Two weeks ago I spoke on faith at a men’s retreat in Lombard, Illinois, and I met a man who recommended a book that told the story of a once successful company in that town. I started Me, Myself, & Bob last night and finished it this morning. Wow. What a powerful, honest story about the rise and fall of Big Idea, the company that created VeggieTales, as told by its founder and creator, Phil Vischer.
Phil is a funny and vulnerable writer who openly shares the lessons learned from his painful ordeal. His story is a cautionary tale for business and Christian leaders who wrestle with ego, ambition, and the desire to do something big for God. Phil’s story is much larger than these takeaways, but here are some thoughts that linger for me as I put the book down.
1. Christian retailing—and preschool retailing in general—is big business. Phil explains how Disney and HIT, the company behind Bob the Builder, planned to either buy out or eliminate their competitors, such as Barney, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Bob the Tomato. For the most part, HIT was successful.
2. Phil says that secular companies, such as Disney and HIT, value money most of all. They only push family values because this is what sells. If something else sells equally well, then they will sell that too. For example, Phil told how Sumner Redstone, the head of Viacom, told a business gathering how his company planned to profit from children. They would first hook them on Blue’s Clues, pass them on to Nickelodeon, and finally hand them over to MTV. It’s enough to make parents head for their Thinking Chair.
3. A successful company must have everyone on board with their core values and mission. Phil says that as Big Idea grew they began to hire non-Christian employees, including a president, who didn’t agree with Phil’s Christian mission. Phil lived a divided life, proudly proclaiming the Christian mission of Larry the Cucumber when speaking to churches and Christian gatherings but afraid to bring it up in his own company, for fear that he would be mocked by his own employees.
4. Bigger is not always better. One of Phil’s takeaways is that Big Idea prospered when it was small and lean—in the early days it put out two videos a year with a few employees who made only $30,000 per year. But when it became successful it exponentially added employees, with much higher salaries, and soon it couldn’t cover expenses, even as sales exploded. Phil muses that if Big Idea had been content to stay small, it would still be in business today.
5. Phil’s largest lesson is that we must find our identity in Christ. This way our value and status doesn’t change, regardless how successful we become or how much we fail. The top of the ladder is no different from the middle or the bottom, as long as we are content.