Leadership does not occur in a vacuum. As Prof. Stew Friedman told me, “I think about leadership and what it means to be a leader not so much as an aspect of one’s position or role in an organisation in a hierarchy, but instead as a quality that anyone can embody. The simple definition I use is that leaders mobilise people towards valued goals. They bring people to a better place.” The values part of leadership is crucial, it gives a context to your actions, and a path for you (as a leader) and your team to walk.
For David L. Steward and Brandon K. Mann, faith was not just a reference – it was a north star – creating the map they needed to navigate to success. David L Steward is the Founder & Chairman of World Wide Technology (a supply chain solutions provider with revenues exceeding $12 billion). David is proof positive that you don’t have to compromise your values to find success. Born to a poor family in segregated Missouri, David held firm to his integrity and values and went on to build a $12 billion a year business. Brandon K. Mann is the Managing Partner and CEO of Kingdom Capital, a private equity and stewardship firm based on Christian principles. He is also the founder of Biblical Business Training (BBT), which provides Biblical leadership development and curriculum to small-group Bible study leaders, helping them grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and equipping them to pour into the lives of others. David and Brandon have taken their learnings to create Leadership by the Good Book, a new book that is set to, ‘inspire, empower, and equip men and women to lead their businesses, their teams, and even their families to greater heights and to have an eternal impact…’
In these exclusive conversations, I spoke with David and Brandon to learn more about how faith has played a transformational role in their lives, and what it means to lead by the good book.
Q: How can we best serve as leaders?
[David L. Steward] We serve best by putting our employees, co-workers and clients/customers’ needs before our own. We call this servant-leadership, and it’s what Jesus taught us. Servant-leaders refuse to compromise their integrity. They set an example. They admit their mistakes and are forgiving of others. When I founded World Wide Technology, Inc., we had some challenges in those early years. But I never missed a payroll even though there were many weeks I didn’t take a paycheck myself.
Q: How do we apply the value of love as leaders?
[David L. Steward] We start by recognizing that the people we work with are literally on loan to us from their loved ones. We’re borrowing them. We get in wrong in leadership by thinking that the employee owes us when, really, we owe that employee meaningful work that helps them accentuate and explore the gifts God has given us. We always say that the most important meeting of the day is not in the office, but when the family first meets at home after spending the day apart. In business, we must remember that and always put relationships—and family—first.
Q: How can we apply imagination as leaders?
[David L. Steward] Imagination is one of the most important gifts God gives us. It’s what helps us persevere during tough times and keeps us always striving to achieve more. My story wouldn’t be possible were it not for imagination. When I decided to leave the comfort of a corporate job to start my own business, many well-meaning people thought I was making a big mistake. They thought the same thing when I shared my decision to launch World Wide Technology, Inc. After all, I had no tech experience, no backers or investors and had my sights set on an industry already filled with bigger players. But I had something far more important—vision and the faith in God’s word.
Q: How do we invest as leaders?
[David L. Steward] Great leaders invest in change. Change is a natural occurrence, and rather than resist it, we should embrace it. You must also invest in your people. As entrepreneurs and leaders, we invest in our team members by showing them love and respect, making it clear that relationships ultimately matter more than productivity or profit margins. We also invest by giving them the power to delegate. When you empower others, you are facilitating growth, not just their growth, but the company’s growth, as well. After all, there is only so much we can do alone. Finally, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to develop our people to the fullest. That means investing in leadership management training, supporting our team members and praising people for a job well done.
Q: How does faith relate to how we understand risk?
[David L. Steward] Faith is what sustains us during hard times. It kept me moving forward even after my car had been repossessed and I was on the brink of losing my family’s life savings. In business, risk is necessary, but you shouldn’t take unnecessary risk. Making sure you’re weighing every decision and always following a higher power will put you on the right path and ensure you’re not being reckless.
Q: How does your trust in God impact how you trust as a leader?
[David L. Steward] I always trust in God to show me the way forward. Of course, I also do my own due diligence, but, ultimately, when it’s time to make the big decisions, I look to God and always follow his guidance. As a leader, it’s also important to put your faith in your team members. Just as God calls on me to delegate, I put my faith in the people I’ve trusted to lead.
Q: How can faith help us grow and celebrate as leaders?
