The Lord gives unique gifts to all. Corporate America is full of believers and non-believers both who attain the gifts and skills to take companies to the next level. Bob Bosworth is a man who has helped the city of Chattanooga flourish by using the gifts God has given him. I had the opportunity to sit with Bob and hear about the ways his faith in Christ has manifested itself in the many roles he has taken on throughout his career.
Walk us through your vocational journey.
My vocational journey began when, after failing out of Amherst College, I was drafted into the United States Army, in the midst of the Vietnam War. I spent three years in the military, with significant time in a base at the DMZ in Korea and, also, at a base in Monterey, California. It was a time when I worked with people of different races, different socio-economic levels, different levels of commitment and radically different levels of aspiration. It was also a time in history when the country was hugely divided over matters such as the war and race relations. It was a time that the military was despised to the extent that I was spat upon while in uniform by people of my own generation, and protesters appeared at burials of young men killed in war, burials at which I was part of the team conducting the solemn military burials. This, while a long explanation of the start of my journey, in retrospect, served as the foundation of that journey as I learned, sometimes in very hard ways, of the importance of working with a diverse group of people in less than ideal situations.
Following my release from the Army, I was readmitted to Amherst, and then continued my education at the University of North Carolina where I received my MBA. From there I went to work for PruCapital, the investment arm of Prudential Insurance Company, in Atlanta. My focus was on working with smaller companies, with whom I could develop meaningful relationships. One of those relationships, with Chattem, eventually resulted in my hiring as a financial analyst in 1980. Over the next eighteen years, I was fortunate to work with many wonderful people in a variety of roles, eventually assuming the role of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. After eighteen years, I had experienced a fair amount of stress, mostly self-imposed, and as a result, I left Chattem, which had been my vocational home for a long time.
During the next 7 years, I was involved in a variety of things. My family was one of a small group that helped plant Rock Creek Fellowship in West Brow, Georgia in 2000. That effort proved to be one of the most rewarding and spiritually enlightening and growing experiences of my life. RCF was focused on reaching the people on the back of Lookout Mountain in meaningful physical as well as spiritual ways. During that time a group of us founded a company, Livingston, which was an investment company focused on providing financing and investments to small and early stage companies. Eventually I had the opportunity to go back to Chattem as President of the Company after having served on the Board of Directors during the seven-year hiatus. I remained in that role for seven years until Chattem was acquired by a large international pharmaceutical company. I retired in 2012.
In retirement, or more appropriately, in this season of life, I have been blessed with many areas of involvement. I am privileged to serve on the Board of Directors for Covenant Transport, Southern Champion Tray, and Rock City and on not-for-profit Boards including Chattanooga Christian School, United Way, Hamico Foundation and the R.L. & K.H. Maclellan Foundation. Yet my greatest joy and gift has been the opportunity to work with young people as a mentor and thought partner as they wind their way through the earlier stages of life.
This is a long journey, befitting, of course, my 70 years in this world, but each step of the journey has taught and continues to teach me much about life and faith.
How are ways you have seen the Lord work in your vocational journey?
I was brought up in the Congregational church in Bolton, Connecticut, where my father was a Deacon, my mother taught Sunday School and my brother and I were always involved. Over time, and particularly when I was in business school and at PruCapital in Atlanta, I drifted away from the faith. There was a sense in which my material needs were being fully met, but there was also a quiet sense of being lost. Ironically, and more importantly, providentially, I met my wife, Susan, in Atlanta. She was and is a woman of great faith. When we first met and our relationship was growing, I recall thinking, “I don’t fully understand the depth of her faith, and don’t know if I can share such depth.” I am thankful that the Lord brought her into my life at that time, as I was in an environment that was desolate and essentially devoid of faith. It became the first time that I thought clearly about the way that the intersection of faith and vocation should occur, and it was also the time that my faith began to be renewed.
A second point occurred during my time at Chattem. It was here that I began to recognize the power of a quiet faith in the presence of others and in the midst of a work place environment that did not overtly proclaim the faith. It was amazing to me the manner in which people closely watched the actions of others, not just the words. This reminded me of a story Eric Youngblood told about the moment at which he asked his mentor in seminary if he should tell people that he was a pastor when he arrived as the first pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship. His mentor told him that “Whatever you do, don’t tell them. But don’t let them be surprised when they find out.” This is how I have learned to approach the faith/vocation intersection. Ironically, I also found that many people who were not overtly of the faith carried many of the same principals. In fact, the prominent mantra for Chattem was “Do what’s right. Do your best. Treat others like you would want to be treated”. This sharing of principles created a very effective working environment which, in turn, created a very successful company.
