|Peter Freissle, CEO of the Polydeck Screen Corporation.|
This is the fifth article in a series entitled Inside the Apostle.
December 30, 2011. As the New Year rolls
around every year, many of us dream of making a
fresh start. But for Peter Freissle, the “fresh start” that
revolutionized his personal and working life was not a goal
of his own making. It was a gift from God
that he has since capitalized on, multiplying it by ten
like the good steward of the Gospel.
Originally from South Africa,
Peter Freissle is the CEO of Polydeck Screen Corporation, a
company that makes screen panels for coal, aggregate, and mining
industries all over the world. His father had started the
business in South Africa in 1959, and Peter was instrumental
in building up the US branch that had been established
in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1978. Thanks to his hard
work and dedication, it grew quickly, expanding from 30 employees
to over 200 and attracting clients from some of the
biggest mines in the world.
As much as the business
was growing, Freissle could not escape the nagging feeling that
something was missing in his life. He was a practicing
Catholic, happily married with four children, and doing well at
work, and yet he still felt that something was off
kilter. So when he heard about a local Ignatian spiritual
exercises retreat offered by the Legionaries of Christ, he decided
to give it a try.
That was when the revolution took
him by storm.
During the retreat, a series of simple
questions set Peter Freissle on a journey that has since
changed his life. One of those questions was “Is God
the center of your life and do you allow him
to influence all the key decisions you make?” Another was
“Have you compartmentalized your life in such a way as
to exclude God from certain rooms in the house of
your soul?” And “Are you prepared to let God enter
the house of your soul and have unconditional access to
its locked rooms?”
Within the silence of that retreat, an intense
conversation began, together with a profound experience of being personally
loved by the same God who created the universe.
was in that personal conversation that Freissle had two fundamental
insights: first, that he was not the owner of all
the gifts he had received, but their steward before God,
just like the servant in the parable of the talents;
and second, that the commandment to “love your neighbor” had
to take concrete form in the way he treated those
closest to him, including his wife and family, employees, suppliers,
competitors, and clients.
“That’s where this whole paradigm changed for
me, when I no longer saw people as there to
be used for my own selfish needs, but for me
to serve them,” he said.
The concept of servant leadership struck
“I realized it’s not about leading others for your
own sake, but asking how you can serve others through
your leadership role. That’s where I really realized that my
role in the company was far greater than just making
a profit. I was there to serve others. I also
realized that God would not ask me how much money
I had made but rather what good I had done
with the money and talents he had given me,” he
And just as strong was the realization that he had
been personally forgiven by God.
After experiencing the mercy of God,
“I knew I had to give back. I wanted to
share the incredible story of God’s love and forgiveness with
everyone I could come into contact with. Then I realized
God has given me an incredible opportunity of the company
as a platform for ministry,” he said.
|Two radically different ways of envisioning God's presence in one's personal and professional life.|
He also realized that,
like many men, he had been compartmentalizing his life, giving
the lion’s share of the pie chart to work, the
rest to family and social outreach, and a tiny sliver
on Sunday to God. In the retreat, a new idea
occurred to him: what if the pie chart were radically
restructured so that his relationship with God lay at the
very center, irradiating its influence to all of the other
parts of his life?
It was a different way of
thinking of his faith, a more integrated way of living
it. A more real way.
Insights into action
After returning home, Freissle
immediately began looking for ways to act on the insights
he had received. He began by asking his “neighbors,” starting
with his wife and kids and moving into the business
world, what they thought of the way he had been
treating them, and what they would suggest for improvements.
came fast and furious,” he recalled. “It was a huge
eye-opener for me, and in many ways it was embarrassing
for me to hear what people really thought of me.”
on conversations with employees and on his own reflection, Freissle
realized that preaching a message of love could not be
done by words alone. In fact, he wanted to be
careful not to take a “Bible-thumping” approach, which he foresaw
would only alienate people who had never experienced the love
of God in a personal way. Instead, he realized, the
key was to make God’s love present in the workplace
through the way he treated other people. If the workplace
was to be his new platform for ministry, the pulpit
had to be acts of true Christian charity, day in
and day out. He had to be a living witness
of the message of God’s love.
“In order for people to
believe in an invisible God, they seek visible signs of
his existence and of the fruits of his love in
the real world,” he said.
That visible sign is the
Christian’s sincere effort to “live the message through practical acts
of caring, generosity, kindness, respect, and love in the workplace
before you begin to declare Christ,” said Freissle.
by the awareness of his own failings and God’s forgiveness,
Freissle set out to demonstrate that love in a quiet
way, with actions, and also with the attitude of one
who strives not to be perfect, but to give his
best every day.
One of the first things Freissle did at
Polydeck was to gather the leadership team and tell them
that the company’s core vision and mission statement needed to
be updated to reflect Christian principles.
