Skip to main content

The Man Behind Hobby Lobby Inspires Next Generation of Business Leaders

Share This article


David is the founder and CEO of the retail craft giant, Hobby Lobby. He came from a family of preachers and decided to run his company based on biblical principles. He plays Christian music in his stores and remains closed on Sundays to allow his employees to spend time with their families and the Lord.

The business started from very humble beginnings. In 1970 David took a $600 loan. He and his family began assembling and selling miniature picture frames from his garage. Within two years, they were able to open their own 300 square-foot store. The company has grown exponentially since then. Today, Hobby Lobby has over 50,000 people at more than 900 stores in 48 states and grosses $8 billion a year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Hobby Lobby. 


There are three experiences that David shares as facilitators for major change in his business:

(1) In 1979, when there were only four stores, David and his wife, Barbara, were faithful at tithing 10 percent, but were not doing corporate donations at that point. On a plane ride home after a church convention he sensed the Lord speak to him: You need to give $30,000 for Bible literature. Although they did not have that money to give, he had the idea to give $7,500 four times. He postdated the checks and mailed them. Several days later, they were informed that four African missionaries had held a prayer meeting to ask for literature funds on the very day they had postmarked their letter.

(2) In 1985, during the Oklahoma oil boom David had overextended the company. They had done so well in previous years that David grew cocky from all his success. He hid out under his desk praying and left his phone unanswered to avoid the creditors. Once he humbled himself, the Lord again blessed the work of Hobby Lobby. It has remained in the black ever since.

(3) Dealing with issues of inheritance and succession for the company helped David realize that Hobby Lobby was not his, it was God’s. Everything belongs to God. When you are a business owner, wealth can become a curse. When you’re a steward, wealth becomes a tool. “When we acted as though we owned Hobby Lobby, we thought the company owed us. When we started viewing Hobby Lobby as God’s, we realized that we owe the company. We now see Hobby Lobby as a ministry whose mission God calls us to further through our service. We are stewards, not owners.” 


In fifty years, Hobby Lobby has gone from less than $150 to $8 billion in sales. “We weren’t guided by business degrees, best practices, or focus groups. We didn’t have a road map – just God, the Bible, prayer and common sense,” reveals David. Below are the unconventional principles that enabled Hobby Lobby to thrive, even though to many observers their success seemed impossible:

•    Give God the Vote – When faced with a big decision David prays about it and then if he is still unsure he puts out a fleece just like Gideon (structures his request in a way that seems extremely unlikely) in the Bible. Hobby Lobby had the opportunity to buy a company that came up for sale. David prayed about it but still felt unsure. He offered an amount below what the company was worth. They did not get the company. If God wanted them to purchase the other company then He could have allowed the purchase to take place. Instead, David accepted God’s no.  

•    Listen/Obey the Holy Spirit – In 2020 when the pandemic shut down the world Hobby Lobby had to eventually close their doors at all their stores. David and his wife wondered, “How will we take care of our employees?” Together they prayed three times a day and asked God what they should do. God gave Barbara three words: guide, guard, and groom. God would guide them, guard them, and groom them or redefine what He didn’t like in order to make them more like Him. 2020 turned into the highest sales year Hobby Lobby has ever seen. They ended the year with 50 percent greater growth than the year before. God answered their prayers. God wants you to pray continually because He is with you continually. He wants to be involved in every decision of your life.

•    Give Away Your Profit - David has taken the same salary for the past 16 years, and under his direction, Hobby Lobby gives away roughly 50% of their profits to initiatives around the world.

•    Maximize Risk for the Right Reasons – Hobby Lobby stands for some things that make them a target. For example, at Easter their ad (evangelistic appeal) often receives denial of service attacks on their website. Hobby Lobby stands for life. The company won a 2014 Supreme Court case that exempted "closely held" companies with strong religious beliefs from an Affordable Care Act provision that mandates access to the morning-after pill. The win was a big victory for faith-based companies who were also fighting for religious freedom.

•    Build for the Next Generation – Long term success takes careful planning but is necessary if you want to be around for future generations. Hobby Lobby doesn’t exist to just sell arts and crafts. David has always had several purposes for the company including to provide for his family, to offer a decent living to his employees, to bless the community, and to advance God’s kingdom.

•    Drive Family Practices vs. Profit Practices - Spend time with family now, and spend time with family later, no matter what it might cost your career. David and Barbara decided early on to intentionally work for a God honoring marriage. “My favorite part of each day is having breakfast with her and reading a daily devotional together,” shares David.

•    Put Employees First, Not Money - The board recently voted to increase the employees’ pay which will cost the company approximately $100 million. David believes the pay increase is the right thing to do and it pleases God for them to take care of their employees.

•    Defer to Your People, Don’t Just Listen to Them - Be sure to develop the leadership skills of your team. Don’t just listen to their ideas. Apply their suggestions and build the confidence in your employees for a stronger leadership team.

•    Remember Your One Thing, Not the Shiny Things - David says, “I buy and sell merchandise; that’s my one thing.” Great leaders know how to surround themselves with great people. Set up a great organization that allows you to focus on your gifting and not get distracted. 

•    Get Into the Weeds Not the Altitude - When Hobby Lobby was starting out David was involved in the details like stocking the shelves or sweeping the floors. As the company grew and he delegated responsibility David grew bored. God directed him back to the layout room, the heart of their marketing efforts. In there he discovered they were buying frames at the wrong cost. He discovered that he could save dramatically on costs and increase profits by purchasing frames by the linear foot.  

•    Choose Simplicity, Not Perfection - At Hobby Lobby in the warehouse hallway there is a sign that says, “Keep it simple, Close Counts! Too many choices are harmful to business.” It is the only sign in his complex with his name on it. More information is not always better. 

•    Go at it with All Your Might, Not Lifelessly - Great leaders become great by diligently pursuing whatever work gets set before them. In the Bible Joseph worked hard at whatever God placed in front of him, as a result God blessed him for it. 


Share This article