Every Tuesday, we highlight entrepreneurs and leaders that are not only making a name for their selves, but are also showing generosity in unique ways. The individuals we choose are ones that have inspired us to continue doing what we love and are shining examples of what Take Heart Apparel Co. stands for as an organization. These individuals have shown the ability to be enterprising and generous and are not only changing the lives of those around them, but even of those all across the world. They are community leaders and world changers.
This week, we decided to take things in a slightly different direction. In the past, our focus has been those in the nonprofit world. However, we know that that is not the only track that people take in order to practice generosity and making a difference. That’s why it’s a privilege to be able to share more about Scott Bybee of ESC Consulting Engineers and how he applies Godly principles and generosity within the world of “conventional” business.
What is ESC Consulting Engineers?
ESC engineers is an industrial manufacturing specifically focused consulting engineering firm. We have mechanical, electrical, structural engineers, civil engineers and then programmers too. We do automation, so we design new lines or new processes for people to make stuff and then we do the electrical design to make all the wires happen, and then we also do the programming so that you have touch screens that make them all go.
When did ESC start?
It started in the late 80’s by my father. He was an engineer for Mid-America doing engineering work at their plants, which there is one right in Springfield. They were making infant formula back at that time and doing some dairy processes- powders and liquid dairy processes. He quit and started on his own in our basement. We lived out on the north side of town and started. We bought an old 386 computer, which I don’t know what the equivalent of that would be now. It was like two or three thousand dollars. There are calculators now that could do way more then this thing could do. I remember he brought that home. It was a big old thing. It had a little drawing program on it and some basic calculation functions. It was all DOS. No Windows back then. It was crazy!
What made you want to pursue a career in engineering?
Being raised in an environment where you dad is an engineer, that is kind of like the default as a son, to do what dad did. I didn’t want to just do that, but at the same time I enjoyed math and science and I like a right and wrong answer, which you get in engineering more then you get in some other disciplines. There is a correct thing and it has a number and you can calculate it and say “this is the answer” and I like that. I don’t like the grays so much. I like right and wrong. That lead me or directed me a little bit towards engineering and then as I got more into it and playing with robots and doing some of the classes where you get some hands on experience with creating some thing. It’s kind of a creation thing too. I mean, you’re envisioning something. Some of these projects are 6 to 12 months long and when you actually get to see these projects come to life and do what you’ve talked about them doing for sometimes two years, it’s really something. We actually used to have a programmer that would play “Sweet Caroline” [hums tune] whenever he got it going. That was his celebration music.
Anyways, that’s what directed me towards engineering. Dad had this company and I actually graduated and went and worked in the printed circuit board industry up in Lake of the Ozarks. There was a manufacturing company there and I actually worked there as a design engineer in their research and development group for three or four years before my wife and I decided to move back to Springfield and I just came back and worked for dad.
How did your dad feel about that?
He understood. I mean, part of it’s like, you know, if I wanted to work at ESC, we like to hire people who have already worked somewhere else. This is because ESC is kind of a weird place to work. We’re family, we’re nice, and you can sort of come as you’d like. There’s not a lot of corporate politics as far as climbing the corporate ladder and it’s just a family entity. We want people who have experienced the other side so they know the difference. There really is a difference. For some people, it’s actually been really hard because some people want to know direct reports and want to see an order chart, but we’re more like everybody works for everybody. I help you on a project and you help me. I need your skills sometimes, you need mine, and we just pull together and do stuff. They want to see, well who do I report to and who do I thump on the head when they mess up? I’m like, “We’re not doing that.” We’re doing the best we can to serve our clients and if everybody has the heart of a servant, we’re gonna be fine. If everyone’s trying to cover his or her bases and things like that, that’s when we’re going to have a problem.
You talk about having unusual culture in your business, what would you say are the pillars of that culture?
Well, the biggest one, as I mentioned earlier, is the servant’s heart- to be someone that’s willing to do the dirty work for someone else and not be “too good” for helping others. I mean, I enjoy sweeping the floors and taking out the trash and all that stuff. People think it’s funny when I do that stuff. They say, “You shouldn’t do that. You’re the president.”
“Well, it needs to be done and I was going that way anyways, so why not do it?”
In fact, I was at a client’s facilities and they were having a big startup and I was waiting around on a platform for a guy to come up and meet me to fix some plumbing issues I was having. I couldn’t leave this area because I had all the food safety garb on. It was still kind of transitioning from a construction zone to a food processing area so there was still some stuff that was dirty in the area. So I grabbed a broom and a dustpan and I was up there sweeping it up, just while I was waiting. Then these guys, who are my clients saw me up there and took a picture. I don’t where that picture is going. I can see it, “We pay you this much an hour for sweeping!?”
So the servant’s heart is definitely a big thing, but of course there is also technical ability. We’ve had some employees that have the right heart, but you still need to have the right set of abilities.
