A CEO Success Story

by George A. Mason

Something is stirring in the soul of American business. From the boardroom to the mailroom and from the rank and file to the CEO, a fresh wind is blowing, invigorating the way America works. New software? No.Insider information? Not in the wall Street sense. What, then, is it? It is the power of the gospel in the workplace.

Whether it’s the approach of the millennium or the hollowness of our cultural antidotes to the "emptiness epidemic" one thing is clear: America’s business heart is rediscovering the profound truth that happiness, fulfillment, productivity, and profit are as much spiritual concerns as they are material. Regardless of what the world ascribes as the cause of this awakening, those who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior see His hand at work and welcome His leading – and in a country starved for moral leadership, people are ready to follow.

Evidence of this new interest in workplace spirituality is found in both the secular and religious spheres. For example, not so long ago a book titled, The Management Methods of Jesus, written by Bob Briner, would only have been found in a Christian bookstore. Today, however, it is as much a staple of the secular bookstore as its Christian counterpart.

In an article titled, "The Spiritual Side" in the February 1, 1999, issue of Industry Week magazine, Jim Braham writes, "The place of spirituality, or religion, in the workplace has always been a sticky, often taboo, subject. It’s a personal issue, and most business leaders are content to leave the idea of God in the company parking lot… There are signs, however, that spirituality, which usually conveys a broader meaning than religion, is taking on more meaning and importance in executive suites. At the least, it’s being talked about more."

In our culture we listen more intently and give more credence to men and women who have reached a certain milestone or rank. Thus, the sports hero is accorded more attention than the fan, pastors are quoted more often than members of their congregations, and when the CEO or company president speaks – we listen. For some, this status is a means to drive their own agenda; for others, however, it is a precious opportunity to share the life-changing message of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

One such leader willing to share the role Christ plays in his life is Brian Sokol, President of Blue Coral, Slick 50 Consumer Products Group, a division of Quaker State Corporation.

In an interview with Connection Magazine, Mr. Sokol spoke of his relationship with Jesus, the importance of his wife and children, and the importance of a Christ-centered focus in today’s marketplace.

"As far as I can remember God has always been a major influence in my life and the life of my family." Brian credits his parents’ love and example for his strong and vibrant faith. In 1973, as an eighth grader at St. Brendan School in North Olmsted, Ohio, he wrote and produced the play, Christ Alive, which followed in the tradition of the contemporary works, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.

After high school he entered Bowling Green State University where he learned to seek and rely on the Lord’s guidance and direction. His first career decision is a shinning example of the power of prayer. Faced with offers by Locktite Corporation and the May Company, Brian could not make a decision between the two. Similar to Gideon’s use of the fleece to discern the will and confirmation of the Lord; (Judges 6:36-40), Brian was in the Bowling Green library praying for direct communication from God. According to Brian, "I walked to the periodical section, randomly picked up a magazine, and opened it to find a full page ad for the Locktite Corporation. I had prayed to really understand the voice of God and He answered with clear direction." This pattern of seeking the Lord’s face in dealing with business directions and decisions has been the essential component of Mr. Sokol’s business repertoire, which has served him and his company well.

Popular media seems to push the idea that devotion to one’s job is the be all and end all of life itself. In fact, in some quarters workaholism is seen as a badge of honor, an admirable quality regardless of its negative impact on the family. Unlike some executives who seem more married to their jobs than their wives, Sokol is not. In fact, he states categorically that his wife Margo is an integral part of his success and growth both in business and as a Christian. "Aside from my relationship with Jesus Christ, the biggest influence in my life is my wife, Margo; she has provided me with the best fellowship", says Sokol. "I don’t know how many marriages share spiritual growth, but with us it is not a hobby – it is a passion."

This passion is what we read of in Psalm 100 verse 5 where David tells us, "For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." The kind of God-centered life Brian and Margo experienced as children is what they are now passing on to their children, Brittany, age 7 and twins Brianna and Bethany, age 3. "Family is the foundation", Sokol says, "life is not about chasing a career, rather, it is about family values core to the home; those are the fundamental premises. Margo and the children have taught me so much. In fact, it was not until I became a father that I began to understand the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. Before I could not really appreciate that relationship, now I can."

One would think that an approach to life where the Lord is first, the family second, and job is third would result in a less-than-exemplary career track record. In Brian’s case and thousands like him, what we find is just the opposite. His business skills and savvy are not diminished by his priorities, rather, they are enhanced.

As president of a company that is part of a 3 billion dollar corporation, he knows firsthand the joys and agonies of leadership. Brian admits that in his career he had to face extreme political pressures working to stop him from being named vice president and later president. "There were severe political forces working against me simply because of my age. People were jealous because of my youth. I thank God that during times of stress and pressure I have the fellowship of Margo and my relationship with the Lord."

With regard to workplace witnessing and the role of the Christian CEO, Sokol quotes our Lord from Matthew chapter 22 verse 21, "…Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s." He went on to explain that Christians on the job ought to be the best workers with the highest integrity. Businesses, stockholders, and co-workers are first impressed with the quality and quantity of our work and only then with the person behind the job. In fact, the good example we set in the workplace could be the perfect opening for a witness about why we work so conscientiously and for whom we ultimately work. "As I have trusted the Lord to lead me in these areas", said Sokol, "He has not let me down."

It is clear from the example of Brian Sokol that when climbing the ladder of success it helps to plant the ladder on solid foundation and when you climb it, make sure it is leaning against the right wall.C