We continue our new series on how faith influences business with William White and his story. Our goal is to find out how their faith influences their business, the role of Scripture, their role in the Church, and more.
He believes that God was leading him “always and in all ways.”
“William, are you going to do something special? When are you going to find your career?” William White’s grandmother was always after him to make his life count for something special. Many years later, he is President of Gabriella White, a holding company named in her honor, overseeing 350 employees at furniture companies Summer Classics and Gabby.
His career path took many twists and turns, but he believes that God was leading him “always and in all ways.” Growing up, he spent summers working in the warehouse of his father’s fledgling business, Summer Classics, an outdoor furniture company. Loading and unloading trucks in a hot warehouse, he remembers as “rough work in a rough environment.” And it left him with a bad taste in his mouth. He did not want to work for or with his dad at Summer Classics.
But after a stint in banking, and a promising sales job at a chemical manufacturer, White began to reconsider his options. He could stay with the chemical company, which would involve a move, or his father held out a tantalizing prospect: start an indoor furniture company under the Summer Classics label, helping the company avoid the seasonal downturn endemic to the outdoor furniture business.
He took the bait, and launched “Gabby” in January, 2010 – the midst of the recession – with a 1,500 square foot showroom in Atlanta. Today the Gabby line is found in showrooms all over the US, and it has been profitable every year. Gabby and Summer Classics now operate out of a 500,000 square foot warehouse/showroom where 220 employees are housed, with 13 additional retail stores across the USA.
Working with his father as he launched Gabby had challenges, but White believes that “faith is an integral part of how we maintain our close relationship and run the business.” The father and son work successfully together because of their strong faith, and they consider themselves best friends. “The culture at Summer Classics has become better because of the two of us working together – two heads are better than one,” he jokes.
The company’s statement of Core Values is ingrained in everything they do. The statement was derived from a study of scripture, which White relies on for daily guidance leading the business. Every employee is held accountable to those values in their regular performance reviews.
Last year he invited his weekly Bible study leader to come into the office every Friday, to be available as a Chaplain for employees to talk to.
White nurtures his employee relationships and tries to be positive every day, remembering that “if the boss ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” Relationships are the area where he strives most to model his faith. Last year he invited his weekly Bible study leader to come into the office every Friday, to be available as a Chaplain for employees to talk to. This gives employees a venue other than the Human Resources office where they can share personal issues, problems at home, or other relationship issues. The Chaplain listens, counsels and disciples those who come to him. White says, “I think it’s working well – but it’s really not any of my business. I pray that employees are taking advantage of this opportunity to receive counseling – but it’s all very private.”
White wants the workplace to be “kind of like a club. We work hard to find the right people for every job – those who fit the requirements, want the job, and have the capacity to get the job done. And once you’re in the club, you want to stay there because of the people around you.” When mistakes are made, “we try to model compassion and forgiveness in the workplace,” White says. The company has a “3-strike rule”, giving employees who make mistakes an opportunity at a second, and even third chance.
The companies in the Gabriella White family strive to give back to the communities they serve, helping previously homeless families get into furnished housing, donating to cancer research in honor of a 17-year employee who lost her battle with the disease, and offering physical and logistical support for emergency response when disasters strike.
“Scripture is the most important thing – living in the Word.”
When asked if there were specific books which guide him in his business faith practices, White said, “Scripture is the most important thing – living in the Word.” He has many verses that he goes to as he lives out his faith at work and at home.
From Titus 2:7, “in everything set them an example by doing what is good.” In Proverbs, he cites 3:1-3, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” And from Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
He is also led by the verses in Proverbs that speak to letting God direct your paths and seeking wise counsel. His favorite parable is The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. He prays that as he honors God in the workplace, God will honor him by saying, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
“well done, good and faithful servant.”