When Eau Gallie Electric began advertising on WFLA in Orlando, radio host and spokesman Bud Hedinger knew exactly how to start the ad: focus on the company's bold Christian stance.
Eau Gallie CEO Chris Hughes is clear about his company's Christian mission, to "successfully answer God's call to change lives."
After Hedinger checked out the company's website, he said, "'I'm going to say that first,'" said Hughes of Eau Gallie, a turnkey company based in Melbourne, Florida, that provides electrical contracting services and long-life power generators. "He said, 'I'm going to say that you're a strong Christian company.'"
Hughes said that when he asked Hedinger why he would lead with that focus, the talk show host, who is a Christian on a general market station, replied, "Because people tell me all the time that they want to do business with people who are like them, who are strong Christian people."
Hughes has seen this principle play out in his own experiences with customers.
"There's a thirst for that now in the marketplace, that people want to do business with Christian companies," Hughes said. "They want to do business with people who are like them. And the media kind of makes you think that 'Oh yeah, church attendance is declining. Fewer people identify as Christian' and all that, but that's not what I see out there."
Running a Family Business
But Eau Gallie has not always been led in an overtly Christian way. When U.S. Navy veteran Garland Reynolds founded the company in 1948, its values were mainly business-focused: cleanliness, neat work, high quality and attention to detail.
Hughes bought Eau Gallie from Reynolds 12 years ago and, for several years, kept the focus primarily the same. After all, Hughes had been planning to be a career Army officer and knew little about running a family business. He had attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and was on the Army track when tragedy struck. After he returned from a three-month tour in Iraq in 2004, he broke his back in a nighttime parachute jump at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The injury shut down his plan for a military career, which he found "pretty devastating."
"My father-in-law and I wanted to get together and do a real estate business," Hughes said. "That was during the real estate boom. One of the properties we found was a commercial property, and Reynolds owned the business for, I think, 50 years before us—he offered the business, to finance it."
Hughes had a degree in mechanical engineering and knew nothing about operating a business or being an electrician, but his wife, who has the biblical name Keturah, encouraged him to pursue the opportunity. Hughes used his own credit card to buy the company's first generator and ended up earning a significant profit.
"It just kind of snowballed from there," Hughes said. "Now, we typically put in 100 to 200 generators every year, and they just keep getting bigger and bigger."
Though the company itself has stayed relatively small, with 27 employees, Hughes said the unique thing about it is that all Eau Gallie electricians are also trained to work with generators.
"On a normal day, we might have six or seven guys working on generators and the rest of them on electrical work," he said. "During an emergency, we'll have 20 guys who are all somewhat skilled in generator work. So even though we're a small company in Brevard County, Florida, we've got way more trained generator techs than any other company around, even the big companies."
This helps Eau Gallie be prepared for the overwhelming number of customers during natural disasters, such as Hurricane Irma in 2017. Irma knocked out power for 16 million people across the Southeast, according to The Washington Post. Florida Today reported that a majority of people in the company's home county, Brevard, lost power, so there was a lot of electrical work to do.
"There's about as much work as we can do without a hurricane," Hughes said. "And then a hurricane comes, and it's about 15 times as much work, and it just completely overwhelms everybody. We had people calling after Irma, and we were booking appointments for three or four months away before we could even come and look at their houses."
In disaster scenarios, Hughes can't simply hire more employees, as the work is specialized. Becoming an electrician requires an apprenticeship of approximately four years, and most states require electricians to obtain their own licenses. But by cross-training his employees, Hughes said, "that's how we take care of our little area."
Changing Workplace Culture
After Hughes bought the company, he focused on quality service and kept faith out of the business for several years. Though he had been a Christian since his youth, he figured the separation of church and state prohibited him from talking about his faith in the workplace. But just over two years ago, a Christian business leaders organization called C12 Group shredded that misconception.
