Jeff Williams started his career as an entrepreneur by establishing and nurturing customer relationships. He quickly leveraged his drive, vision and passion for business to become owner and CEO of FF&S, a consulting firm that specializes in enterprise business materials management.
Since taking over full ownership of the company in January 2011, FF&S has tripled in size reaching banks from Vermont to California.
1:21– A little about FF&S
3:46– What was the process of buying FF&S?
5:54– Some advice for your 20-year-old self
8:02– My testimony
8:48– When did you first start to see yourself as having that entrepreneurial edge and want to be a business owner?
10:57– How do you try to live out your faith in the marketplace on a daily basis?
12:51– Share a tough time when you were challenged to really live out your faith.
17:02– A piece of encouragement
19:14– What resources do you use to grow as a leader?
23:00– What do you want to be true of you and your company fifteen years from now?
26:06– The 4:23 Question
Ray: Well, hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, and if this is the first time that you joined the program, we’d like to thank you for checking us out and welcome to the program when the analogy that we like to use your Bottom Line Faith it’s where we like to lift the hood and we tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership in the marketplace. Well, folks, I am really, really excited to welcome to the show today someone who has become one of my dearest friends in life, welcome to the show today, Jeff Williams who is the CEO of FF&S, Jeff welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Jeff: Thank you, Ray, glad to be here.
Ray: Just a little bit about the company how you join or got involved with FF&S, tell us a little bit about what you guys doing and what a client looks like that kind of thing.
Jeff: Sure, sure FF&S was started in 1986 and we’re primally calling on the banking industry for their print business, print being brochures, the printing world not copy machines, and so when we go out and we’re looking for a prospect, for looking for any customer, but was specifically more a bank that is spread out nationally. So the more branches they have, the more spread out that they are, the more added value were going to bring to them. So the four main areas, we’ve printed, we have ad promotional so, your pens and mugs and some shirts, anything with your name on it. Bank pacific, ATM supplies, teller supplies, bags, things that you don’t know about since you’re not in the banking industry and then office supplies, so those four areas we put them all on to the website and then the branches or different departments within a bank or a large national institution would come to order those products and then we can fulfill those draw warehouses that are spread out across the nation and then at the end of every month the great part about what we have is we were able to give the institution all their cost accounting is done for all of their supplies, right there at their fingertips, which is a big added value, so not only the printing industry but we’re in distribution as well as reporting.
Ray: That’s turnkey, that’s logistics, the financial structure, the whole nine yards.
Jeff: Correct. Correct.
Ray: That is really amazing, and so maybe just help us understand the geographical scope of your client base?
Jeff: Sure, so we have clients from Vermont to California, but our main stomping grounds would be the Midwest, the Southeast and then out West- California, Colorado, Wyoming or are our primary states out west. But really could service anybody on a national scale so we’re currently working in thirty-three States.
Ray: Yeah, and kind of going down memory lane here I remember you came on at a sales role for the company and at some point you realized that you wanted to buy the business, you wanted to become the owner. Just how long ago was that and kind of like what was that process like for you?
Jeff: Sure, I was encouraged a few years back to tell my story more often and sometimes it embarrasses me, so there are the parts of this that are embarrassing. Starting with very start the owner of FF&S, which used to be Financial Forms and Systems, was my neighbor growing up so, I had been working for him since I was twelve and doing odd jobs, watering trees, mowing lawns and I when I got out of college he said “Hey, I want you to come interview with me for a sales position.” I said “That’s great, that’s exactly what I’m looking for is sales.” and I told him in the first interview that I would like to buy his company someday and looking back on that now I just shake my head and think, Jeff that was that was aggressive, that was aggressive, and I didn’t mean it that way,I was just being honest and so day one, Frank was his name, know that I was interested and he said “Hey, if you go out and double us in size, I’ll take a look at bringing you on as a partner and so fast forward three years later, I was the third employee, at that time at Financial Forms and Systems, and fast forward three years later I had doubled us in size and asked Frank to go to lunch and he knows exactly what I was going to be bringing up and we were able to work out a five-year transition for him. To for me to transition in and for Frank to transition out. So, this is 15 years ago, to start, I guess. So three years in, we’re business partners for five years and then it was eights years ago that I that I bought him out fully. So, you know, we now have thirty-eight employees, if you can believe that and I we started off with around thirty or so banks and now we have over 300 Banks and credit unions nationally.
