David Green has never forgotten what his mother used to say to him back when he was just starting out in the retail business, at a five and dime store chain called TG&Y.
“I can recall back when I was the youngest TG&Y manager,” Green said in a 2009 interview, “going home and saying, ‘Hey Mom, I’m the youngest TG&Y manager,’ She said, ‘Oh yeah, what are you doing for the Lord?’ I would make district manager. I would be the youngest district manager and I would say, ‘Hey Mom, I’m the youngest district manager, I‘ve got 30 stores.’ Whatever. ‘Yeah David, but what are you doing for the Lord?’ ”
That’s part of the reason that Green has worked so hard to give back out of the blessings God has showered upon him as founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby. David Green believes that life holds nothing of lasting value unless he places God at the center of every part of his life.
Green, 71, founded Hobby Lobby in 1970 as Greco Products, a miniature picture frames company he started in his garage with a $600 loan. Today, Hobby Lobby has more than 500 stores across the United States, offering more than 65,000 products.
Lives to Spread the Word
Green’s witness has reached the highest levels of the world’s financial community. He has appeared multiple times on the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest people, most recently in 2012 with an estimated net worth of $4 billion. Green’s Christian witness is evident to all: in 2006, Forbes wrote that Green “lives to spread the word.”
But what matters most to David Green, just as his mother taught him, is answering that question: “what are you doing for the Lord?”
God has given him the chance to set an example for the retail industry in generosity toward his employees. He sets minimum wage for both full- and part-time employees at far above the legal standard ($13 and $9 per hour, respectively). Green also demonstrates caring for his employees by limiting store operations to 66 hours per week and closing completely on Sunday.
“We feel like we are responsible for those people God put in our charge,” Green said, “We have four full-time chaplains who are out visiting the stores, talking to our managers…we want to care about our people.”
Closing on Sunday was an especially hard decision for Green. It was the most profitable day of the week for the craft store chain, but it was also the Lord’s Day, and Green believes God has blessed the company since they made the decision to shut down all stores on that day: they are actually doing better financially than they were before.
Not the Black Sheep
In 2010 he signed The Giving Pledge, an agreement among many of the world’s wealthiest people to give away more than half of their fortune before they die. Hobby Lobby’s website lists a number of ministry partners, from Wycliffe Bible Translators to Every Home for Christ. Green holds an honorary doctorate from IWU.
God has used Green’s interest in ancient history and the roots of the Bible to give a gift to scholars and laypeople from around the world. The Green Collection, which CNN calls “one of the world’s largest private collection[s] of biblical texts and artifacts.” The collection has become a great public service through the traveling exhibit Passages, giving many people the unprecedented chance to come into closer touch with our spiritual heritage. They are making plans for a permanent Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
The Kansas-born Green spent some time feeling like the black sheep of his family. His mother and father were both ministers, and all five of his brothers and sisters followed their example into full-time vocational ministry, either as pastors or pastor’s wives.
In time, he began to understand that ministry wasn’t just a pastor’s job.
“I felt like God passed me up,” Green recalls, “in that I was not called to preach like my brothers and sisters. So I really felt like I was the black sheep. It took me some time after God had talked to me about doing something, and then I saw it all come together. Then I said, ‘I think he could use a businessman as well.’ But I also think he can use every one of us, no matter where we are.”