"You have your own First Amendment rights," C12 advised Hughes. "You can say whatever you want about your own beliefs and your own faith. ... That's really something that you ought to have out there for your employees to see. You need to live that out."
C12 Group's website describes the organization as a "confidential and intimate environment where like-minded peers share ideas, discover and plan for areas in their businesses that need improvement, hold each other accountable and encourage one another to conduct business in a God-honoring way." The networking group offers monthly meetings for CEOs and separate meetings for key leaders so they can learn the same material.
One of the first things Hughes learned at C12 was that his business was his mission, with both employees and customers. With the help of key leaders at his company, Hughes crafted a new statement, now posted to Eau Gallie's website, eg-electric.com: "Our company strives to provide excellent work and customer service in order to glorify God."
Hughes said this renewed focus on faith has been quite a transition, especially since many employees have worked there for years.
"They didn't really sign up for that," Hughes said. "We weren't sure how those guys were going to react. We have a really high retention rate for employees, and they're very loyal. And some of them, they like the boss or they know they like the company, but they don't know why."
Hughes is clear about the kind of company he wants to run: one that exemplifies Christian values instead of only touting them. If Christian business owners lead any other way, he said, they run into dangerous territory.
"Everybody's waiting to point a finger," he said. "'Oh, they're hypocritical. They say one thing and they act the other.' So our leadership is extremely careful about the way they treat employees. ... It has kind of put a microscope onto our leadership, really, and on me too."
But he thinks the fishbowl effect that accompanies publicly adhering to Christian values forces leaders to step up. He said Eau Gallie will likely post its mission statement on the office wall, but "for the past few years, we've concentrated on living it. ... And that's really brought a lot of the guys closer to God."
Leading With Christian Values
Inviting Jesus into the workplace has added a whole new dynamic to Hughes' leadership style.
He explains one way Christ has influenced his leadership: "There's an aspect of it where you have to ask, 'What's the result when you pray for your employees? Or how would you feel if your boss started out the day asking God how to direct the day, to protect all the employees? What would be the change in your business if that were how the day started?'"
The Bible has also played a role in how Hughes deals with people and resolves conflict. Christlike values revealed in the Ten Commandments and other Scriptures "give the employees a baseline of what to expect," he said. "And as long as we follow that, they feel it, and they understand it, and they feel loved, and they feel appreciated. And that's the key to making people successful."
To help set up his staff for success, Hughes sits down with each of them for an hour or two every year. In those meetings, he helps them go over goals from the previous year and set new ones for the year ahead.
"I can only do one or two of these a day because 60 to 70 percent of the people in there end up crying," Hughes said. "It ends up being really emotional. So I don't think they would get that somewhere else. ... I don't feel like they would really connect on the same level if they didn't really believe that you believe in your core beliefs and were a Jesus-follower."
Being a Christian is not a requirement to work at Eau Gallie, and the company has had employees who wanted nothing to do with Jesus, church or organized religion. But Hughes sees biblical values making a difference even with the hardest-hearted employees.
"We've had employees who were super liberal," Hughes said. "We've had gay and lesbian employees and all kinds of different religions—Wiccan, I mean, you name it. And they will say to your face, 'I don't believe in God. I don't believe in organized religion or whatever. But there's something different about this place, and there's something different about you. I just don't know what it is.'"
Seeing Christians live what they believe puts a chink in unbelievers' armor against God and causes them to question the reasons behind what they believe, Hughes said. He pointed out that the majority of an average full-time employee's waking time is spent at work, which is why he focuses so much on personal relationships in the workplace.
"You probably spend more time with the people at work than you do with your family a lot of times, so you really have a lot of influence on these people," he said.
That's why Hughes doesn't want to waste the time he has with his employees. He's seen the life-changing effects the gospel has on the workplace as believers in Jesus act in accordance with their faith.
After all, he said, cultivating "one-on-one relationships is how you spread the gospel."
Jenny Rose Spaudo is assistant online editor at Charisma Media and host of the "Charisma News" podcast.
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