Ray: So you’ve been at this now for a decade and a half, if you could kinda go back and get your twenty-year-old self some advice, I’m going back on the number of years, what advice would you have for the twenty-year-old you?
Jeff: Yeah, I think it’s especially in your youth and I’m not ancient by any means, but I’m definitely not in my twenties anymore. You’re just so gung-ho and I was definitely just chomping at the bit to get out there and make some things happen and I think I just maybe didn’t do a very good job of making sure that I was enjoying the ride and I know a lot of people say that, but it’s so easy when you’re in your twenties and not realize that every day is basically your glory years, every day, the way that I look at it anymore, this is, I’m living in my glory years right now, today driving through the middle of nowhere, or flying somewhere, or whatever delayed flights in Chicago, or whatever it may be, I just try to look at it as like, this is a story that I’m going to laugh about and tell my kids about, or tell young men and women in our sales force about someday, so that’s why I think to enjoy that ride and I still have a long ride to go, God willing, and I’m doing my best every day to enjoy it no matter what.
Ray: I really love what you just shared here, about, really what you’re talking about his living in the moment and it seems like we always chase success, it’s out there somewhere but if we can just have graduated for what God has for us today there is joy to be found. By the way, Jeff just tell us where the company is headquartered, I don’t think we caught that earlier.
Jeff: Yes, we are in Anderson, Indiana we just moved from Noblesville into a bigger facility, in Anderson, right on 69 if you’re familiar, if you’re from the state or driving through the state you see the big Nestle Bunny, you’re really close to us, we’re the next big warehouse to your left swing on in and we’d love to chat with you.
Ray: Listeners may not know this, but that is my hometown I spent the first twenty-four years of my life in Anderson, Indiana. So, Jeff, lets talk a little bit about faith, lets talk a little it about your walk with Christ, and we’re going to talk in a moment about the role your faith plays in business and in your leadership, but tell us a little bit about your journey, how you came to be a follower of Christ.
Jeff: Yeah, I was raised in the in the church and, you know that doesn’t, you still have to accept Christ, right, and so and youth group I think it’s around twelve-years-old so realized that I had been going to church my whole life but just hadn’t accepted Christ yet, even though I would have considered myself as a follower of Christ and so at that point I accepted Him into my life and finished out my high school years going to youth group and church camp and all those fun memories and just living out Christ whenever I could.
Ray: And, so you knew very early on that you were going to want to buy into the business when you got hired by Frank, right? But take us back to the college days dis you see yourself as a business owner then, or what was that like, or when did you first start releasing yourself with that entrepreneurial edge about you?
Jeff: Yeah, I actually remember that distinctively I didn’t know what I wanted to do other than I enjoyed business so I was a finance major and throughout College just wasn’t really catching a vision I thought maybe I want to be a financial advisor, but senior year, second semester so right up to the very end and I we had, a I took a corse at Olivette in entrepreneurial business and sales and we had to build a bit, do our own business plan and build a business and then presents to some professors as well some local business folks and then they would pick the winner of this competition and I, we had started a sporting good store, you know quote on quote started, right, a sporting good store and I had an uncle who was selling this piece of baseball equipment that Ken Griffey Jr., had promoted and so I was up there like this is right out of the market, this is hot on the market, this is going to be huge and I’m up there in front of this board of directors, is what they were called, just how that we are going to set the world on fire with this product at our new sporting good store, I and I got done I was like, holy cow, that was fun, that was great and that’s when I knew I wanted to be involved, not only in owning a business, but sales within a business and we got second place in that, you know, I’m not spiteful of it at all, but I do remember, I do remember that specifically, that we got second place, I keep that in the back of my mind as I’m out selling now for FF&S.
Ray: Whatever happened to the winners, do you know?
Jeff: I don’t know, I should look that up, I’m sure that they’re doing great.
Ray: Maybe they’re working for you and you just don’t know it.
Jeff: I think they’re actually CPAS now.