Thirdly, I have also been blessed to be on the Board of Directors of two companies, Covenant Transportation Group and Southern Champion Tray, both of which are founded on the Christian faith. In these cases, it has, again, shown to me the diverse way in which His presence can be known and made known.
How have you tried integrating your faith with your business and has it been difficult?
In reality, I try not to separate them. They are one in my mind. However, using the word integration, I tried to exercise the principles that are consistent with my faith, and recognized, as I said before, are not inconsistent with the effective operation of a business. I didn’t hide my faith, but was not evangelical as the term might generally be used. And I certainly never used my faith as a weapon in a judgmental sense. But I don’t believe many people missed the fact that my faith was my foundation. Perhaps due to the way I approached the situation, it has not been difficult for me to see business and faith as one.
Is there a mentor that has helped you in your faith/business journey?
Scotty Probasco, a very well-known businessman and philanthropist in Chattanooga was on the board at Chattem and became a real mentor for me. He was an incredibly faithful, supportive and encouraging individual. But he was also very capable of showing tough love, and provided real guidance in doing so. One of my favorite stories which reinforces this point, derived from the time he called me into his office after I had made what I perceived to be an extraordinary presentation on an important topic to a bank group which included the bank of which Scotty was Chairman and Founder. When I sat down he told me that he was going to tell me something that I would be sorely tempted to take as a compliment: “You were the smartest guy in the room. You were smarter than all of the bankers to whom you were presenting.” At that point, I must have started smiling as he said in no uncertain terms, “Stop, you’re starting to take this as a compliment; you failed to engage them as people, as human beings and as people talented in their own right. Yes, you were smart and yes, you got the deal, but you are not going to be successful in life and in business unless you engage with, care for and respect all people. Remember that always”. This was a powerful moment in my life, and one that reminds me daily of the importance of fully loving our neighbors.
What does being a Christian Business Leader mean to you?
I almost want to alter the phrase to “being a leader who is a Christian”. To me it simply means that one has solid values which are evidenced in the manner in which your vocational skills are exercised, and, more importantly, in the manner in which you treat the people for whom you work with, and those who work for you. That is what Christian leadership is all about. While perhaps a strange way to think about this, in my eulogy, I hope it would not be first said that he was the President of a leading Chattanooga company; I would prefer them saying first that he cared about people and empowered them through the Lord to do things of which they were capable.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse or story?
The verse that is my favorite, and that I try to live by is the verse on which Rock Creek Fellowship was founded: Mark 12:30-31, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” While the first point is clearly preeminent, I find the second point exceptionally important in the way in which we deal with others, all others, in every aspect of life
Do we need to cultivate more Christian business leaders, and if so, how do we do that?
Developing leaders with Christian values is very important. There can be a certain devotion to servant leadership that focuses solely on the word “servant” and neglects the responsibilities and importance of the word “leadership.” I think empowering leaders to understand that exercising the leadership talents that God has provided for success vocationally coincides well with exercising their faith. We need to find a way to empower and teach leaders to rise up professionally and spiritually without bowing to cultural norms, and doing so in a manner that draws others to those leaders rather than pushing them away.
Do you have any specific advice you would give for an up and coming Christian business man or woman before they start their business?
Find a mentor. Find people who have been through the wars, people with whom you can share worries, concerns and opportunities. Surround yourself with people that you respect and trust. Also, foster those faith-based qualities particularly in caring for all people, those for whom you have great care and admiration but also for those with whom you struggle. Sometimes it can just mean a smile, or a simple act of kindness. Those “random acts of kindness” can be incredibly powerful.
If you could say one thing to other Christian business leaders, or the business community as a whole, what would it be?
There are three things: First, let your values undergird everything you do in the way you act and the way you treat all people. Second, don’t ever neglect or underestimate the importance of your God-given vocational skills. These vocational skills allow you to be in a position to exercise and display your values. I don’t care what you do, but be good at what you do, and a good steward of the gifts you have been given. Third, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words.”
No matter who you are: selfishness, power, and money tend to become unconscious underlying motives when working towards success. For Bob Bosworth, I see a man of true character and a man that genuinely cares for the good of people. Bob is not a perfect man, but he follows a perfect God who has used Bob’s faithfulness to advance His Kingdom.
 Quote from St. Francis of Assisi