Passing Down Kingdom Principles to Future Generations

(Wildman)

As a third-generation owner of his family business, Josh Wildman learned kingdom principles from his father and grandfather. What started as a dry-cleaning and laundry-service company has since expanded to five divisions and has been "faithfully serving people since 1952," according to its website.

But one commitment gives WILDMAN (until recently known as Wildman Business Group) exceptional standing in the community. In 2005, Josh's father, Brent Wildman, implemented a policy that the company would "tithe" 20 percent of its earnings to the church and the community, including causes near and dear to the hearts of company leadership. The company feels the far-reaching impact of that critical decision even today. In the years since committing to give substantially and regularly, WILDMAN has grown from a $4 million business to a $60 million business.

WILDMAN now comprises five divisions—Uniform and Linen, Facility Services, Wildman Imprints, Winona Services and YouTheFan—and offers an expansive variety of products and services.

The diverse business offers uniform corporate apparel: shirts and pants, coveralls and jackets, flame-resistant and high-visibility products. It also sells grilling utensils, towel and tissue products, dispensers, liners and wipers, first-aid, janitorial, safety, packaging and facility management services. YouTheFan offers sports-related products with officially licensed designs.

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Josh Wildman, who co-owns the company with his brothers-in-law, Casey Pepper, Jeff Van Houten and Drew Scholl, says the generosity of employees' time, talents and treasures has been the driving factor in WILDMAN's success.

"With my dad, the example of tithing was huge," said Josh, who has worked with WILDMAN full time since 1991 and took over as CEO in 2012. "We grew up in the church. It was just faith lived out in every action of the day, but specifically with tithing. I remember that lesson; it's one he modeled and one he really enforced and drove into me.

"And I absolutely believe tithing is one of the biggest reasons that God continues to bless our company. What does it say in Malachi? 'Test me in this and see if I don't pour out so many blessings on you that you don't have barns to store it in.' That's one of our company and family verses, to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse and see what He will do, and that's been the case. Believe me, we tithed that 20 percent when it was hard."

Enduring a Difficult Test of Faith

In 2005, Brent Wildman came to Josh and to Steve Bryant—whom they hired in 1999 as COO and who later became CEO—and proposed that, after Bryant's first year at the helm, the company would give $25,000 to the building fund at the Wildmans' home church. Each year following, WILDMAN would commit to giving $25,000 more than the previous year.

The "tithing" proposal was hardly a whim. Attempting to find capital to buy out a local competitor and expand the business in 1998, Brent said he had failed on his own to come up with the money to make the transaction possible. But God intervened.

One night at 3 a.m., Brent said, God awakened him and told him how to execute the plan—God's plan—for WILDMAN.

"I had a literal conversation with God," Brent said. "I told Him, 'I'm failing to find the money to make this happen.' I told Him, 'You are in charge of the finances. You are the CFO of this company.'

"And then I had a secondary thought. I may not be the guy to run the company when this comes together. So I told Him, 'You are also in charge of personnel.' You know what? Today, He's still in charge of those departments."

Brent Wildman calls WILDMAN's giving principle "relationship investment."

"At the time, the company was always just hand to mouth, just enough to make a living," Brent said. "We started the process of buying my father out, and our objective was to practice firstfruits. Give the firstfruits away, trusting for a second supply. God was gracious, and He gave us the opportunity to buy another company.

"They should never have loaned us the money. But as I turned our finances over to God in a literal conversation, He opened the minds of the people at the bank, and they wrote me a $3 million check."

The company doubled the size of its business almost overnight. But it brought with it what looked to be an insurmountable challenge: to pay down the debt it took on with the acquisition.

And at the time Brent made the "tithing" proposal, Josh said the company was "barely breaking even."

"We were borrowing from a line of credit to make payroll, and we were barely keeping our heads above water," Josh said. "Dad, Steve and I talked about it, and we decided we were going to go out on faith. We were going to do this, and we literally borrowed money to give it away, which is not prudent business advice. But it was a true sacrificial test of faith.

"God was saying to us, 'Do you trust Me?' We looked at it as an investment we were making in the kingdom. And so we decided to start tithing 20 percent because we believed it would return to us tenfold. From then on, you can look at our growth charts and see that it went like crazy."

And, Josh says, that 20 percent has been the minimum his company has tithed since 2005. In some years, WILDMAN has given away 35 percent of its gross income.

Seeing God's Faithfulness From the Start

World War II pilot Rex Wildman had lived through the Great Depression and, therefore, had developed a keen appreciation for the value of a dollar, Josh said of his grandfather. Eleven years after founding the dry-cleaning and laundry service company, Rex moved the business from Ohio to Indiana, where it became known as Warsaw Cleaners and Shirt Laundry. Rex's spiritual foundation was solid, but Josh says it was his keen business sense that helped the company move into the future.