[David L. Steward] Faith keeps us on the right path. When times are tough, it’s our faith in God that sustains us. When we’re restless, our faith will signal if it’s time to move onto new challenges. As leaders, knowing that faith has guided us through good times and bad, we owe it to ourselves and each other to celebrate our success. We do this when we tell stories and come together as a group, knowing that every win is through collective effort.
Q: How has your faith shaped your philanthropy, and how you give back?
[David L. Steward] “For God so loved the world that he GAVE.” For me, philanthropy is all about serving God. Whether it is sharing time, resources, leadership or other gifts that God has provided, it’s all the same to me. Matthew 16:26 tells us, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Giving our God-given blessings is a form of ministry that lifts people up and provides them a pathway to the light of the gospel. It guides people to the answer they seek, which is God’s Word. At this stage in my life, I am looking for an eternal return on investment. The Word of God is eternal and worth more than any worldly treasure. It is the only answer for people who are looking to fill a void in their life. That is where philanthropy and faith align.
All of the proceeds from sales of Leadership by the Good Book will go to the non-profit organization Biblical Business Training, a ministry to help people apply Biblical principles at work through small-group Bible study and to see people grow in their relationship with Christ, and expand God’s Kingdom through their leadership. While tragic in nature, the global pandemic has provided an opportunity to reach people. The spiritual world is more important now than ever. I serve on both corporate and non-profit boards, and hear leadership talk about healing people’s minds and bodies. Few are talking about how they feed people’s spirit and lift them in a way that leads them to God. They need what we call philanthropy more than anyone else. Brandon and I wrote Leadership by the Good Book to minister to other leaders and encourage them to lead by The Good Book with a philanthropic heart. It’s all about building the Kingdom.
Q: When you reflect back on your own journey, what are you most proud of, what do you hope your legacy will be?
[David L. Steward] Scripture says “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:16) I want to live my life worthy of the sacrifices others have made on my behalf. I want to invest my time, effort and energy to shepherd people to God through the gifts and vision He gave me to create an eternal return on investment. Whether it’s my biological kids or other kids I consider my own, it’s important to reach them on a level that leads them to ministry, to the church, and to life everlasting. I want my legacy to be that I reflected the qualities of our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, so others will also aspire to live their life worthy of the sacrifice that was made on the cross.
Matthew 9:37 tells us, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” That Scripture brings to mind the plentiful harvest in the business community. I have been called to be one of those laborers to bring in the harvest. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) I surely fall short of God’s grace, but I rely on the fruit of the Spirit to guide me as I represent God.
When my wife, Thelma, and I envisioned our legacy, we wanted to memorialize what that would mean for the future generations of our family. Therefore, we chose to write a love letter to our children because their eternal life is so important and precious to us. We spoke specifically to the same kind of love letter that the Lord left for each and every one of us in His Good Book, the Holy Bible. In closing, our love letter reads, “When God has used us up and called us home, the love our family has shown will continue to speak long after we are gone. Our legacy will be that of a loving, giving and sharing family who honored Christ. That legacy will be passed from generation to generation long after we are forgotten.”
Q: How has your faith informed your career?
[Brandon K. Mann]: I grew up in a family that has a Christian background, so I read the Bible from an early age. As I grew-up, I could see areas of my life that were- frankly- not in alignment with my faith. I saw friends who may have referred to themselves as Christians, but who did not act so in their interactions, and the way they treated others. There is a conviction that comes from how you read scripture, that should inform your treatment of those around you. You have to stop yourself and realise that the values you live must be values you have everyday not just when things are tough – that is the dislocation I wanted to resolve, and I found myself seeking deeper answers and direction through God’s word.
In the late 90’s, I was ascending the executive food-chain rapidly, and found myself at a place where I felt completely unworthy of the responsibility I had. I needed guidance. I’d been in a small Bible study group with friends- and I found that even though it was unrelated to business, when we met- we read scripture- held each other accountable for living those values, and it was very powerful.
Throughout my life, I’ve always felt that tug to serve a higher-power with values, ethics and morals. The source of those for me was the Bible. It took time, it was progressive, but in prayer with God I was led to start a Bible study group at work, and that opened up a new phase of my life in terms of career success, and my relationship with work.
Q: How can Bible teachings play a role in the workplace?
