Interview with Alan Barnhart - President, Barnhart Crane and Rigging

What does Barnhart Crane do?

Barnhart Crane is a company based in Memphis, Tennessee. What we do is, we basically pick up and move heavy things. We are a heavy lifting, heavy transporting contractor. We work primarily in heavy industry. We put up a lot of wind turbines. We do a lot of work in the nuclear power industry. We do a lot of work in the refineries: steel mills, paper mills. So, we are a niche contractor picking up and moving heavy stuff associated with heavy industry.

Why have you and your family decided to cap the amount of money you are making? How is the company structured and why have you decided to give the ownership away?

When my brother and I started talking about forming a business and being partners, I had just come through a process of reading through the scriptures and seeing what I saw as a lot of warnings about the negative effect of wealth, and about the concept that everything comes from God. He is the owner. I am a steward, not an owner. I have no rights. I am not my own. I have been bought with a price. So when we started talking about the business and becoming partners, I wanted to make sure that we nailed that down. And together we agreed that this business, all of it, belongs to God, and we committed that to our lives.

The second thing we did to shield ourselves from some of the negative effects of wealth was to cap our lifestyle. We decided to live a relatively simple life in terms of consumption. But then tried to invest heavily with our talents to have a great company that could generate a lot of profit, and use that profit to help others, to help the Kingdom.

Half of it is given away, giving it over to the National Christian foundation and helping them own the company.

How have you shared some of those values with your kids and family? Is there any tension?

My wife did such a good job teaching them contentment. If you spend their lives teaching them contentment, there will be a basis there where they can rear up.

Putting a cap on our lifestyle brings up a lot of issues - what should that cap be, and what should our lifestyle be. We basically said, let’s ask God and see what He wants us to do. We came up with a basic lifestyle and we lived it. We continued through that process. We tried to teach our kids to be content. We had a great, adventurous, exciting life. All the good stuff in life is free. There is so much adventure, so many good things. My kids just learned to grow up, not as rich kids, but as kids that live, relatively simply. We never bought a new car. We never went on fancy vacations, but we went camping, and went to the beach, and had some great times together, and still do. My kids didn’t resent it. There were times where my kids wanted something that didn’t fit with our lifestyle, and there were times we had to say no. But we always tried to communicate with them the alternative, the choice that was being made. So, instead of just saying no, we showed them the alternative. We took them around the world to see brothers and sisters who were amazing people that we were able to help with our funding. So, there was a reason for making the sacrifices that we made. My kids were able to see that and connect with it. So it helped them. They are human beings. There were times they wanted something that they couldn’t have...times we had to say no. It was much easier because they understood the reasons for the process and the alternative that they saw as a really good thing.

When you look at your grandkids, what do you want them to remember about what you and Katherine started? What legacies do you want them and your own kids to remember?

I really hope my kids, and my grandkids, can take away, and can grasp, is that it is not about the money. We serve a loving, heavenly Father. And it is about understanding who He is and embracing the generosity that comes from Him. He is a giver. It is not about a certain amount of money. It is about a concept, God owns it all, and that is good news. We serve a loving God, who wants to give us a rich, abundant, Christian life. It is not a life of sacrifice and struggle. It is a life of walking with a Father who loves us. I want my kids to grasp that, and I think they have been able to. I hope that for the grandkids as well.

How have your brother and sister participated in this?

My brother was involved very early on and has kind of struggled through his faith. He went through a divorce, so he has had some struggles. He is remarried now, and his faith has kind of rejuvenating a bit. It has been a struggle for him. He has never kicked against it. He has always been supportive of it. He is not a guy that would want to be on the committee, or figure things out. He would fall asleep in our meetings, but he is very supportive of it.

My sister is not a believer. She has worked in the company for many years, did a good job at it, and has kind of retired. All of it has been all inward focused, which is sad to me. She knows where I am and wants to have a good relationship but doesn’t want me to push on her. She is not at all resentful. She sees what we are doing as a positive thing but doesn’t understand it.

How did you share some of these values with your employees and is this something you look for when hiring?

Some of the primary beneficiaries of this lifestyle we have chosen is the guys that work for us. Those that are believers, many have come to the company because of the ministry component of the company, and because they want to live in a place that wants to strive for excellence. So we try to give them both. There are about 80 of the employees of the company that are part of the process to find out what God wants us to do with the money that we are generating. We invite them into that process. We have sent our team members all over the world, to really hard places, seeing what God is doing and coming back with recommendations about how we can step in. They have been key players in figuring out where the investment should be made, and that is life changing. They have interacted with brothers and sisters around the world. It has really changed them. We have plenty of employees that are not believers. We say that you can believe anything or nothing and still work in our company. We have a variety of theologies in our company. There is no litmus test on theology, but there is a litmus test on culture. We want our employees to embrace our culture. The higher they go in leadership, the more critical it is they embrace our culture. A culture of servant leadership, honesty, excellence, continuous improvement. Those are elements that we look for, not all believers have those elements. So not all believers would be a fit at our company, and certainly not all non believers would be a good fit.

Why do you consider yourselves as Kingdom investors, not just donors?

We wouldn’t consider ourselves as donors, or givers. We consider ourselves Kingdom investors. We approach our decision making, our stewardship of God’s resources, somewhat in the same way we approach our business decisions. We look for organizations that have Godly leadership- solid good leadership, that have a coherent strategy, good goals. We look for an organization that has a good track record. If we find an organization that has those elements, then we are willing to invest. We start off with a little and see how it goes. We are looking for a real return. We are looking for an organization that is producing. It is not a return that is a financial return, but it is a real return. We consider ourselves investors, not givers.

How do you see marketplace making a difference in the kingdom, and around the world?

Business guys can have a real impact in this whole kingdom world. I don’t think we need to say, let us write a check and these guys have got it covered. We need to interact with ministries: helping them think, challenging their thinking, asking hard questions, encouraging them. I think this can be a lot more valuable than the check. A lot of times just going through the process of evaluating a ministry can change the ministry in positive ways. We, in the business world, can benefit from elements in the faith community, and our faith can be enlivened. Ministries are basically businesses that are producing a product. A lot of the business principles apply, but not a lot of ministry leaders have been taught them. Working together and not being afraid to step over some bounds and asking great questions has been extremely beneficial. We have had ministry leaders say “you have helped me so much more by your advice, input, and your questions, than with your check.”

Come and meet Alan at our upcoming Christian CEO Roundtable in Chicago on Monday, September 24th.