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"I Felt Guilty About Being Successful, Until..."

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
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April 19, 2023 3:03 am

"I Felt Guilty About Being Successful, Until..."

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 19, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Johnsonville Sausage founder Ralph Stayer's incredible faith journey

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Listen to Life as a Gringo on the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. Brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. And we continue with our American stories. And now it's time for our Faith in Action series, where we tell stories about how people of faith live it out in the public square.

And today's edition features Ralph Stayer, the founder of the number one sausage brand in America, Johnsonville Sausage. Here's Ralph. I have a couple stories for you, like three stories for you. The first one is, I struggled having grown up Catholic. And I've been taught that, you know, wealth is a sin. And that it's easier for a camel to get through an eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get to heaven. And carrying that baggage around.

I always worried about that. And I prayed and prayed and prayed to the Lord, should I give it all away and go to Africa? Should I live in a one room apartment? What should I do, Lord?

What should I do? Because I feel guilty. I feel guilty having become so successful. One day about 15 years ago, after having prayed and prayed and prayed, I'm sitting on my desk one Friday afternoon reading our link letter, which is our bi-monthly publication to all of our people. And on the front page of the link letter, there's a story about one of our mechanics who had just come back from Hong Kong with his wife, having adopted a special needs child. And I looked at that and this wave came over me, this incredible wave of power.

And it was the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit. And He said to me, Ralph, don't you see that you're doing exactly what I want you to do? You're providing this opportunity for people to do great works because of what you're doing here. And the way you run your business and the values, you're doing, I put you here for a reason.

The only thing you're not doing is you're not giving me enough credit. And so I came down after about 15 minutes because it was the most, this was the most incredible experience of my life. And Monday morning, I met with our strategy team and like 14 other people besides me. And we, every two weeks we do it.

It just so happened. So I thought about this all weekend and started by telling these people a story about what happened. And after I told them the experience, I said, do any of you people ever worry about, are you serving God at work?

14 hands went up. Every person put their hand up worrying about till they serve God at work. And I'm saying, well, I guess then we have to talk about what does a company look like that serves God at work? And it turns out we're doing a pretty darn good job. And we started talking about it. He said, we have to emphasize it more.

We have to build it into what we talk about because we're really shouldn't be talking about God. Oh my gosh, you might turn some people off. Well, I say to heck with them. My job kind of put me here to create this and to do this because the funny thing is the 14 people are sitting around that table all felt the same way I did. So that came after 20 years of the Johnsonville Way, of starting the Johnsonville Way. And the basis of the Johnsonville Way is how do we use the business to build people instead of using the people to build the business. And that would be, and how I see that, I'm sure I was guided on this one too, is that we were put on this earth to do two things. And I know this is true because we have companies all over Asia, all over people in South America, Europe, all over, okay?

And they all have the same two basic things hardwired into them. The first one is that they want to develop their talents and they want to succeed so they can, not just for themselves, but for their families and for everything around them. They want to help others do the same thing. And that's what makes us happy because we're fulfilling, we're not going against how we're wired. And I don't care where we are, the Johnsonville culture works everywhere because that's how God made us. So when you understand that piece, then the job of Johnsonville is to challenge and help and coach and awaken in people that spirit.

Because in many cases, they've been told they can't do it, they've been told they shouldn't do it. There are a lot of people growing up in ways where they haven't had that opportunity or that challenge and that spirit within them hasn't been awakened. Well, at Johnsonville, we awaken that spirit and we have set the business up to encourage people to learn and grow, take more responsibility, develop their talents.

However that is, whether they wind up at Johnsonville or not, if they get a bigger job or a better opportunity or what they realize and they say, now I know what I want to do with my life, we'll hold a parade for them. Okay, that makes us happy. So that's the philosophy. That's first and foremost in everything we think about and everything we do.

That's first and foremost in everything we think about and everything we do. We sponsored Boys and Girls Club and we built the Boys and Girls Club in Fond du Lac. And one of the challenges I gave to the leadership there is that I want you to teach people, these kids, about personal responsibility, about work. As far as they know, these kids that are getting there, they have no idea where the money comes from for the Boys and Girls Club. They have no idea about responsibility.

I've seen a lot of these charities where, oh well, you're so deserving that we're just going to hand you money. And I think it's a sin. I think it's an absolute sin to allow people to default themselves and to not do things in a way that lifts people up.

If God's blessed us to put us in a position to do that, if we don't do that, we're sinning. So we went through all that with them and they brought these two older girls, like 16 or 17, and two like nine-year-old girls with them. And we had all the people from all the people in the office.

We had 150 people standing around. And the two older girls are saying, listen, if it hadn't been for the Boys and Girls Club, we'd have been pregnant by now. We're both going to college. Next year we're graduate, we're going to college. But we would have dropped out of school and we'd have had two, three babies by now if it hadn't been for the Boys and Girls Club. And we are mentoring these girls and they're going to college too. It wasn't about the Boys and Girls Club staff doing it.

It was these kids themselves, which is giving back responsibility. You couldn't write it any better than that. In fact, I could chills. I could chills up and down my arm right now, telling you the story. And they were finished talking and the Holy Spirit put words in my mouth that I hadn't even considered. He said, if we all talk about serving God at work, let me tell you something. You hear this story? It's your hard work and your contributions that generates the cash that allows this story to happen.

I just wrote the check. You made it happen. So you go home tonight knowing that you are serving God at work because you are creating these stories and lots of them. When people walked out of that room, I don't think a foot touched the floor.

