“When I go back into this business, it’s going to be God first, family second, and business third.”
That’s what B.H. Yerbey told his family in 1972, when he repurchased the concrete business he had founded in 1950. His family was doubtful – they had seen this entrepreneur pour himself into business for the 20 years prior. He was a driven man, working sunup to sundown, always looking for the next big job, the next business venture. He started several other companies: home remodeling, crane rental, building duplexes, until in 1967, he sold them all. His drive to be successful was overwhelming his life and his relationship with God and family.
When the concrete company was in bankruptcy a few years later, B.H. had the opportunity to buy it back. His wife and family had reservations, remembering the stress and the long days, but B.H. insisted. “The men need work. I just need to do this.” His wife was with him the day he re-opened the business, and she heard the employees talking about how excited they were to have B.H. back and in charge. That night, she told B.H., “You do need to do this. These men really respect you and want you back.”
This time it was different. His family saw him put new principles in place, honoring God and his family – and following God’s lead in his business decisions.
In 1992, B.H. handed the reins of the business over to his son Gary, who had always played an active role in it. The business grew under Gary’s leadership, and B.H. stayed away as Gary began managing the company. Months passed and one day his dad stopped by. They had a conversation that ultimately led to a regular mentorship. B.H. would come by 2 or 3 days a week. “He listened to my ideas, to what I had going on, and he would encourage me and give me insight into what I needed to do. I learned that being a leader meant more than going out there and making a living. Dad would drive around with me and we would talk. And guys would come to him and talk to him about issues going on in their lives.”
Gary credits his father with putting him on the right path in business. “I prayed about every decision that came down. When I needed manpower, I would pray about it. The people who came walking through the doors would be the perfect person for the job. God has never failed me.”
Gary models servant leadership with his employees and clients. “I try to be open about everything. With the guys in the shop, if we share a meal, I pray and I thank God for these guys that God has led to this company. That leads to the guys coming to me and saying, ‘Gary, I need to talk to you about something.’ God has opened so many doors that way.”
Being a business owner can be hard. More than once, Gary despaired and felt ready to give up. Business would be slow; he didn’t have the workload he needed to stay afloat. Sometimes he felt that God was leading him to close the business. At those times, Gary would go to his knees and pray, “Lord, show me what you want me to do. If you want me to stay in the business, you need to show me what to do. And if you’re going to shut us down, you need to show me that too.” He laughs today saying that every time he prayed that prayer God would load his plate up. “I got where I didn’t want to pray that prayer any more! God’s always been faithful in ways I can’t explain.
When he was about 45 or 50, Gary began praying for God to provide the next leader to take over the company. “God answered my prayers with good people – but never with that leader that I felt could lead the company forward.”
“When Dad was approaching the end of his life, I had to be away from the business more and more, caring for him. A young fellow, Seth, had been working for me for about 4 years, and the year earlier, he had become my son-in-law. Honestly, he was just a really young guy. But he was a Christian, and he did things that I thought were really good. Seth stepped up to the plate more and more for me as I was called away quite a bit. When Dad passed away, I had to take care of the estate, and honestly I just couldn’t focus on the business. Seth took care of everything at the office.
“After things settled down a bit, I got up one morning and told my wife I was going back to work that day after my morning devotions. I was sitting in my chair reading my Bible, and I began praying, and I felt the Lord say, ‘what are you doing?’ I’ve never heard the Lord speak to me like that, and we started carrying on a conversation. I said, ‘I’m going back to work. That’s what I do.’ And He said, ‘you know, Gary, you’ve been praying for 20 years to have someone to come along and run the business, and now I’ve put somebody in place down there and what do you want to do but go mess it up.’
“Well, I finished my prayer time, turned the TV on, and my wife came in and said, ‘I thought you were going to work.’ And I said, ‘well, I was. But the Lord made perfectly clear that I don’t need to be back down there.’ God put the leader there that I was praying for the whole time. To my surprise, Seth came along, a young guy, and stepped up to the task. It was neat to watch.”
“If you want to be in business and have it be something meaningful that you can look back on and be proud of, remember it’s not what you’ve accomplished, it’s how you’ve accomplished it and what you’ve allowed God to do through it all.”
Gary enjoys watching people like Seth step up into business leadership. His advice for anyone who is going to be a Christian business leader: “You have to dig into what God’s telling you. Read the scriptures. Open your eyes to what the Lord’s got for you. I wish I could say that I do that every day. Sometimes my eyes are open, but sometimes my thoughts are on the day ahead of me. If you can focus on what He’s trying to tell you on a day to day basis, it’s done more to help me than anything – getting my focus right in the morning. If you want to be in business and have it be something meaningful that you can look back on and be proud of, remember it’s not what you’ve accomplished, it’s how you’ve accomplished it and what you’ve allowed God to do through it all.”
Gary is semi-retired now and is still attentive to God’s will for his life. “I’ve learned that God has places for me to be and things I need to be doing. He’s been good to allow me to have fun and do what I want to do. But He’s also been very clear that when He has something for me to do, I need to do it. I depend on God to show me what He wants me to be doing.”
Gary is aware of how we set an example for others in everything we do. As a youngster, he loved baseball and dreamed of playing professionally. But he knew there was no way for him to do that. “My mom and dad had us in church every Sunday, Sunday night, Wednesday night. I knew I couldn’t play baseball because I had to be in church on Sundays and Wednesdays!”
His favorite team was the Yankees, and his favorite player was Bobby Richardson. When the Yankees won the World Series in 1962, Gary saw all the guys in the clubhouse celebrating and popping champagne bottles. “A few days later there was an article in the newspaper with a picture of Bobby Richardson in the corner of the clubhouse that night, praying and praising God for the opportunity to win a world championship. I thought, ‘How cool is this. This man stands up for what he believes, and he’s a baseball player!’”
Years later, Gary had the opportunity to meet Richardson, and he told him that story. “I said, ‘you don’t even know what a big influence you had on a kid when you were just a young baseball player, but you did.’”
Gary’s father told him just 2 stories from his days in the Navy. In one, he told of a Japanese POW who was assigned to help him with painting and other jobs. B.H. loved and respected this man. One day he told him, “You’ll be going home soon. The war’s over.” To which the man responded in broken English, “I no home to go to.” Those words broke B.H.’s heart. Here was a man he respected, who because of the war, had no family, no place to call home.
Home was so important to B.H. He was in San Francisco when he received his Navy discharge, and all his buddies were going out to celebrate. B.H. said, “Guys, I’m not going out. I’m going right down to that bus station, and I’m catching the next bus to Chattanooga.” And that’s what he did.
When the bus pulled into Memphis, there were predictions of snow on Monteagle Mountain. “Dad was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to get home. So he went up to the bus driver and said, ‘Well driver, do you think we can make it through that snow?’ And the driver said, ‘Get your seat back there, sailor. We’re going to Chattanooga.’ And sure enough, that driver closed the door and they headed to Chattanooga.
“I tell you that story because it was the only thing about Dad’s Navy days that he would talk about: Here’s this one fellow that didn’t have a home to go to, and all Dad could think about was going home. And when Dad was laying there the last few days of his life, the only thing I could think about was that story: ‘Get your seat back there, sailor, we’re going home.’ I think that if you’re looking at God for everything you do, it’s all about the trip. Getting home may be bumpy, there may be snow, but it’s a trip you’re taking.
“When dad got home that night, he opened the door to the house and saw his mother in the kitchen. She turned and saw him and she just came running, just yelling, to greet him. And I’m sure that’s what happened when he got to heaven too.”