Today’s guest is Will Devinney, Leave of Absence and Disability Coordinator at Petsmart.
“God’s given you the tools to succeed, and if you use those tools properly you’ll get exactly where you need to go and you’ll influence the people that need to be influenced the most… We deal with people every single day that are impressionable; what impression are you leaving on them?”
Adam: My name is Adam Ritz. If you’re looking for me on Twitter, @adamritz. I’m a co-host along with your main host, Ray Hilbert. Ray, how are you?
Ray: Doing terrific today, Adam, and we are so excited to be back in studio. It seems like God’s been bringing us some great guests as of late, as he always does here at Bottom Line Faith. So we’re going to have a great time again today.
Adam: The pressure’s on for today’s guest, because these shows keep getting better and better and better, and the momentum continues today.
Ray: Well, folks, as I mentioned, I am Ray Hilbert, your co-host here at Bottom Line Faith, also the co-founder of Truth At Work. In addition to finding this show at bottomlinefaith.org, you can learn more about the ministry of Truth At Work at truthatwork.org. And what we’re all about there at Truth At Work is about helping godly leaders live and lead at a higher level and the leadership of their companies, their businesses and their organizations, and you can learn more about that at our website. But today, for the Bottom Line Faith show, we have Mr. Will Devinney. Now I’m going to take a deep breath, because this is a long title. We were talking about this offline; it says he is the Senior Leave of Absence and Disabilities Administrator for PetSmart. Now for many of you, I’m sure you’re familiar with PetSmart. I was telling Will offline that we visit that place quite a bit; they get a lot of our money for our two dogs and cats. And so if nothing else, Will, we’re a pleased and satisfied customer spending a lot of money and I’m trying to support your job, so welcome to the show, Will. Will, take just a moment; we’ve got some specific questions we’ll be getting into. But why don’t you tell us just a little bit about what is your role there at PetSmart, and then we’ll come back and learn the story of how you ended up there.
Will: Sure. So PetSmart has 55,000 associates across the United States, also in Canada and Puerto Rico. And basically I oversee the process of a team who does any leaves, so your FMLA leaves, and they also oversee the accommodation. So anytime that somebody needs an accommodation, we oversee that whole process.
Ray: Very good. And how long have you been with PetSmart?
Will: Nine years.
Ray: Fantastic. Well, Adam, as we know here at Bottom Line Faith, what we really try to do on this show, the analogy we like to use is like that car sitting there. We’re going to lift the hood, and we’re going to tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership. And so we want to learn how the high-capacity, high-profile Christian leader, how they work, how they lead, how they learned their lessons, and so forth. So why don’t you kick off a little bit at some of the questions we want to ask Will today.
Adam: Well, it’s interesting with PetSmart, that is an enormous – pardon the pun – it’s an enormous animal. How many locations nationwide?
Will: There’s over 1,500 locations and we have 12 distribution centers that we serve.
Adam: So we talk to a lot of business leaders that own their own business, family-owned business, maybe, less than 50 employees. So you’re involved with a group with thousands of employees nationwide. How, I guess, does your faith exist day to day within your job title with an organization that large?
Will: You know, Ray and I talked offline as well. And basically, I told him, you know, when you talk to someone they should know, they know that you’re a Christ follower, and that your leadership just shows in that. So a lot of the conversation that I have you get down to it, and they’ll ask you, or they’ll say, well, you pray for me. Because they can tell by the type of person that you are, when you talk to.
Adam: You know, just thinking, I guess, worst case scenario, any pushback from the non-believers that work for pet smart?
Will: You know, no, but I will tell you over the last couple years, one of the biggest things that I’ve seen, you know, just in business in general, is you have a lot of people who do push back and it’s not even the people that do the day to day work, but it’s the leaders. And I think that you probably saw that in the last political race. You see people that are pushing back because of their faith and you struggle with that. But what I’ve come to realize is Christ lets us do what we need to do. And sometimes you don’t even have to say, and they’ll come back to a lot of times and say, “you said something that just struck me in a fashion that I have some questions.”
Adam: Questions are good.
Will: Very much so.
Ray: And on that note, we’ve got many. First question that I’d like to just kind of continue on with here, Will, is just tell us a little bit about your background. You currently live in the Phoenix, Arizona area working there with PetSmart but just a quick snapshot on the personal side of your upbringing and a little bit about you.
Will: Sure, I grew up in a good Christian home. So my parents instilled that in us how important it is to live out that faith to be a good person day in and day out. And then with that really just came, started off, got married, had a couple kids and then God always tugged on my heart that I had to do more than what was out there. And so my wife and I prayed long and hard about it and we decided that we wanted to foster a couple of kids and we went through that process for several years. And then we found three that were their forever homes. So we have three adopted children on top of our three biological children and wouldn’t change that for the world.