"I learned quite a few things from Grandpa growing up," Josh said. "He just taught me the value that every cent matters. He grew up in an era where that was truly life and death. He taught you to count your pennies before you count your dollars.

"Grandpa actually started as a dry cleaner and then became a uniform rental operator. His attention to quality was unheard of. He was a perfectionist. Then he taught me about being a good father and a stable father. He was a model grandfather, father and husband."

Brent says his father's work ethic was a huge factor in the company's survival. In 1977, Brent joined the family business upon graduating from Seattle Pacific University.

"My dad brought a Depression-era work ethic to the company, and I believe it's because of that work ethic that we were able to develop the idea of the first-fruits giveaway," Brent said. "Inside the company he never really taught about the firstfruits, but he shared it inside the family, and that was a huge influence on us. But it was the work ethic—that you're very committed and very diligent about everything you do—that made him successful."

In the ensuing years, the father and son team ventured into the industrial uniform industry, launching Wildman Uniform and Linen. Today, 50 percent of WILDMAN's business is dedicated to industrial uniforms, which Josh calls the company's "bread and butter."

In 1992, Brent expanded WILDMAN's services when he launched a new direct-sales division called Signet Expressions, which ultimately became Wildman Imprints.

Calling his father a "serial entrepreneur," Josh said, "That's how we ended up with five businesses. He has a vision for something and he goes with it. He has people coming behind him to make it work and make it tick.

"Dad is highly creative. He was the one who really diversified us and set a stage that we could grow from. Also, Dad has just an awesome, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. People love him. They love being around him."

Hiring Bryant, Josh says, turned out to be one of the smartest things his father ever did. Bryant, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, had more than 30 years of industry experience and a proven track record of success at several large companies.

Handing over the reins of the company to an outsider, however, proved to be one of the toughest business decisions Brent Wildman ever made. In 2000, Bryant took over as CEO, charged with building the business and training the next generation of leaders at WILDMAN, including Josh Wildman.

"To this day, we thank God for bringing this Marine to little Warsaw, Indiana," Josh said. "In 12 years, we grew from $3.75 million in revenue to $38 million in revenue and from 70 employees to 250 employees.

"Under Steve's leadership, not only did our uniform and rental business explode, our company also diversified into first aid and safety—now known as Facility Services. He also oversaw Wildman Imprints and Winona Services, the division that sells paper products to other industrial laundries just like us."

Empowering Employees to Make a Difference

In addition to the company's stance on giving, WILDMAN has empowered its nearly 250 employees to serve their local community as well as Latin American countries through mission trips.

Once WILDMAN began to grow financially, Brent says, it was time to "change the mentality of our employee base." He wanted to get the employees "away from the comfort of the American culture and let them see the world."

In 2007, WILDMAN implemented a world outreach program where the company gives its employees an extra paid week off to either go on a missions trip to a developing country or to serve locally with causes that line up with WILDMAN's vision.

WILDMAN employees have taken more than 20 mission trips to the Dominican Republic, a minimum of two each year. And, Josh says, 70 percent of WILDMAN's employees willingly participate in the program.

"If we're asking them to do this, they don't have to give up their vacation time," Josh said. "And then we tell them, 'We'll get you there.' We tell them, 'We want you to contribute whatever you can personally.' We have them write contribution letters to friends and family to help out."

Josh says the company is committed to making five mission trips in 2019 to the Dominican Republic and other countries yet to be determined.

The company continually encourages its employees to take part in outreach programs within the local community as well, which ties into Wildman's mission statement, which focuses on people and centers on relationships.

That includes how the company treats its own employees.

"We are absolutely intentional with that," Josh said. "One of the biggest events we have within the company is our Christmas party, where we will bring in a big-time entertainer or speaker who has a very specific Christian message and sometimes even a call to come to know Jesus Christ. We've had Jase Robertson from Duck Dynasty come in and speak, and one year, we had 55 people commit their lives to Christ when comedian Michael Jr. came in.

"Plus, we begin every meeting we have—whether it's a production meeting with hourly team members or our senior leaders—with prayer. There are different Bible studies outside of work that people get invited to. We provide marriage retreat opportunities and, of course, there are the mission trips. We really just encourage people to live out their faith at work."

Staying on Mission for the Future

Josh says the family continues to target rapid growth for the business—but not at the expense of compromising its mission. That means keeping employees "healthy and stress free" and, of course, continuing the "tithing" principle that has brought Wildman Business Group the success it enjoys today.

"Of course, we're going to continue to give," Josh said. "We know that's what put us in the position we are in today.

"And we want our employees really healthy personally with a good work-life balance. We hope we offer them great opportunities and a great work culture. People want to come to work here—we believe that. If we can bring in more team members and customers, then we can continue to build those relationships. And with that, hopefully, we will be able to lead more people to Jesus Christ. If we do those things, we believe God will be happy with us and continue to bless us."


Shawn A. Akers is a content development editor for Charisma Media.

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