Excerpted from The Good Book on Business by Dave Kahle
Duncan Stacey owns Howell Plumbing Supply, a Canadian company, and is committed to running it on a Biblical basis. He came to this position in an uncommon way, as a series of events unfolded in multiple areas of his life.
The company had its inception in the 1950s when it began by making enamel panels. That led to enameling sinks and bath tubs for the mobile home industry, which eventually lead to selling toilets, sinks, bathtubs and all the ancillary plumbing. And that lead to a split-off company which eventually became Howell Plumbing Supply.
Duncan, as an elementary school child, began babysitting for the owner’s family. And that lead to part-time employment in the company, and that lead to his first full-time job after graduating from high school. Through an unusual chain of events, at age 20, Duncan became the owner of this small business. His new wife, Ann, quit her job as a nurse and came to work for the small business which operated out of a large garage.
At first, the business grew but leveled off when Duncan had reached his capacity. Knowing he was at the limit of his time and resources, he decided he needed help to continue to grow the business.
He brought in three equity partners, all of which worked in the business and helped nurture its growth. Three of the partners worked together for over 35 years.
Early in this time, Duncan called himself a “nominal Christian.” He thought of himself as a Christian but had no relationship with God and little knowledge of what that ‘being a Christian’ really meant. In another series on ‘one thing leading to another,’ he and his wife engaged in a weekly Bible study for three years, before coming to the point where he was ready to commit his life to Christ.
“Life got better,” according to Duncan, following his conversion. He became a better father, treated his wife better, and became a better boss.
At one point in this process, Duncan and Ann decided to take a year off and search for God. They arranged for a year’s sabbatical and took the kids off traveling the world for a year. He tells the story of how God spoke to him through his eight-year-old son. Sitting down to dinner in an RV outside of Paris, Jeff, his son, announced that they needed to pray for Tim, the adult son of a family friend. They did.
The next night, Jeff made the same request, and the family complied. A couple of months later, as they were checking in with their family back home on New Year’s day, they learned that Tim had had a severe auto accident on the day that Jeff first asked them to pray for him. And the next day, Tim was facing the amputation of his foot, and Jeff, thousands of miles away, an eight-year-old child, asked the family to pray for him again.
For years Duncan thought the incident had to do with Jeff. Recently, he had one of those “aha” moments when he realized that it was God, using Tim’s misfortunate and an eight-year-old child to communicate to Duncan that prayer counted and that God cared. That realization was huge in Duncan’s life and caused a serious change in him.
Duncan returned to the business in 1988 as a totally committed Christian. The business grew from under $100,000 to over $14 million in annual sales. Duncan’s Christianity was a bit awkward for the other partners but never became a huge issue.
However, in the last few years, the business stopped growing. In 2014, the partners evaluated their options and opted to sell out and retire.
At first, Duncan was ready to join them in selling the business and moving on. But, a comment by a member of the Christian roundtable group of which Duncan is a part challenged him to think about buying his partners out and turning the business into a Biblically- based business. Ann was initially opposed. However, after prayer and conversation, she came to the position where she wholeheartedly supported it. Recently, at age 62, they mortgaged their home, borrowed money from the bank and bought the partners out.
After the deal was consummated, Duncan held a staff meeting and shared that he thought this is what God wanted them to do. If he hadn’t, there would have been many jobs lost. “Everybody knows that I am a Christian,” Duncan says. “And my employees are encouraged to hold me accountable to being a Christian.”
As Duncan works to instill biblical principles and practices in his business, he has developed a tentative personal mission statement: “To make the world and our lives better each day in spite of our faults and weaknesses. “ His values statement says the company labors: “To treat everyone in a Christ-like manner.”
Things are changing at Howell Pipe. In the last month, Duncan says he has had the opportunity to pray with four different employees – folks who were the same kind of nominal Christians that Duncan considered himself to be, years ago.
On the prospect of going into debt at age 62, Duncan says, “It is going to be a constant struggle. It’s easy to say be bold when you are safe. If there is nothing to fear, there is no place for faith. It’s a journey.”