It was a great process that we went through. It took about five years but in that process I was able to leverage my PetSmart and do some different things with the organization that we had fostered through, so we were able to to do some donations at the store levels where we were able to donate over 2,000 animals couple years in a row to foster children who wouldn’t get anything at Christmas. And they were able to get stuffed animals and things like that, so that’s pretty pretty exciting stuff.
Ray: And so where did you grow up?
Will: Grew up in Indianapolis on just on the north side. Graduated from high school, took the long commutes if I just kind of went that route but stayed in business stuff. So I think leadership is very important. And that’s kind of the route that I’ve taken my life.
Ray: Well, fantastic. Well, if we could, let’s transition to just some of the leadership lessons you’ve learned and some of the things you’ve been through. As you think back over your career at a day to day level, how does your faith impact how you make decisions? Maybe even think about an example of that. But talk to us about that.
Will: Sure. So a lot of times, what you find is that people will come to you with one situation and it’s really more than just that. And when you start digging down and you start finding out that it’s more than what they’re telling you, that’s when you can kind of take that person apart and ask them the questions and different things. The one situation that I can think of is I had a young lady who worked for me a number of years ago who was a single mother and was was doing the best she could with having two kids that were young. She made some decisions that weren’t the best. Didn’t hurt the business.
But they were hurting her, and so kind of taking that female aside and talking to her and explaining what you want to do and different things and to see her in a different capacity years later not working for the same company, but she’s in a leadership role. So I have to think back and say I made some decisions and some conversations with her that caused her to want to be a better person. I think that’s important as you start picking them apart and finding that there’s more than what they’re telling you on the surface.
Ray: That’s really good. So pets, you know, dogs and cats and goldfish have nothing to do with your job.
Will: No, not not anymore. That’s right. It’s all people. It’s all people and I think that’s leadership. You lead teams and sometimes your team is one or two and sometimes your team’s forty, fifty, sixty. And you know, sometimes your teams are bigger than that.
Ray: What’s on your plate right now?
Will: Right now I have a lot of associates that work with PetSmart that have accommodations that we have to meet as a company and business.
Ray: What do you mean by accommodations?
Will: You may have someone who you have simple ones where they’re pregnant, they need a stool to sit on. And then you have some where they can’t hear. And we hired them. We didn’t know that they couldn’t hear; we would never discriminate against them. And they’re some of the best employees. How do we help them? How can we make them better people, and give them the tools to succeed? And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. You hire them for a reason, and you got to help them get where they need to go.
Ray: What I find interesting is, as is often the case in business, in our capitalistic system, there’s a profit motive behind these kind of situations and accommodations that you’re describing. And yet they’re deeply rooted in biblical principles of loving thy neighbor and preferring one over another. I mean, it does work hand in hand, doesn’t it?
Will: Absolutely. The important thing is, you have to remember that we’re all in this together, and that’s what Christ tells us to do.
Ray: Well, let’s talk a little bit about as you think back over the course of your career. Will, what’s one of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make? And in that case, how did your faith play a role in that decision? You know, and leadership.
Will: There’s always those situations where you have to let someone go, whether it’s for the right reason or the wrong reason. And a lot of my hardest decisions are letting someone go, and I knew that they were good people they just made a bad decision. And Christ tells us that we have to forgive people and then leadership, it’s a two fold; you have to do what’s right for the business, but you also have to do what’s right by you. And that thing that I’ve always said I have to lay my head down on the pillow and I do the right thing for all parties involved.
A lot of times letting people go, that’s the hardest thing because you know they have a family and they just made a knee jerk reaction that wasn’t the best decision. Had this happen and another business that I was talking with not too long ago, where you have this amazing employee, single mom, two kids and she needed the accommodation to be home when her kids got off the school bus. She had no family in the area and she needed her children be cared for when they got off the school bus about three o’clock. Well, making that request to the employer was something they tried to honor. And yet, then it put a burden on the remaining employees there that may have to stay over a little bit later or take on additional tasks or projects. And so how do you balance that in this whole world of accommodations? Because what’s fair to one may cause unfairness to someone else. And I always tell people, every situation is different. And then you have to remember that when you’re talking to people, and they’ll say, but so and so. We’re just talking about you. How can we help you? Let’s work through this situation. If you have kids at all, that’s exactly what it is. That’s exactly what it is.
Ray: So those are some great illustrations and examples because those create tensions. Don’t think they really do, because that’s a good point. You did make that exception for one and why not for another? And it’s a case by case basis. So can you think of an example of maybe a mistake you made and how did your faith play a role in that?