Ray: Okay, makes sense, fantastic. So, I know that your faith is important to you so let’s transition lets talk a little bit of faith and business and how do you try to live out your faith as a follower of Christ in a very challenging, fast-paced marketplace some might, at times it feels cut throat perhaps even, what’s that like for you, what’s does it look like to live out your faith on a daily basis?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s not easy and that’s something that I want to make sure that I speak to today is that, the challenges of that, I don’t want to sit here today and act like it’s all rainbows and unicorns at FF&S, it’s not, it’s very difficult to live out your faith every day when you have the world coming at you, in every which direction and so to be honest I have one of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was getting a board of advisors and we’ve had that board of advisors for thirteen years and that’s been huge so when I’m having a rough day, if I have a hard decision to make, I can always call my five board members at just the snap of a finger, they’re always available, most of them are retired, some of them are not but a few of them are retired and always available to be able to call them up and say this is what’s going on, you know, I’m going through a really tough stretch and you know what most of the times it’s something that someone else is already, they’ve already been through it, which number one makes me feel better, but two then just to get some Godly advice from them it is huge and so I don’t have the answer other than that is that I always try to keep Christ at the focus and then I always try to surround myself with Godly men and women that can, on my board and then actually within, obviously, in my True at Work group as well, that I can seek out wise counsel.
Ray: Yeah, and its tough difficult scenarios come our way. sometimes people that we have invested in heavily over long period of time, leave, they go to work in other places and so forth so give us an example or two where your face or at least perhaps, not necessarily your character, but you’ve felt like an attack has been placed on you, that really did challenge you to be consistent in living out your faith, that really challenged you to live out that life of Christian Integrity when all the circumstances and details were against you doing that. Does anything come to mind?
Jeff: Oh, yeah, most definitely.
Ray: Do we need another hour?
Jeff: We might need at least an hour. but the short version was, I’ve been able to acquire other businesses over the years in the printing, industry it’s an older industry a lot of the men and women in the industry either the owners are getting up there and need a succession plan and so I had met a gentleman who I ended up buying out and we, through the due diligence of that we were both believers and in that process, through that process there was a riff that happened and that was probably one of the toughest points of my life, darkest points of my life going through what turned into a lawsuit and just that process I was not familiar with but how they try to break you down basically on your ethics and who you are as a person, that’s what I stand on every day and so to have someone come out come out you, and not him but the attorneys, was really a changing point for me and my thought process and looking back on it now my board members and other advisors really helped me through that and the advice that they gave me was it wasn’t a big number it wasn’t ended up not being a huge deal but they advised what was what a great time to take and learn from that at a very early age and be able to move forward in a more positive manner and so it was really tough of the time, but in the long run I learned so much from that situation and in much larger acquisition deals I’ve been able to avoid some of the mistakes that happened in that in that scenario. So, I don’t know if that helps.
Ray: It does and I actually just want to camp there for a moment because I couldn’t tell you how many times and I’m sure you have too, I’ve heard the statement, you know, this isn’t personal it’s business and in a time like what you’re just describing, it sure feels personality and everything feels under attack. So, how do you, you and I’ve known each other for long time so I know there’s been many challenges. How do you, as a follower of Christ, keep perspective, how do you keep your emotions in check, how do you get when you really in your heart of hearts believe you’re being wrong or you’re certainly not an agreement with how these things are playing out, what’s that look like for you and how does it how does your faith play a role in that part of it all?
Jeff: Sure, and it’s really funny that we’re even talking about that cuz I didn’t know that would even come up today, but he’s been on my heart and I think that at the time it’s very hard to see through the situation because of all the emotions but if you can just make it through that and then figure out how to digest everything that’s happened and just honestly forgive and so I’ve reached out to that gentleman since, we’ve had breakfast, it’s been a few years it didn’t go as I planned, but I know that was what God put on my heart to reach out to him and now, this is so funny, but just within the last seven days as I was driving through Arkansas last week he came back onto my heart again to reach back out and so I really believe rather the person will meet with you or not, that just making that effort to say “Hey, let’s get together.” whether it’s just for coffee or for some breakfast and as believers, or if they’re not a Believer, you know, just basic burry the hatchet once and for all cuz it’s just not worth living with that tension, I guess, if you don’t let go of it.
Ray: I really appreciate that and so I think this should be an ideal time for us to kind of ask this question. What encouragement, what advice would you have for somebody who right now as they’re listening to this, they’re tight around the axle, they’re bent up around the axle, around someone who’s done them wrong, a business deal that’s gotten sideways, a relationship that’s gotten strained or stressed. What encouragement, what advice would you give them right now, on how to proceed in that scenario?
