Jim Nooney is the CEO of Nooney Controls, a provider of custom valve system solutions. Jim is a Christian who firmly believes in integrating ministry in his company. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with him for an interview.
Q: Where did you grow up and what is your faith background?
I grew up mostly in Southern Rhode Island. My father worked for a business here in Providence, building a career and working a lot. My mother was a seeker when I was small; she wasn’t a Christian but she knew that there was a hole in her soul and she was looking for ways to fill it. She attended a few churches and then ultimately found a Presbyterian church, started to read the Bible and made that decision to follow Christ when I was about eight or nine years old. So I started going to church as a little kid, but it didn’t mean much to me. In high school, I started to realize that she had a strong faith and it had a real influence on me. Our parents can bring us to church, can guide us, can give us information, but you have to make your own decision. So I made a decision to follow Christ in early high school and I began to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Very simply put, I understood that I had a purpose. Following Christ wasn’t just for me; it wasn’t just that I was good and was going to heaven. It changes us and how we look at the world and how we look at our friends. I was a follower of Christ; not a very perfect one.
Q: How did your education shape how you view your faith and your career?
I went to Moses Brown High School and most of my teachers were communists and non-religious. I remember being there and realizing that I was alone. I then decided to go to a Christian college, and I went to Gordon College up in the North Shore of Boston. It was a great place that strengthened my faith. I think that one of the great things about Gordon is that its goal there is to teach you to integrate your faith with your learning and your career. It’s not that you’re this person on Sunday and then you’re something else for the rest of that week. I think that the goal for every Christian is to be the same person, everywhere, all the time; this is who I am, a follower of Christ. Going to Gordon helped me to begin that.
Q: Tell me about the early years of your career.
I graduated from Gordon with a business degree right when my father left his big company and started a small company, basically because he accepted Christ. He felt like he had to compromise in the big company and that the best way for him to get away from that company was to start his own company. It was only two years old when I graduated and he offered me a job. It was my mother, my father, three other employees, and me. I worked out in our shop, doing hands-on manual labor and estimating sales, before I became an outside sales engineer where I dealt directly with customers, bringing in new business. That was the career I began and I’ve been doing that for 31 years.
Q: When did you take over the company as CEO and how was that transition?
My father retired fifteen years ago when I took over, and I’ve been the CEO of the company since. We had about twenty-five employees and when I first took over, I really had no idea how to do it. We were a good and growing company, really doing well but it was difficult because I really had no formal training in being a CEO. So I did some things well and some things not so well. I came to realize that running a business can be done by the secular book or by God’s Word. It took me about four or five years to understand how a business can be a ministry. So you can do ministry in a business, that it’s okay, not illegal. In fact, I think our calling is to do that if we’re taking the Word seriously. And so for the last eight or nine years, I’ve been slowly understanding how that looks: caring for your employees, your community, and the world; taking the company’s resources and not just keeping it, but doing ministry with it. This is not a new concept, it’s pretty common in this generation, but not so common eight or nine years ago. I take it a step further and ask myself, “How do I further the kingdom of Jesus Christ through this business?”
It takes confidence that the promises of the Bible are true because our American culture is constantly telling us to keep business and religion apart. But what I have found is that you can put them together. You’re not jamming it down people’s throats, you’re sharing it with them in word to some degree, but in deed and in action more than anything.
Q: What are some of the ways you incorporate ministry into your business?
We have employees that struggle in life with addictions and broken families, who don’t understand how to live life consistently or productively. So we have a chaplain, he comes in for 3 hours every week. That was definitely a strange concept for employees using his services and in fact it was a strange concept for me. We outsource him from a company called Corporate Chaplains of America. They have a lot of chaplains in the south, but we’re the first in the northeast.
We also have a ministry team of seven employees, not all of them Christian. The formal definition of the word ‘ministry’ is to give aid, even though it sounds churchy. On average they are given about fifteen or twenty thousand dollars a year to do ministry, and it can be whatever they decide to do, as long as it is in line with its mission. For example, we just did a project at the Providence Rescue Mission in Cranston where we built a men’s dormitory, underwrote that, and did some of the work. We’re financially helping some employees that are struggling financially and also helping with some home projects, and that’s caring for them in a Biblical way.
We have a prayer meeting on Monday mornings to start the week for anyone who wants to come; it’s not mandatory. We have a little prayer request box. For the first year, there wasn’t one request. And then, people put things in there. Basically over time, they realized they have nothing to be afraid of. That’s really the culture here in the Northeast, that there’s something bad about Christ and what He stood for.
Q: How do the employees, especially the non-believing ones, react to such policies?
I’ve had many conversations with employees who have voiced some objections over these things: chaplain, Christian ministry, my involvement in a Christian CEO roundtable group (C12), and I’ve learned over the years how to speak to those in a kind but honest and upfront way. And one of the things that I always remind people of is that whether you believe or not, you’re benefitting from it because I share the profits of the company on an annual basis in a number of different ways. While it may not be apparent to them, I make the connection that if I wasn’t a follower of Christ, I don’t think I would do that. Also, even if I did, it wouldn’t be to that extent. And the reason that I do that is not because I’m such a wonderful person, but because I feel compelled to. We use the word ‘team’ a lot in corporate America, but if it’s really a team, then we have to share the profits. So I tell them to at least celebrate that they are benefitting from my faith. Slowly but surely, employees have realized that they have nothing to be afraid of, and I just pray that God works through that. That’s the ministry, sharing the Gospel as the Holy Spirit allows it to happen. But you have to take the fear of Christianity away; the misperception.
Q: Could you share a story of an employee coming to the faith?
We had a temporary skilled laborer who did very well for a year and we hired him full-time. Then, over the next six months he started showing some signs of unreliability, and you could tell something wasn’t right. It turns out he struggled with alcoholism and deep psychological issues. For a small business like ours, you need reliable employees; there’s no room for unreliability. So the choice was to cut him, or try to help him. We chose the latter, and over the last year, through many ways of helping him, he’s just about recovered, very reliable, and happy. We could have let him go and would have been totally justified, but he’s now a solid employee, and I think he will be with us for a long time. He comes to my church and prays with the chaplain every week, and although he’s not quite there yet, I can see the veil of darkness slowly being removed.
Q: How does C12 fit into this?
C12 is a group of about 20 Christian CEOs from Southern New England, who meet for monthly day-long meetings. It really serves as a community and encouragement to have the courage to be outspoken, to care for your employees. Employees are accepting Christ through these businesses, and for many of them before that, these businesses are as close as they get to a church. Now businesses are not churches. I’m not advocating that. Rather, our intention is to steer people to want to know more. In each meeting, one member presents his or her business through a questionnaire, touching on your business life, your family life, and your spiritual life. The group then tries to speak to those issues. It’s a really transparent forum that promotes the kind of vulnerability and openness which is difficult for CEOs to muster.
Nicholas Chuan is a senior concentrating in Physics and Philosophy.