When I visited Bart Azzarelli's construction company north of Tampa, Florida, it was almost like going to a church. The day began with prayer and bible study in a standing-room-only conference room. At lunch, employees lined up for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs while they listened to personal testimony of a man who had accepted Christ. There is a large painting of a cross in the lobby and the mission statement is posted for all to see. It reads, "The purpose of our company is to glorify God."
Azzarelli, the company's owner and CEO, is part of a new wave of executives who view their businesses as ministries. He brought his faith overtly into the workplace and actively keeps count of how many souls are saved on the job. So far, he says, four hundred have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He will also tell you that business (the dollars and cents kind) is good, and he attributes that success to God.
But while Azzarelli believes that the only way to God is through Christ, he knows there is a line he cannot cross in the workplace. Federal law prohibits any act that might make an employee feel coerced into participating in this kind of religious activity. To avoid complaints about discrimination by non-Christian workers, he says he tries to make sure everyone is treated equally. So far, he says, there have been no complaints.
Azzarelli believes that part of the reason he been able to walk this tightrope is because he bases his management style on Biblical principles. He says that to him, this means genuinely caring for his fellow man. He says he wants his employees to know he loves them and treats them with care and respect. Employees told me they've never worked at any construction company where they felt more appreciated. Some even told me that working for Azzarelli had turned their lives around.
What I didn't know going into this report was just how many Bart Azzarellis there are today in American business. Azzarelli is one of about 20 members of just one chapter of C12, an association for Christian business leaders with franchises all over the country. And there are a number of other business organizations with a similar focus and membership throughout the United States.