Jeff: I think that God’s love is just so much stronger than we can give it any worldly credit for and if you, were you’re at, if you’re struggling with that right now, if you can just release it and let it go how powerful that will be for your life and to truly forgive that person and move on and they might, whether you reach out to not, if you do reach out they might think it’s completely silly and they might not even meet with you, but I think that’s part of the release, is at least making that phone call and not an email, in my opinion, but that’s just old school old Jeff here talking, but at least a phone call or voice mail to say “I’d like to meet,” and its on good terms, “and would like to bury this with you.” and just release it, because His love so powerful and I think that you’re in turn, your, what is the word I’m trying to think of, your daily life will just be that much better, just because you’ve let it go, and let God just love on it.
Ray: Yeah and forgiveness is the one thing, that it’s like a cancer in our soul, right, that eats away at us, and it’s really not a good thing, so I think that’s really great and you modeled that, right you’ve shared about examples of that. That, hopefully, if you’re listening and that’s where you’re at right now, you might just be surprised, you might just as Jeff said reach out with a phone call, invite to a breakfast or a coffee, or some type of conversion, take that first step. There is a passage in Galatians, that says “You who are spiritual, forgive.” You who are spiritual forget- it’s not an option, it’s not a suggestion, it’s a direct commandment in the word of God for us as followers of Christ. So, there is kind of a higher bar for us right as followers of Christ in the marketplace. So you’re still fairly young, got a great family, two daughters, life is going good, business is growing, where do you learn? What are you learning? You know, where do you get your saw sharpened? What kind of environment do, you what books do you read, what people do you hang out with to grow as a leader?
Jeff: you know, I’m searching out even more than ever for young aggressive Christian business owners, like myself, just to hang out you know. I mean I think it’s it’s really good most of the folks that I’m hanging out with her maybe ten-fifteen years older than myself. That’s been fantastic, the wisdom that they’ve given me has helped me to make fewer mistakes and fast-forward my business just that much faster, but now I’m really starting to seek out and I can’t really tell you today how, because I’m still on that journey but of seeking out some younger Christian folks are entrepreneurial, that want to continue to preserve the culture of their Christian companies just like I am. So, that’s part of something new for me that I’m seeking, something I’ve already been doing is seeking, you know, wise counsel and folks older than myself. One book that I’ve read recently that was really great was “Multiplier”, simple when you’re reading it like this is such a “Duh”, like why am I not doing this, but so powerful, we started to implement most of that book into our company on January 2nd, we had a breakdown session where we just break down that entire and now we’re building it back up basically, based on those principles of that book. That’s been a really, probably one of the best books I’ve read within the last five years. So thanks to a gentleman who gave that to me to read on my sabbatical, shout out to Eric.
Ray: There you go. You just mentioned an interesting word. Your sabbatical, tell our audience what you mean by that, what that looked like. I think that’s a very fascinating thing that you’ve done.
Jeff: Yeah, every 10 years that at FF&S full-time, all full-time employees get one month off paid and they are encouraged to go out and do something that is near and dear to their heart that drives them, something they’ve always wanted to do and just go out and do that during that time and to seek rest during that time as well and don’t worry about FF&S, we will be here when you get back and so fifteen years in I finally got to take my ten-year sabbatical and it was fantastic, I took the whole entire family, and got away and it was a great time to re-charge, red and do somethings that I wanted to do up in Scandinavia.
Ray: I’m sure that was a great time of just a restoration and seeing things from a different perspective, right?
Jeff: Most definitely in the fact that the company is not built on Jeff Williams, the company is FF&S and they can run and did a great job without me was a real encouragement.
Ray: That is fantastic, for anyone in our audience that wants to learn more about your company what’s the best way that they could find you?
Jeff: Sure they could reach out to us at ffsolutions.com or they can drop me an email at email@example.com and I’d love to chat with them, not only about what we do but honestly just being an encouragement to them about what I’ve experienced in the last fifteen years of being in business. Iron sharpens iron right and I’m a strong believer that we need to be sticking closer together as a body of Christ.
Ray: We need each other.
Jeff: We do need each other.