They were so high. And what great storytelling. You're listening to Ralph Stayer, and he's talking about important things. He had prayed a long time about wealth and his own wealth, but he didn't know how to about wealth and his own wealth. And one day, well, an employee visits Hong Kong and comes back with an adopted child. And then, well, the Lord answers a prayer and talks to him. What a beautiful culture Johnsonville has created. And as Ralph said, it works all around the world. Of course it does. When we come back more from Ralph Stayer, our faith in action series continues here on Our American Story.

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That's Lulu' code Lulu's Fan 20 to save 20%. And we continue with our American stories and with Johnsonville Sausage founder Ralph Stayer for a faith in action series. Ralph next tells a story of the Oscar Meyers CEO coming into his office one day. Here I said, this guy comes into the office and we know the family company sooner or later, they're going to sell out and all that.

We'd just like to let you know that we're available, et cetera. And to me, again, it was a no brainer. And I don't think it was me talking again.

I think it was the Holy Spirit talking. I said, I said, well, Sam, let me explain something to you. For me, selling the company is not a financial situation or an opportunity. It's not a decision, a financial decision. It's a decision on whether or not I go to heaven or go to hell, because this is God's company. God put this here.

God put me here in this position. And if I sell this business, I know that it's going to change immediately in the next day. And it's not going to be what it was and what the Lord intended. And I will have just done it for the money. I will have taken what God given me, gave me, and I would have done it for the money. And I know I'd go to hell for that.

So what do you think the odds are that this is going to get sold in my lifetime? And Sam said, well, let's talk about how we could work together. And that was the end of that dialogue. And, you know, I had gotten so many conversations, so many people calling all the time.

And it seemed like that word must have gotten out, because we really don't get those phone calls anymore about we'd really like to buy you, because they know it's not for sale, never for sale. I know what my purpose is. I know what my purpose is. And I thank the Lord every night for the joy I have of knowing that I'm serving, I'm serving God.

He had a purpose for me, and I'm doing it. Yeah. Imperfectly. Very imperfectly.

I'm still imperfect, but I'm doing the best I can. You have to understand that the devil does his best work in church. Okay.

I mean, you look at the Catholic Church and how it lost its way, it has lost its way, and what a mess it is in so many ways. All right. These are, we're all imperfect people, doing the best we can. Okay. I mean, just because you're the Pope or a Bishop doesn't mean that you're so great or anything.

No. We all, we're all doing the best we can. We're all doing the best we can. So I'm sitting in church when they listen to yet one more story, one more sermon from a priest saying, you know, Ralph, no, I did not say you know Ralph, but he's saying to the whole congregation, it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a deal than it is for a rich person to get to heaven.

We shouldn't be rich. The whole story all over again. Okay.

And afterwards I walk out and my wife's with me and I go up to them and I know she's going to be upset because I'm doing this. But I said to them, you know, father, once, just once, I'd like to hear a priest give a sermon that says, isn't it wonderful how God works and right out of St. Paul and St. Paul says it, that St. Paul says, isn't it wonderful how God works that he gives us all different talents and he gives some people the talent to put together capital so that they can create a business that could actually employ people and those people can make really good wages and a living and support themselves, their families, their community, and oh, by the way, pay your salary and fund this church, father. Isn't it a blessing that God actually has people like that?

Because otherwise nothing would be here. Wouldn't it be great to have a sermon like that sometime? He says, I never thought of it like that.

Well, now you know. So maybe next time you ought to give that sermon. Not long after that, this priest got caught up in our archdiocese in Milwaukee with the whole pedophilia thing. He got accused by one person and I checked into it and I did not believe that he had done anything wrong. And yet the archdiocese just dumped him flat. He had nothing. Left him with nothing. Just cut him loose based on one accusation, which was false. So I called him up. I got his number and I called him up and I said, father, I don't think what the archdiocese did is right. What are you going to do? He said, well, I want to serve a life of service.

I want to do a life of service, but I can't. But I don't have any money. But the only thing, and with that charge or with that bad rap, he didn't get prosecuted, nothing.

So he didn't have anything on his record, but the word was out. He says, I think the one thing I could do is be a funeral director, but I don't have the money to go to school to get a license. I'll lend it to you.

Pay me back when you can. And the fellow is the funeral director and he paid me back quickly, actually. He got it.

And it was just, it's just funny how that's how it ought to work. Helping people succeed, lifting people up. And he was able to live at least a life of service like he wanted to. In the Bible, go forth and multiply. Multiply people's faith in me. Multiply the goods, all the things for a better life. Multiply the joy in the world. But the joy comes from serving others and serving God at the same time.

That's where you feel joy. I don't know many people who chase money all their lives who are happy. So what is success? We've all defined success different ways. And as you get older and older like I have, I finally realized what success really is. It's only one thing. It's when I die and I'm standing in front of the Lord and he says, well done, my good and faithful servant. That's success.

Anything else? If he's saying, well, Ralph, you made a lot of money, but you didn't serve me. I don't know who you are. That's not success. The only thing that success is, well done, my good and faithful servant, because you were responsible and did so well with what I gave you. The small things I gave you, I'm giving you much more now in heaven to do more with.

That's success. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul? And a special thanks to Ralph Stayer for sharing his story of his faith walk in the workplace. And so many of us of faith, well, we work. And we don't talk about that enough, how we bring our faith journey and our values that stem from our faith into the workplace and to our customers and our employees and all the stakeholders around us, including the community. And my goodness, the story of the CEO of Oscar Meyer and Ralph saying to him, let me explain something to you. Selling the company isn't a financial decision. It's a decision of whether I go to heaven or hell. Pretty much, I think the CEO had had his answer.

What do you think the odds are I'd sell the company in my lifetime? He followed up. By the way, Ralph didn't get many calls about selling the company.

Word was out. The story of Ralph Stayer, our faith and action series, here on Our American Story. I'm Malcolm Gladwell. I live way out in the country. I drive everywhere.

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