Will: You know, a lot of times in leadership, you see something when someone and it’s a young quality and you make that decision, and you hope that it’s the right one. It’s not always the right decision. And you may take someone who’s new to leadership, and you may work with them and put a lot of time and effort into them. And you find that what you saw wasn’t exactly what it was. And I’ve had that happen where I’ve worked with someone for a long time and had those conversations and worked with them, but sometimes it’s just not the best decision and you have to go back to the drawing board and say, “Hey, we gave it everything that we had.”
Ray: Any thoughts on that?”
Adam: I’m still just enraptured with the fact that you have three foster kids that are now your kids. I know that had nothing to do– we’ll, I guess come back to that, but it’s just like it’s fantastic and I was thinking about PetSmart giving pets to foster kids and just how your whole world sort of is a symbiotic world with that charitable angle, that philanthropy, the kids, the pets. It’s just, I love the story. There’s a story, there’s a book you’re sitting on. What’s the title of that book?
Will: I guess the title of that book’s going to be, It Happens.
Ray: It Happens. I think life happens and people forget about that. You kind of roll with the punches, and you leave it up to God. That’s the most important thing. Leave it up to God. Let him drive the car.
Will: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Ray: Well, Adam, you mentioned a few moments ago, and you’re spot on that quite often on Bottom Line Faith, we’re interviewing CEOs and owners, privately held firms a lot of the times so here as we’re talking, you know, with you in studio today, well, you’re in a very large company. Large organization, there’s going to be some other leaders listening to our program, similar peers to you. Maybe they’re a manager in a larger organization, leading a team trying to sort out what this looks like to live out their faith and honor God, but maybe not always in an environment that’s conducive to that or perhaps even sometimes hostile to that. How would you encourage that leader? How would you encourage that person listening right now who’s listening to what you’re saying? But they’re wondering, hey, how can I do this?
Will: At the end of the day, you got to be truthful to yourself, you got to take care of yourself. And if you’re in those situations, you definitely have to pray about it. Is this the right situation for me? You know, God puts stepping stones in our lives all the time. And sometimes you have to step on those stepping stones and figure out exactly where you’re going to go and things like that. Look for the right decision. Look for the right choice. Ask other people, there’s Christian leaders all across every industry that are willing to talk to you about it. Ask them you know, if you’re having dinner with some friends, and you’re not even in the same industry. Just ask them how do you do it? You just got to talk you got to listen.
Ray: Yeah, well, this is really encouraging for me to listen how you go about this, right? And it feels like kind of natural, you let it flow. It doesn’t feel to me like you’re forcing it. And so in the course of day to day, how easy or difficult is it for you to discover other like-minded believers, even within your own company? How did those conversations occur?
Will: You know, a lot of times I think it happens over the lunch room table. You start talking to people about what they did over the weekend, and kids, different things. And I think those are some of the best conversations because they become themselves. There’s still a work here in the cafeteria, but you can have those conversations and they don’t feel like they’re being judged. And I think sometimes that’s the issue in today’s industries, is you’re finding that people don’t feel like they can be themselves all the time or talk openly about their faith.
Ray: And have you felt any hostility toward your faith at all? You mentioned maybe, but some other leaders but generally by and large, pretty well accepted.
Will: Absolutely, I think that you have to know the boundaries and sometimes and companies, that’s the hard thing is you sometimes you can’t talk about it. You just live it, and that’s difficult. And there are those companies that you can, and I’ve worked for those companies, and it’s the best feeling in the world. But they’re not all like that. You know them.
Ray: We’d say there’s two topics people aren’t supposed to talk about at work, right? When they’re on the clock, and that’s politics and religion, politics and religion. You know, because those are the hot beds, right? Those are the things that just trigger folks emotionally and but yet, well, you’re sharing with us that you’re able to, but it’s the way you go about it. Right? I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but I’m hearing it’s about serving, it’s about asking questions, and and really just loving folks. Would you agree?
Will: Absolutely. I think at the end of the day, we’re all people and just having those conversations will open the doors to a lot of places, whether it’s people you work day in, day out with, or people you just meet in passing.
Ray: So what advice would you give to another leader that’s listening to our discussion?
Will: I think I said it before, but you have to be truthful to yourself. It’s the most important thing. Never waver on what your beliefs are. Don’t let anybody steer you in the wrong direction. Because God’s giving you the tools to succeed.