[Brandon K. Mann]: One morning, I was in prayer by myself and I heard very clearly, ‘start a Bible study at work…’ now, that wasn’t on my to-do list, it wasn’t a goal that I’d ever considered. I served on the executive committee of my company, worked directly with the CEO… and whilst I felt confident in that position, I felt, ‘well, who am I to even suggest that people should get together with me to study God’s word’ – I didn’t feel worthy of even suggesting it.
I wrestled with that emotionally and spiritually for a couple of days, and by day three I was consumed by this thought so I gave it up to the Lord and said, ‘I’m persuaded, I’m going to do it, but I don’t know how…’ and he led me to a co-worker who helped me start this Bible study that we would lead together. It was an amazing faith journey of small steps, and God ordained that I met Greg Schuster, who I didn’t even work with directly, but who opened his heart to this journey. We came together at 7 am on Thursday mornings in a conference room out of the way, we were always respectful of the workplace and were working in an environment that didn’t really start till 8am. We took the smallest, worst conference room and began there.
Our starting point was simple. Everyone was welcome – everyone had a place at the table – you could come for a minute, or the full 45 minutes, and you would be back at your desk before the day started. We simply read God’s word together as a diverse group – we never handed out questionnaires asking if, or where, people went to church – but we got a wide-spectrum of people who had a church background, didn’t want a church background, had different denominations and even different faiths. What was so tangible though was the application.
You would hear maybe a co-worker say, ‘well, this is great… the Bible says you should treat others the way you want to be treated, but I’ve got to tell you… I’ve got this really tough client who has done this thing… how do I treat them?’ – it is in those moments that theology meets practical application and where people talk together and come-up with an approach, and hold each other accountable.
It did something so powerful among those who were coming in and out of the group, it did more than I could ever imagine.
Q: How do you create a framework for faith based learning?
[Brandon K. Mann]: The leadership flywheel is the leadership model for Biblical Business Training (BBT), it anchors our book, and our work – it was an asset given to us by God.
The first component is learning. Back in ’08, at the earliest BBT groups, people came out of curiosity to learn more about the Bible. Learning was the first step; reading, education, mentorship. The cornerstone was conversation, and then we wrote Leadership by the Good Book as a reference, to provide extra content for those groups, but also as a resource in itself.
The second stage is living. Maybe you have a tough client, a tough project, a deadline or a crisis. You have to apply your learnings to your life – that’s what the scripture says. You need to take action and not just be a hearer of the word, but a doer of the word.
The third stage is leadership. You need to take the initiative, co-lead sessions, mentor people, bless them, encourage them, and help them grow as you have done.
Around the table, each person has been given gifts – we’re not rushing or pushing anyone to realise those gifts, you have to want to. We simply make the invitation open to everyone so that when God does nudge them to lead; we can shepherd the conversation, and guide them in their own way- but with some structure, facilitation and accountability. If you’re going to learn to lead, you have to actually do it.
The fourth stage is legacy. Your table is filled with leaders at different stages of development – some are learning, some are living, some are leading. Legacy comes from taking what you’ve learned, and using it to plant another group, or maybe to serve as co-leader and facilitator.
The leadership flywheel is a tool to develop yourself, and other leaders; and that’s the legacy. True leadership is not about amassing followers, but inspiring others where you have influence, using the gifts that God has given you.
Q: Does a biblical view change our notion of what constitutes success?
[Brandon K. Mann]: People talk of this proverbial trade-off between profit (shareholder return) and the kind of intangible returns (the goodness that can be done) – they’re made to choose a side.
In truth, you should hold the two in healthy tension. You have financial return (IRR) and you have ERR (Eternal Rate of Return). When I pitch this concept at finance types, it’s like watching their circuits blow; they’ve never heard of it before and often say, ‘OK, well what’s the formula…’
ERR has four variables. The starting point is employee experience – everything begins with that employee, the choices they make, the effort they put in, how engaged they feel, how encouraged they feel. There is a science to this, you can look to the research and find what it takes to create a great workplace. The next variable is customer – the marketplace experience from the product or service that’s offered. Is the organisation delivering something that is blessing, benefitting folks? You put those in brackets, and you multiply by scale. The exponential to all of this? Values
At Kingdom Capital, our shield values are service, humility, integrity, excellence, love and diversity. We’re looking for leaders who aspire to those values, and who want to serve others in humility, whilst having consistency across those values.
Let’s take love as an example, some people get nervous about it as it may sit (for them) in an emotional realm; for us- it’s an action not an emotion. Often, that can be counterintuitive – from scripture, that’s a self-sacrificing love. I’m always checking my ego with the needs of people around me.
