NASHVILLE (BP) — When Joe Greene opens his Bible, wisdom rises from years of underlining with a pen and highlighting with yellow and green markers.
Through its well-worn pages, God’s Spirit shaped not only Greene’s faith but also his calling and acumen as a corporate executive.
“I honestly did not know all the things in the Bible about business,” Greene said in an interview recapping the stirring he felt to start a business rooted in Christian principles.
“It’s so full of things that teach you how to run your business, but it was all brand-new to me” when he left Humana as president of the Fortune 500 company’s hospital operations to start his own hospital management enterprise in the 1980s.
“I just began with one thing at a time; I wasn’t trying to take on the whole Bible. Every time I saw something in the Scriptures that I thought was related to a business, I implemented it.”
Beyond his uncertainty of providing for a wife and four sons, there were doubters over his resolve to live his faith in a corporate setting.
“When I first started, it bothered me that Christian men — businessmen who had been successful — would say, ‘Joe, that isn’t going to work. It just goes against all the business world’s teaching.’
“I said, ‘I understand that. But God has made it clear to me that I’m to operate on Christian principles.’
“And they’d always say, “Well, OK, good luck to you. Can’t see it myself, but have at it.'”
Greene started to believe their wariness.
“I was so dumb that I went back to God and said, ‘It won’t work.’ Now imagine that, I’m telling God that something isn’t going to work,” Greene said in a light but still-chastised tone. “It took me two years to get it in my heart and mind before I would say, ‘OK, God, I’m going to open a company [and] I’m going to ask You to guide me in every step I take.”
That guidance has made it into a book by Greene, “Dare to Succeed: Experience the Satisfaction of Doing Business by the Book,” a collaboration with Greg Webster.
The 190-page book encompasses numerous principles and personal experiences that the retired executive relayed in leading a Nashville-area CEO Fellowship while in his late 70s and early 80s for several years and continues to convey in radio interviews and speaking engagements.
Paying the bills
Prompt payment of invoices was one of the first things Greene did in starting his hospital management company.
“I don’t know why it was so important all of a sudden, except I read in Proverbs where it said if you owe somebody money and you have it, you need to pay them right away.” The passage is Proverbs 3:27-28.
Greene went to his business officer and said, “From now on when we get a bill from anybody, if you verify that we owe it, I want it paid,” even though 30 days for paying an invoice was typical.
Before long, the president of a large company asked to meet with Greene and inquired soon into the conversation, “Why do you pay my bills as soon as you get them? … Nobody else does that, Joe.”
“I said, ‘Well in Proverbs it teaches me to do that.'”
The executive then offered to invest in Greene’s company or provide any loans he needed, saying, “I like the way you’re doing business.”
“So I thought, you know, maybe this is going to work.”
An unlimited mission
For Greene, Health Management Associates was more than simply a Christian business. He sensed a call to reach people with the Gospel — both in corporate America and in the world wherever a Christian ministry needed help.
“The marketplace of business is just as much a calling as a pastor or a missionary,” he said.
“God wanted me to operate the business in a way that it would be satisfactory to Him. And He certainly wanted it to be profitable. Most people think that being profitable is wrong. Well, they need to read the Bible because it is full of men who God saw to it that they would be profitable, whatever they did.”
As his business took root, “I began to realize there is more and more we could do out in the marketplace that the church can’t. … Once the pastor comes into the business, all the businessman thinks about is, ‘Well, he’s a preacher. He’s supposed so say all that stuff.’
“But when a businessman stands up to speak and says, ‘I want to tell you why I’ve been successful,’ you can see them all grab a piece of paper and pencil. Everyone I’ve ever seen wants to know about that.
“Now, when they hear the answer, they’re not quite as strong about wanting the answer than they were on the front end. But they hear it, and oftentimes they’ll respond by saying, ‘Tell me again how I’m to operate on Christian principles.’
“That’s my reach into the marketplace. And it’s unlimited.”
A business leader’s faith, Greene added, provides a competitive advantage as well as an opportunity to nudge into evangelism.
“Here’s the advantage: I can ask God for direction in my company, but you can’t,” he would say. “How are you going to talk to God if you don’t know Him?
“I had an advantage all the time I was running my company and writing the book, because He would speak to me often. Everybody wondered, ‘Well, how did you hear Him? Why would He speak to you?'”
His reply: “Go the Bible and look for the answers. That’s what I did. Everything that I ran into that talked to me about my business, I would either highlight it or underline it, one or the other.
“I just kept finding answers.”