And if you use those tools properly, you’ll get exactly where you need to go. And you influence the people that need to be influenced the most. I think a lot of times, that’s the most important thing is we deal with people every single day that are impressionable. What impression are you leaving on them? What are they going to walk away from? Let’s say you have leaders that get upset and they they yell and they want results. They don’t get them. It’s the same thing when you want results. And you have these conversations and you talk to them and you show them how important it is to just believe in what you believe. At the end of the day for me, it’s all about believing that I serve a God that’s above all and He will take care of my needs inside of the workplace and outside of the workplace.
Ray: That’s terrific. Well, I promised we would come back to this topic that I know is very near and dear to you, your heart and that is fostering children, adoption, those issues we’ve had other edition of Bottom Line Faith where we’ve interviewed leaders in that field, in that industry and Adam, I think we’d agree some of the most powerful conversations we’ve had.
Adam: It is through the roof. Powerful.
Ray: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about that. Where that desire came from, what that did for you, your marriage, the children involved, just what do we need to know about that?
Will: Well, first let me just say, I’m blessed. I have a wife who supported me. This was a decision that I had long before her and I had ever met. And I explained that, you know, when we first started dating and how important it was to me. I didn’t know that it was going to turn into adoption, but I wanted to change kids’ lives. There are so many kids out there that are impressionable and we’re talking about leaders and that’s what a leader does. And there are situations where my wife and I’ve had kids who were with us for less than a week and these kids now they walk away knowing the type of people that we are and how important it is to be faithful to your God and to serve Him. And it’s the little things from praying at night before dinner to no matter what happens, we talk about it, we pray about it, and having those conversations with those kids that are so impressionable. You’re molding their minds and a lot of these kids they’ve never had that. They’ve never been in a situation where it was okay to talk about God and having those kids who are really sure that are so impressionable you know, preteens and teenagers that they just need someone to point them in the right direction.
And then, you know, for me, it’s I had this epiphany a long time ago. And, you know, my wife and I prayed about it for a long time. And when we had this epiphany and we prayed about it, it was something that we worked out with our biological children.
Now this is a family decision. You know, we’re bringing kids in that they don’t have the best pass all the time. And our kids were on board, you know, blessed to have our kids on board and we had some rough situations and it was okay. We talked about it. We prayed about it. And we explain to our kids, they’re blind spot. We’re trying to help them. You can’t help all of them. Takes a special person for that special kid. But very close to my heart. I think that every every kid deserve something. The state of Indiana right now, we have a ton of kids that are in foster care. We have a need for foster parents and these are kids that they just need to be loved. They just need a chance.
Ray: I have to ask, you know, you’re a fairly young guy and you said that this is something you thought of before you even met your wife. So how old were you when you said, you know what, I think I’m going to be a foster parent?
Will: I was talking to my parents about this not too long ago after we finalized our last adoptions, and my mom says she recalls I was probably 13-14 years old. And I don’t know if it was something on TV. I’m not sure. But I just knew that I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Ray: That’s pretty impressive. You know, when I was 13, I was worried about, you know, the Walkman. Not worried about, you know, I think I should look into this foster parenting. So, Will, I kind of want to just put myself in a situation where I’m listening to this program right now and thinking, Wow, that sounds interesting. But what kind of obstacles did you overcome? Wow, this could really make life difficult. I don’t want to endanger my other kids. I’m sure all these questions went through your mind and your wife’s mind. How’d you process all that and what you find out to be true?
Will: So I will tell you the partner there. There are so many different agencies out there that will help you with this and they will answer your questions, they will lead you in a direction that is going to be good for your family. And the other thing is if you get in the situations that aren’t the best, they’re going to back you up and there are agencies all over the United States that are willing to do this. And they’re good Christian agencies who have the same principles that you have and you can speak freely about it; you can tell them exactly what you’re thinking, issues that you have you pick up the phone. And so I would say partner, partner, partner and you’ll get answers. You can go on the internet and literally type in foster care agencies, and people write them. It’s just like any restaurant you go to. Go with the higher ones were either reviews there’s really good ones out there.
Ray: Okay. What’s the biggest myth that you found to not be true about this whole fostering and adoption process?
Will: I’d say the biggest myth is that they’re all bad kids. Because they’re not. Most of the kids that we had come in and out of our house are great kids. They just had some unfortunate back whether it was from their biological parents, it was from family members, wrong place, wrong time. So they’re all good kids. So I would say the biggest myth is just they’re good kids.
Ray: How many would you say over the years? 30?
Will: I mean easily.
Ray: Some you had a night, some you had a week. Kidding. They just need to find somewhere for them to go before they can get family members licensed. So you find that, but I’ll be honest with you, you make a connection with a lot of them and I see some real parallels here between the heart that goes into being sensitive and in tune with the process of fostering and adoption and then being that servant leader at work. Would you say there’s some parallels there?