Diversity matters too – of thought, even of faiths. Your faith may happen to be Christian, and you may anchor your faith in the Bible – but that may not be for everyone, and it’s important to respect that; diversity doesn’t end at the edge of Christianity, it continues from there. The world is filled with people in God’s image – each person, regardless of who they are, where they came from, whether they’ve been to church or not – they are all precious and made in God’s image. They all have gifts, and we must celebrate that, and learn from each other – that’s the only way we’ll find solutions for the challenges we face.
At Kingdom Capital, we have to be stewards of the investments that our investors have tasked us to make, we have to pursue excellence, integrity and serve them by putting their interests first. We want to maximise IRR and ERR together by operating with humility and integrity – if we get it wrong, we’re accountable.
[bios]David L. Steward Founder and Chairman, World Wide Technology and Kingdom Capital
David L. Steward, Founder and Chairman of World Wide Technology was born in Chicago, Illinois, and moved with his family shortly thereafter to the small rural town of Clinton, Missouri.
After graduating from Central Missouri State University in 1973, Mr. Steward relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. He was the first person of color ever hired by Missouri Pacific Railroad Company to sell rail services. Upon leaving Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, he joined Federal Express as a senior account executive. During his tenure at FedEx, Mr. Steward was recognized as salesman of the year and was inducted into the company’s sales hall of fame in 1981.
After founding two successful startup companies, Mr. Steward founded World Wide Technology in 1990. Steward and his executive team have built what started as a small logistics/ transportation audit company into a leading systems integrator and supply chain solutions provider with over 5,000 employees globally and $13 billion in revenue.
Mr. Steward has been married to his wife, Thelma, for 43 years. Their son, David L. Steward II, CEO of Polarity Ltd, is married to Mary and they have two sons, Trey and Julian. Their daughter, Kimberly Steward, is CEO of K Period Media.
Mr. Steward is a member of the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans and serves on their Board of directors. He also serves on the boards National Academy Foundation (NAF), United Way of Greater St. Louis, Washington University, Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis, Boy Scouts of America Great St. Louis Area Council and many other organizations.
Under Mr. Steward’s leadership, WWT has grown to be the most successful business in the history of the Government’s 8A disadvantaged business and small business program. The company has successfully partnered with the DOD, various security agencies, NIH and many other civilian agencies. The company has also been issued clearances at the highest level.
In addition to graduating from Central Missouri State University, Mr. Steward holds an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Washington University, as well as Honorary Doctorates in Humane Letters from numerous colleges and universities. Mr. Steward was the first non-engineer to be awarded the Black Engineer of the Year Award. In 2018, Mr. Steward was presented with Boy Scouts of America’s national-level Silver Buffalo Award for distinguished service.
Mr. Steward and his wife are involved in many philanthropic and community efforts. “I don’t have a business philosophy and a personal philosophy. They are one and the same that I live by 24/7. My wife, Thelma and I come from humble backgrounds, and we have been blessed with more prosperity than we could have imagined when we were young. It is a blessing for us to give to others.”
Brandon K. Mann – Co-Founder, Managing Partner & CEO, Kingdom Capital
Brandon has been blessed with more than 25 years of diverse executive and board leadership experience. He is the Co-Founder, Managing Partner and CEO of Kingdom Capital, a values-driven private investment and philanthropic firm that seeks to transform the world through a virtuous cycle of capital.
Brandon serves as an advisor to the Board of Directors of World Wide Technology, a global technology solutions firm. Brandon is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Biblical Business Training, a global non-profit ministry that helps people apply Biblical principles at work. He is the co-author of Leadership By The Good Book: Timeless Principles for Making an Eternal Difference, to be published June 2020.
Prior to founding Biblical Business Training, Brandon served in a variety of key executive and board roles helping develop the country’s largest privately held commercial real estate services firm. Brandon also has served on a wide variety of non-profit and ministry leadership and board roles, including University of Missouri, United Way, Bonhomme Church, Kirk Day School, and Westminster Christian Academy.
Brandon graduated top of his BSBA and MBA programs at the University of Missouri in 1994 and 1996 respectively. Originally from Hannibal, Missouri, Brandon is married to his high school sweetheart, Lisa, and they are blessed with three children: Logan, Kaitlyn, and Gavin.[/bios]