Ray: We need that encouragement. So let’s fast-forward the clock, you’ve been in business, let’s say a decade and a half, let’s say its a decade and a half from now, what do you want to be true of you and your company fifteen years from now?
Jeff: Great question, you hit me pretty good here today. You know, I think two things, I’ll talk about business wise is I have a saying that’s “Always stay hungry.” it’s so easy that once you hit a certain plateau to maybe coast and I don’t want that to ever be part of my company’s DNA, I always want us to be pushing forward if there is an edge on the edge in the printing industry we are definitely there, I always, I want to be the disruptor and not be complacent so, on the business side that would be what would be enjoyable to see on the business side. When it comes to the faith side we go to the Dominican Republic each year and do a home build and so we’re five years deep into that, three years with FF&S running it and it’s just something that’s really near and dear to my heart, so to take employees down there and for them to see how blessed we are in the U.S. and maybe even have a shot at experiencing Christ down there. I would 100% want to see that growing, we were able to do two homes this year, this is our first year doing two back in November and so now we’re thinking what’s next, I mean, I even in Vision maybe our own little complex, you know, not a complex of homes down there and we’re now talking about with our team of, okay we’re building these homes how can we bring economic help to that area so we’re, Jeff Williamson of Olivet Nazarene and I are looking at. as well Scott Weghorst, looking at about how to bring a training center down there to start training these folks skills so that they can sustain their families. So seeing that twenty years from now, to see that growing, and I don’t know were, we’re just trailblazing down there right now just to see that doing something for the Dominican would be a huge part of what I’d love to see.
Ray: Seems like only yesterday you were taking that first mission trip.
Jeff: Oh,I know, exactly it’s been an amazing journey for sure it’s very rarely do I at least, where you know you’re in the spot where God wants you at that one particular time and place and three years in a row now, it’s it’s been made evident that’s exactly where I was supposed to be in that’s a pretty powerful.
Ray: Well folks, I can’t believe it, we’re at the end of other incredible conversation here at Bottom Line Faith and Jeff, just thank you, you’ve really given us a glimpse inside your journey and inside your heart and in frankly some practical techniques and strategies that you’re using to live out your faith in the marketplace rather it’s giving someone in a difficult situation or giving your employees the opportunity for sabbatical and rest and renewal or just this ongoing mission work, its incredible. So our regular listeners here at Bottom line face know that the last question I asked every single interview, I don’t think we have failed yet, is what we call our 4:23 question and it’s based out of Proverbs chapter 4 verse 23 were Solomon writes “Above all else guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” and so, Jeff, I want you to fast forward to the end of your time 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 get to pass along like the single most import piece of advice to them. So fill in the blank for us. “Above all else…”
Jeff: Wow. Above all else, your walk with Christ needs to be the center of your life and you need to use his love to love on others because loving on others will affect generationally.
Ray: Pretty simple and yet profound. Above all else put our love for Christ at the forefront.
Jeff: That’s what they’re saying about raising kids, since I’m a pretty new dad here is that there’s nothing better than to make sure they accept Christ, right, so that is where my head’s at right now and I’m a simple guy, you know that, so I don’t need all the bells and whistles I just need the simple talk so.
Ray: Well, Jeff, thanks for joining the program today, what a treasure it has been to have a chance for us to sit down like this, as friends. but also just to get this story recorded to put it out there. Just thanks for joining us here at Bottom Line Faith.
Jeff: You bet thanks for having me, Ray.
Ray: Well, folks, there you have it another edition of Bottom Line Faith in the history books and this is just always so much fun to have to get to talk to some of America’s leading Christ-followers who are leading and running businesses and organizations and are very serious and intentional about living out their faith in the marketplace. Well as we close here, just a reminder if you’re not a regular subscriber go to bottomlinefaith.org, and scroll down to the bottom on the page there and became a regular listener of the program you can sign up using iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, all the normal podcast platforms there as well and if you are a Christ follower and you are interested in checking out a round table group where you would have the opportunity to meet with a group of your peers on a regular basis, where we wrestle with what it looks like to lead and run an organization based on biblical principles check out the tab called “Round Table” at truthatwork.org we would love to have a conversation to possibly plug you into one of the round tables meeting in a city near you. Well folks until next time, I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith, Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to live out your face each and every day in the marketplace God bless and we’ll see you next time.