Will: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Especially in my job, I deal with a lot of people who do. I will tell you, not knowing this but when you’re looking for companies, look at their benefits. What did they have for adoption? That says a lot about the company. If you have a company that’s willing to help you with adoption fees, or you have a company who’s willing to give you paid time off for adoptions, that says a lot about a company.
Ray: Yeah, I think one of the famous ones is Dave Thomas. Founder of Wendy’s, right? By the way. Here’s a little bit of trivia. Do you know why Wendy’s hamburgers or square and not round?
Adam: Oh no.
Ray: Will, you know?
Will: I would just guess that they fit in a packaging more easily to store.
Ray: Yeah. Well, if this were a live show, I’d have a call in right now. First caller that’s right wins a copper mug or something, maybe a hamburger. But the reality of it was when Dave Thomas started Wendy’s, he says, “Our hamburgers are going to be square because we’re never going to cut corners.” So there was a business decision made that was kind of an object lesson of how they were going to do business. We’re not going to cut corners. And so that’s why they left their hamburgers.
Adam: Did they ever have that as a slogan early on? I don’t think they dropped right?
Ray: Yeah. Anyway, that may be our first moment of useless trivia here on Bottom Line Faith although it’s probably not all that useless. First of many. That says a lot. Well folks, we are getting to the tail end of our interview with Will Devinney, and he is the Senior Leave of Absence and Disabilities Administrator with PetSmart. His job is to really come alongside their employees at 55,000 and those who have special needs and need accommodations so that they can continue working there. That’s really Will’s job there. And as we’ve just learned, he’s also a very passionate advocate for foster care and adoption. So Will, believe it or not, we are at the end. Why these programs go quick. Don’t get asked this half hour of your life as it always is.
And so we have a kind of a history and a tradition here at Bottom Line Faith that the last question is what we call our 4:23 question and it’s based out of Proverbs 4:23 were Solomon writes that above all else, guard your heart for from it flows the wellspring of life. And we always like to tell the story that there are many biblical scholars that believe that these were among the last words that Solomon wrote. What we know about Solomon is he wrote, you know, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and those sorts of things. And he was believed to be the wisest, richest man in the history of the world, at least at that point. And so some people believe these may have been among his last words on earth. And so that maybe he had gathered his family, his loved ones around him, and basically he’s saying, “Okay, I know I wrote all these pearls of wisdom, but now above all else, here’s what I want you to remember: guard your heart.” So Will, let’s fast forward. It’s the end of your time on this side of eternity and you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those that you have invested in. What is your above all else advice? In other words, above all else… now fill in the blank.
Will: Be true to yourself. Be very true to yourself. I think that’s the most important thing. God gave us all talents. What does he say? I gave 5,000, I gave 2,000, I gave 1,000. Into the person that I gave the 5,000 to that invested in did right with it. I’m going to take care of your thoughts on that.
Adam: Good stuff. Well, you know, it’s cool that while you were asking the question, Ray, I was thinking I bet he’s going to say be true to yourself. Because he had mentioned that a couple times and there’s nothing wrong with having that be a reiteration and another answer or the same answer to a different question because really, there are thousands of questions where if the answer is be true to yourself, you’re a winner.
Ray: It’s a great tidbit, nugget of advice to anybody listening to this show who’s struggling with faith or otherwise struggling with business, struggling with her family, struggling with a major decision. Being true to yourself; if you’re true to yourself, you really there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong. So I’m glad you said that. I kind of was expecting you to say, and I’m glad you did. Very good. Well, any closing thoughts as we wind up the program?
Will: No, I appreciate it. I hope that people are listening to this and understand that you can be a leader you can do exactly what God has called you to do in all aspects of your life.
Ray: Yeah, well, I have to tell you back to what I said earlier, you know about being a customer and shopping at PetSmart I am even more pleased that that’s where I spend a lot of our dollars for our pets that are a big part of our family. But just to know that God has placed leaders like you there and ministering to the teammates and Associates there, that just makes me feel all the much better about that. So you’re representing not only the Lord but the company quite well. Well, folks, this is Ray Hilbert co-host at Bottom Line Faith, along with Adam Ritz and Adam, closing comment?
Adam: One last question, Will from PetSmart. Is it true do all dogs go to heaven?
Will: In my eyes? Yes. Yeah, absolutely. At least those that shop at PetSmart. Yes.
Ray: Alright, well Will, thanks for joining us. For our listeners, if you’re a one timer check out all of our shows, past podcasts and broadcasts along with information about writing myself at BottomLineFaith.org. We thank you for joining us folks. We’ll see you next time. God bless.