Can one have success in business and be a committed follower of Christ? Must believers compromise their Christian values to succeed in business? Tom Steipp offers an instructive example of how one can succeed in business and live out Christian values at the same time.
Steipp’s has a stellar resume – US Air Force pilot for 8 years, executive at Hewlett-Packard for 17 years, VP/General Manager at Scientific Atlanta for 2 years, CEO of Symmetricomm – a $200+ million public company – for 11 years, and currently CEO of Liquidmetal Technologies – a small public company.
Steipp grew up attending church, but says, “I had all this knowledge in my head, but did not have a personal relationship with Christ.” At the Air Force Academy, he was taught self-reliance. And although he attended chapel services daily, as did most of his fellow cadets, faith was secondary. He married in 1973 and has been married for 40 years. During the early years of his marriage, Steipp earned an MBA from Purdue and focused on building his career. Although his wife, Deb, grew up attending church, neither she nor Steipp practiced their faith actively and only occasionally went to church during their early years of marriage.
After Steipp left the Air Force, he went to work at Hewlett-Packard. But life was stressful.
We moved, had a baby, built a house, and I changed jobs within a short period of time. I would get up at 5:00 in the morning, run, and be at work by 6:30 or 7:00. For a period I was taking a Stanford programming course after work, so would not be home until late in the evening. Somewhere along the line, Deb said, “I don’t think our marriage is very good. Maybe we should start going to church.” What she really meant was that I wasn’t being a very good husband, and she was right. My priority was business.
After trying several churches, they found a church at which the pastor reached out to them and invited them to dinner. That dinner led to a friendship with a couple that invited the Steipps to attend a Bible study. After rejecting the offer several times, Steipp finally gave in “to get Bruce off my back.” Steipp remarks that the Bible study “started to have an impact in my life.”
That Bible study coupled with the birth of their second child brought Steipp closer to God. He recalls,
The week before the birth, I prayed for the future, for the child, and for Deb. This was unusual because praying was not something I typically did. I didn’t hear God’s voice, but had a strong feeling of His presence. I remember saying to myself, “Thank you Lord. I feel like this is the first time you are here.”
Steipp’s life did not change dramatically, but a crisis in their marriage did lead to change.
Deb was preparing to give me a lesson – had the kids in day care and tickets to fly to Memphis by herself, but in desperation, she asked God, “If you are real, prove it.” That afternoon, a neighbor, came over and insisted that Deb attend Bible Study Fellowship. That began a process that brought us back to church and began renewing our marriage and our faith.
When Steipp and his family moved to the Bay Area a few years after the near crisis in their marriage, he and Deb started attending Peninsula Bible Church (PBC).
The big event was getting connected to Ray Stedman, pastor of PBC, and his close friend Howard Hendricks (Dallas Theological Seminary professor and author). Stedman tucked me under his wing, as he did with so many other guys.
A weeklong conference in the late 1980s which Steipp attended with Ray Stedman and Howard and Jeanne Hendricks, “radically changed my perspective spiritually,” says Steipp. During the next 20 years, his and Deb’s mentoring relationship with Ray and Elaine Stedman and Howard and Jeanne Hendricks bore much fruit. Steipp began to view faith as central to his life, not just something to practice on Sunday. And his priorities shifted — from a central focus on business to living a more balanced life.
While Steipp has had a rewarding business career, he makes it clear that God called him first to be a husband and a father.
I believe that the primary purpose of marriage is to reflect the glorious relationship between Christ and the Church. Nothing that I accomplish at work is a reason or justification for not treating my wife and my family with the same love that Christ showed to his church.
Faith and Business
Steipp views his work as a ministry and a way to honor God.
So how does Steipp stay grounded in his faith and succeed in business? Steipp makes these four points:
- Read great books – “Every day I try to spend quality time in Scripture and adopt Biblical principles to build my moral compass. The easiest way to summarize my view of how to live out faith in business is simply to follow the blueprint that God lays out for us in the Bible. I try to know the Bible so well that its guidance is always there as a foundation when I need to make difficult decisions or face tough issues. I’ve also noted that Biblical wisdom keeps showing up in today’s best secular research. For example, Jim Collins in Good to Great emphasizes importance of servant leadership, which is really what God calls us to be both at home and in the workplace. In all my years of business, I don’t remember needing to make a good “business decision” that wasn’t consistent with Biblical guidance. Over the years, I’ve observed that integrity is always a choice – not a situational outcome.”
- Crystalize and communicate your values – “I try to build my business and my personal life on Biblical principles and values. If I’m serving as the CEO, I try to create a culture that very clearly reflects my values and beliefs. As a board member, I try to find and support organizations that unequivocally share my values and beliefs. It goes without saying that having one set of values at home another for the office is a recipe for failure.”
- Find wise mentors and uncompromising accountability partners – “Ray Stedman had a profound influence on my spiritual life. The Hendricks’ provided advice and encouragement that strengthened our marriage. Over the years, I have been blessed with a network of friends and business associates who provide wise counsel and hold me accountable. My only regret is not finding these people earlier.”
- Leave a legacy – businesses come and go, but people last forever “I have been the beneficiary of having some great men and extraordinary couples who took time out of very busy schedules to spend time with me and my wife. Today, we try to spend time at work, within our family, and in the community, looking for men/couples whom we can impact in the same way that others have helped us. Deb and I view spending time with the next generation of business leaders, their families, and church leaders to be something that is a key priority for us.”
Church and Non-profit Activities
In addition to living out his faith in the marketplace, mentoring young believers, and leading Bible studies, Steipp lends his gifts and talents to his church – Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos – and for years has served as a board member at faith based non-profit organizations, including Walk Thru the Bible and Mount Hermon, a Christian camp and conference center in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Faith and Silicon Valley
Steipp is cautiously hopeful about a renewal of faith in Silicon Valley.
I see thousands of points of light rather than a single bonfire – churches, Para church organizations, and businessmen/women all working in different areas, but all seeking God’s will and doing His work. Ray Stedman used to say that one of the underappreciated benefits of wars was to prepare a new set of leaders for the next generation. There are real wars going on in our culture that will affect the history of our community and this country. The challenge for us as Christians is to help raise-up the next generation of leaders; men and women who will transform the world of business, while holding fast to the values and Biblical principles that made us great. I am encouraged by what I see, but it will take time and lots of people praying.