TULSA, Okla. -- Billionaire David Green has closely followed Biblical principles over the years. In 1972, the founder and CEO of the arts and crafts chain, Hobby Lobby, started the business with just $600.
From the company's humble beginnings in an Oklahoma City living room, Green now oversees close to 20,000 employees and 457 stores in 39 states.
He was number 136 on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans published late in 2010, with a net worth of just over $2.5 billion.
The journey to that amount was draining at times, involving battles with pride and debt. But a humble and grateful Green emerged from the trials, giving all the credit to God.
"God has just blown us off the map, and we know that we give God the glory," Green told an audience at a luncheon in Tulsa, fighting back the tears.
Only a portion of the West Coast and New England are without the arts and crafts chain. However, Green said Hobby Lobby stores are on the way, with one expected to open in California in January, to be followed by stores in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
"There are so many decisions that we have to make that we just can't make without God, the Holy Spirit guiding us. And it has been very important for us, our family, to lean on the Holy Spirit," Green shared with CBN News.
"For him, it was always a ministry," said David's son, Mart Green, who is also a highly successful businessman.
"He couldn't be a preacher, and Grandma wanted six preachers, and he wished he could have been a preacher, but that wasn't his calling," he explained. "So he had to go where his gifting was, and he just, he loved the retail business."
Green built his business on Biblical principles.
"We try to do as much as we can, especially as we have rid ourselves of any debt," Green explained. "We've always tithed. That's something that we always have been taught, but we've also been taught that that's not giving. Giving is above what we owe God, and that is our tithes."
More profits mean more funds to give away. Green and his family have given millions to Christian causes and education. Their generous donations have benefited Liberty University in Virginia, rescued Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, and will enable C.S. Lewis College to open in Massachusetts.
Green's latest charitable endeavor involves purchasing Christian artifacts and ancient Bibles for a national Bible museum.
Caring for Employees
However, the CEO hasn't forgotten those who help keep Hobby Lobby stores running and the customers happy. In 2010, the company raised the minimum wage for full-time employees to $11 per hour -- 52 percent above the federal minimum wage.
Green said raising wages is a way to reward employees for the company's success.
Another way that Green takes care of his employees is by limiting the number of hours that the store stays open in the evenings. Monday through Saturday, it's only open until 8 p.m. Hobby Lobby is also closed on Sundays to allow time for family and worship.
"It kind of frightened us when we knew God was speaking to us about closing on Sunday, because it is per hour, the busiest day of the week. But we knew God wanted us to close," Green said, adding that the move has not hurt the company's bottom line.
Blessing in a Tough Economy
Green said there are no other companies the size of Hobby Lobby that are open only 66 hours a week. Yet, even in these tough economic times, the business is flourishing. He said same-store sales rose 6 percent in 2009, and the company's overall revenue was up 10 percent.
"Our businesses have done really well, even in these hard times," Green told CBN News. "Last year, we had a nice increase, even in our same stores. This year we're above that."
"So I know God is in this," he said. "And He is blessing us, and I think just as important as our giving is our hearts and that we do have clean hands and a pure heart in our work. And this is what God would require of us."
Sharing the Gospel
Green and his family are not just financial givers. They strive to help meet the spiritual needs of their employees as well. Three Hobby Lobby chaplains minister to workers.
Green said hundreds of employees have given their hearts to Jesus Christ, including more than a dozen managers this year alone.
"We prayed a prayer with them, and we did have 15 managers come to know Christ in the business place," he shared.
Sharing the Gospel, Green says, is the driving force behind his quest for success in the marketplace. In fact, that's how he wants to be remembered.
"I would like to know that we have brought as many people to know Christ as we possibly can," Green said. "We hope to continue to just grow our company. As long as there's someone on this earth that doesn't know Jesus Christ, we have a job to do."
*Original broadcast Nov. 6, 2010.