August 10, 2007

Book Review: More Than A Hobby by David Green

Author: David Green with Dean Merrill
Pub. Date: July 2005
Format: Hardcover, 224pp
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Personal Rating 5/5

Generally, I’m not a big fan of those slim little business books that tell the story of how a business got started up. The principles they espouse usually follow the latest trend in business rather than truly being derived from their own experience. Not so in More Than a Hobby, by David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby. I was excited when my wife (a frequenter of Hobby Lobby) told me that David Green, a man who rarely takes speaking engagements, had written a book. I knew that Green is a Christian whose growth in faith had led him to run ads at Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus, rather than selling product, and had led him to close on Sunday just like my favorite of restaurants, Chick-fil-A.

In More Than a Hobby, Green tells the story of how he created (with help from his wife and family and $600) Hobby Lobby and grew it into the Arts and Craft Superstore it is today. Although the volume is slim, and can easily be read in a week or less, it was worth the purchase. As the reader follows Green’s story, he will find the biblical principles that govern how Green does business interspersed throughout, but not in a heavy handed way. Green, simply acknowledges that he learned to be a merchant by reading Scripture and applying it in the situations in which he found himself. He freely acknowledges his failure, such as not always being closed on Sundays, or making bad business decisions (such as over diversifying) showing himself to be humble as well as successful.

Many readers will not agree with his philosophy, which can be stated as “keep it simple”. A man with little more than a high school education, Green made Hobby Lobby successful by focusing on the practical and useful, and doing away with fluff. For instance, in defense of his lack of POS systems (i.e. computer checkout and bar codes) in his store Green says, “I’m looking for solid, practical technology that has been proved for years in somebody else’s business....I want to keep things as basic as possible.” Something he has complete control over in this family owned business. The idea of making things simple has led to a streamlined business with little wasted time on dull or useless meetings. Has allowed store managers more freedom to affect their store, and has avoided an entirely top down hierarchy that more often creates problems than solves them as the disconnected head office people make rules that are arbitrary or nonsensical.

Some readers will see the streak of his fundamentalist Christianity throughout the book. He refuses to condone alcohol (something that stems both from his beliefs and a near death experience involving a drunk driver) or risqué greeting cards. But this is an unfair characterization. Yes, he does support a chaplaincy at his headquarters, but requires no one who works for him to be a Christian or become one. He supports America, but is willing to buy product from overseas, if he can get the best price without resulting to bribery or other evils associated with such business.

Of course, he wrote the book, so his self descriptions will be a little glowing, even if humbly so, so I take his assertions with a grain of salt. Yet the principles he espouses have made him very successful (with $1.3 billion in annual sales as of 2005), have not made him dependent on stockholders, and he and the company have been ethical and moral along the way.

I highly recommend More Than A Hobby to any retailer, whether at headquarters or the the store manager, either starting out or an old hat at the job. Christians should, if nothing else, read chapter 12 ‘This is Not a “Secular” Business’. It directly addresses what it means to be a Christian in business, and I found it very helpful. Other than that chapter, God is mentioned rarely, and the non-Christian businessman will find useful principles to apply to his or her business (especially if you are in retail) and the blessings that the application of them can bring.

Posted by John on August 10, 2007 10:07 AM | Posted to Business | Nonfiction | Religion
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