Also, as a Christian-based company, I want to make sure people are caring and loving, but they’re not all Christians. You know, that’s not on the checklist to come onto the firm, but I want them to have integrity and those sorts of things have to be there, because you’re handling our money, our client’s money, and things like that.
One of the big reasons that made us want to meet with you that we thought was so cool was what you called a “mission day.” Can you explain more about that idea?
Yeah, I wish I had more examples we could use, but everyone’s been so busy. I mean, we’ve done missions stuff before, as a group we’ve gone out and partnered with a local church and did some projects for local people where everyone goes out and just does it. We also have several people who do missions work already, like actual missions trips for one or two weeks and go places. I wanted to get everybody involved in doing things like that, though. So for 2014, in addition to your vacation days and other days off, we added a day called “mission day” where you can do whatever you want, as long as you tell me what you did and write up a little blurb about it, then you get a free eight hours that day that you can do whatever kind of service you’d like. It doesn’t have to be Christian, I’m not going to prescribe that. It can be any kind of service. That’s something I really want to get people to start doing.
So that is a paid day off to go do service in their community?
Yeah, it would be a paid day to do whatever service you want, and then we would talk about it. We have lunch meetings once a month and if someone takes a “mission day” in the preceding month, when we all get together, they would explain it or show pictures and talk about what they did.
Considering the skill level of your employees and what you do, a paid day off is a big investment!
Yeah, but really we are blessed with the people we have and where we’re at. We stay pretty “billable.” A lot of companies burn through money bidding on jobs they don’t get or chasing clients, but we don’t do any marketing or any chasing. It’s all been people we know giving repeat business or word of mouth. Financially, we’re really blessed as a company, so I’m happy that we’re able to do stuff like that.
Where do you draw inspiration as a leader and a man of faith in conventional business?
It’s probably from my dad. He’s the one that started it. That was the spark. When there was a question about how to run the organization, the answer was the Bible. Part of what we do is our profit sharing. ESC doesn’t make any profit in a year. We at the end of the year don’t want to have any money that we have to pay taxes on to “Uncle Sam”, so we zero out the books and the money goes out to the employees at the end of every year. That was back when dad started because he was financially set. He was starting a small business. There is a verse, Proverbs 3:27, that says, “do not withhold good from those who deserve it.” That verse was presented to him multiple times. You know how God works. As he was getting towards the question, “what am I going to do with this money?” The world of temptation would have you say, “that’s my company and that’s my money.” The verse kept being put in front of him and he knew that’s what he was suppose to do, so he that. Now it’s just our standard to just distribute funds to employees. That’s really been a blessing to the employees and a lot of them do really generous things with that money too. I received a lot of feedback and stories of what they do with the extra money because that’s another thing I’m in to, big time, is generous giving. Not just generous giving, but I like the spontaneous things too like paying for haircuts for everybody. Every time I get a haircut, I leave money for the next person to get a hair cut, which is small. I mean it’s not a big deal, but it’s fun. I’ve had people run out because they some how found out I did it before I could get out of there. They chase me down the sidewalk and tell me how it meant to them and the week that they had. I mean it’s 14 bucks. It’s those little acts of kindness, just a little bit of generosity that could change a person’s day or more. You don’t know. I want to get more people doing that.
What would be your advice to someone who wants to apply generosity to or through conventional business?
It’s really about biblical principles and paying attention to those things. You don’t have to be a Christian to do generous kind of stuff in your business, but it’s about going back to that verse where it says to not withhold good from those who deserve it. Before you get the point where you have the capabilities to distribute some generosity, you have to come by that money honestly. I mean you can be generous, but it’s a little weird. We always say, “do what’s right and fear nothing.” So sometimes we’ll make a mistake and have to pay or fix something. There are so many ways in the engineering world to screw something up. You see these project files and there is all these calculations and part numbers and it’s just amazing that we get anything right. There is just so much stuff. We’ve been very blessed. We’ve never been sued and we’ve never sued anybody, but if something comes up, we do what right. We fix it and we move on. That’s the basis. It’s doing business the right way and fairly to where you have a reputation and I think God blesses that financially. It’s within his power to not do that too. I always tell people ESC is blessed, but it’s not like we are a holy entity that God is always going to prop up. He could choose tomorrow to have all of our clients leave us and if that’s His plan, it’s His plan. We’d shut up and close up shop. We’d go other places and do great things probably. So that’s the basis –doing it right. As far as advice for generosity, follow the biblical principles and really have an attitude of gratitude about your blessings all the time. If you’re always comparing yourself to someone who has more or something different, you’ll be always trying to have more. If you were to compare yourself to the general population of the world, though, you’d see the tremendous blessings that we have here. If you’re always thinking about how blessed you are, then you’ll be more generous with other people, as far as sharing those blessings.