that we start believing some of our own press clippings. And in that, some of us, we get things stolen, contentment and peace stolen from us, because now all of a sudden, the result is up to me. And I want to share one story that I thought was so powerful for me. I was actually sharing Christ with a guy, an unbeliever who was a doctor. He was a transplant surgeon. With all my great persuasion and all my sharing, I made very little impact on him. About a couple weeks later, he called me, and he said, I have to see you, Steve. And I said, okay, well, when do you want to set a time? He said, no, I mean, I have to see you right now, and he came over to my house.
And he said this to me, he said, Steve, I realized that on this one, when I would come out of a transplant, and I would save a child or a person, and the family would look at me and say, thank God, I actually had in my mind, I saved that child, not God, because I did the skill, I did the touch, I did this thing. He said I realized today that outside of God’s touch, I am no better than that hammer that is on your workbench. And it set him free in a way of realizing, and I realized my struggle often is the same thing. Do I believe that I’m just a hammer or do I believe I’m actually the answer to this? And there’s tremendous peace and release in realizing I’m just the hammer. But if I’m outside of the hand of the Creator, I am no better than it sitting on the workbench. So to me, that’s been this thing. I’m just saying. If I really believe that in every question answered and every outcome that it is, I can’t tell you the power that it delivers, as well as the peace that it brings. Because I just tend to be a control guy that believes that if I say the right thing, if I make one more phone call, and when I could start to begin to release that, I just saw God work in bigger and more powerful ways.
Ray: I would also be remiss, Steve, if I did not talk to you about your passion now. You spend a lot of time not here in the States. God has afforded you with great success in business, with the resources and tools, that you really now have a real calling and a real passion, and I’ll let you kind of share that story. What is that?
Steve: Yeah, one of the questions that you had asked me earlier was, what’s one of the toughest decisions that you faced as success came? And I would say, the biggest question is that there came a time where I had to ask myself, when is enough enough? And how do I reshift my life based on my new paradigm? So my income continued to grow. I then felt like I needed to have an honest assessment of saying when is enough enough? I also had an assessment; I have the blessing of time. I had to decide, will I continue to build this business bigger and bigger and bigger? Or will I use what the business has given me to set me free to do other things as well?
And so there were real decision points of saying, I decided at times to cut the growth in my business, which then allowed me to work into ministry that then led me to 15 other countries where I could preach the gospel, where I could meet people, and help in ministries, that if I just continued to build my business, I would have never done. And I just want to say, they allow me to say yes to some things, but I had to choose to give up other things to do it. And all I want to say to anybody who’s listening is it was those things that changed my life. And even financially, there was a time when my wife and I sat down and said, okay, is enough enough? Rather than looking and saying, how much of the extra do we give, we turn the paradigm and said, we are going to cut our lifestyle. We are going to draw a line, and everything else above gets given.
The path that led us on in the next 15 years was so powerful and life-changing, that we sometimes look and say, what if we hadn’t? In fact, we created a foundation to set aside the money so that we would hold to that commitment to give everything above. My wife then started her own ministry, which then created the second ministry, and when we rolled the second one into the first one, we had to do an accounting of what we had given away. First time we’d ever looked at that. When we looked at it, we looked and said, it was the first time we realized how much had been given. And we looked at each other, and we said, If God had said, when you drew the line, you were going to give this much away, would we have done it? And we both said, no, the number would have scared us, and we would have said no, and we would have walked away.
Secondly, we asked the question of ourselves, if God dropped all that money back into our bank account today, how would it change our lives, and we couldn’t come up with one thing, right, that we felt like we had missed in our lives. And then the third one, which led us in tears to our needs to give thanks, is that we recounted all the things that we would have missed, had we not drawn that line. And so I have learned that if you’re good at what you do, there’s never a time when somebody comes up to you and says, you know what, once you sit back a little bit, take a little bit more time for other things; they will always ask you more. So my encouragement is make some decisions along the way, and realize there will be a point where you will have to decide, will there be more or maybe more of something else? And I do just want to encourage you that I think if you have that freedom, enjoy the more of what he has for you, and you won’t believe the doors it will open and the power it will unleash.
Ray: It’s transformational, right? It’s life-giving, and I know this is the real deal. You’ve traveled, did you say 15 countries?
Steve: Yeah, maybe even a few more.
Ray: Yeah, we’re nearing the end of our program here. But I promised you there’s one question that I asked every guest. This is what we call our 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 Steve, I’d like for you to just kind of in your mind’s eye formulate, you’re now at the end of this side of eternity, you’re getting ready to enter into the Father’s arms, you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, and your loved ones, and pass along that most important piece of advice. What is your above all else advice? So fill in the blank for us: above all else…
Steve: I’m going to make the statement, and then I’ll explain a little bit. Above all else, step off of the spreadsheet. And what I mean by that is this, is that I feel like we have fallen into this belief that our lives are to follow the logic plane, the reason plane, and it should be calculable, and figured out, and well planned, and I’m all for planning. But when I read the scriptures, and God says, “My ways are not your ways, my ways are higher than yours. Who can be a counselor to me?” And he encourages us that there is something in the unknown that is so much bigger than in the known. So my biggest encouragement is don’t let the spreadsheet, and I’m not just talking about financial spreadsheet, I’m talking about go off-grid a little bit and believe that God still speaks and that, don’t pin him down to the answer having to be logical, comfortable, and attainable. Believe him for huge big things. And know that by definition, it’s going to mean that you’re going to have to say yes to some things, they’re going to sound way off the spreadsheet. And it will be there that you will find him most moving most powerful, and where darkness is overcome by light. And that’s where you want to live.
Ray: That’s an incredible, incredible insight. And that really is the message you’re wanting to leave with our audience today. It has been an honor; thank you so much for being our guest here at Bottom Line Faith. Any last words you want to share?
Steve: I just, I appreciate what you’re doing. You shared just those brief stories in the beginning. And I just think our encouragement of one another is one of the most powerful things. The scriptures say that the testimonies of Jesus, one of the things we need to do, and I thank you for doing it, is I need to hear other testimonies. There are times when my faith is weak, and I can live on the history of somebody else for just a short time. So I just want to say thank you for including me in this.
Ray: Well, folks, check us out on online. If you’re not a regular subscriber, you can subscribe for your podcast at Stitcher. You can subscribe there at the iTunes store as well as the Google Play Store. Our website is bottomlinefaith.org. Also, if you are a Christ follower, and you own or run a business, you’re in top-level leadership, and you’re looking for a transformational community experience, we’d love for you to check out and learn about the Truth At Work roundtable program. You can learn about that at truthatwork.org. Again, today’s guest has been Steve Znachko, the president and CEO at Znachko Associates in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am your host at the Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert. Thanks for joining us and until next time, God bless and stay faithful in the marketplace.