“I got up and said,
‘I’m the President of this company and this is truly
what I believe in my heart and what I believe
God is calling me to. And this is not an
option. This is the direction that our company is going.
You have a choice to follow or not,’” he said.
radical as it sounded, the team was able to see
that he was speaking from a deep conviction, not from
a whim. So they sat down together and drafted this
new “core values statement”:
We are a company grounded in
Christian values of honesty, integrity, kindness, respect, and a sense
of social responsibility. We strive to honor God in all
we do. This is reflected in how we conduct our
business and how we care for our employees-our greatest asset.
defining the vision, Freissle and the team began implementing practical
measures to begin ministering to the employees and helping them
with their spiritual, human, and material needs. They instituted the
corporate chaplaincy program, hiring a full-time corporate chaplain to give
the employees someone they could talk to in confidence about
their personal problems and questions. Jeff Brown, the non-denominational Christian
chaplain, knew everyone by name just a few weeks after
arriving. His mission is to spend time with employees, open
all meetings with prayer, give marriage counseling, lead prayer groups,
and even assist with financial issues, such as teaching budgeting
Next, Freissle and his team started a “Caring Committee” with
representative members from every rank of the business. The Caring
Committee is allotted a portion of the company’s revenue and
is given the authority to use them for external charities
or to meet the extraordinary needs of an employee. For
example, when the janitor’s house burned down and he had
nowhere to stay, the Caring Committee passed around an envelope
for donations, then matched the employees’ gifts 4 to 1.
They gave the money to help the janitor rebuild his
Initiative followed initiative: Freissle and his team also began
the “Caught you caring” t-shirt program, which awarded a “Caught
you caring” t-shirt to employees who had been “caught” doing
a good deed and received nominations from fellow employees.
addition, the Community Charity Fund was established to give employees
control over a certain amount of money which they could
award each month to an external charity of their choice.
The employees also donate their time to work at charities:
with the “Polydeck dollar concept,” employees get 13 Polydeck dollars
for every hour of time they donate to a charity.
If they earn 80 Polydeck dollars, they get the day
off with pay. Many employees now offer their Saturdays to
do something for others.
As another “visible sign” of God’s presence
at Polydeck, Freissle had an interfaith chapel built on the
premises as a place where people could stop during a
break and touch base with God.
Although Freissle himself is
a devout Catholic and an active Regnum Christi member, he
felt it was important to present Christ first.
God has called me to encourage as many souls as
possible, into an intimate loving relationship with Him,” he said.
our company we have many faiths and Christian denominations, of
which only about 30% are active church goers. In our
community, only about 3% are Catholic. Accordingly, my approach is
to be seen firstly as an authentic Christian, and secondly
as Catholic. I would put a lot of people off
by trying to force Catholicism down their throat. In many
ways, the Protestant and non-Christians don’t understand the fine details
of my Catholic faith and so I feel it is
important to first introduce them to Christ through authentic acts
of Christian love and caring and then later, when the
time is right, to discuss the details of my Catholic
faith,” he said.
“At Polydeck what we first try to do
is “display Christ” through acts of love and kindness and
then once we have gained their trust that our intentions
are authentic, we “declare Christ” by sharing the Good News
of Jesus in a non-threatening manner and provide an environment
that encourages them to form a loving relationship with Christ.
In our multi cultural and diverse workforce we try to
follow the example of Mother Teresa who said we should
encourage everyone to be the best human beings they can
be. If they are Christian, we encourage them to be
the best Christians they can be. If they are a
Muslim, we encourage them be the best Muslims they can
be by loving God with all their heart and serving
“When you don’t try and force things on people
but rather encourage them with acts of kindness and love,
it’s amazing how over time they are drawn to the
source of that love, Christ himself,” he said.
God’s presence at Polydeck
These initiatives, which are only some of
the many charitable and faith-sharing activities at Polydeck, only describe
the outside of the changes taking place at the company.
real story, insists Freissle, is on the inside—in the stories
of how employees are changing and opening themselves to God
as a result of the unique corporate culture at Polydeck.
of the most valuable fruits in the past five years
have been the personal conversion of many employees who have
accepted Christ and made radical changes in their personal life
outside of work. In the past five years, there have
been over 65 conversions to Christ within the company. Not
all of the employees are Christian, and Freissle is careful
to respect other religious traditions and not to impose Christianity
on someone who is following another faith. Yet, even so,
there have been conversions from other religions to Christianity.
to the marriage counseling and marriage retreats offered by the
corporate chaplain, many marriages have been saved. Several employees have
conquered drug addictions through an alliance with a Christian drug
And there are countless stories of individuals who
felt the need to tell Freissle personally how much working
at Polydeck has impacted their personal and family life, giving
them new direction, hope and meaning to their lives.
was a wonderful surprise for Freissle when at a company
family event, a small boy came up to him and
hugged him, saying, “Your company has helped get my dad
back. He has stopped taking drugs, he doesn’t hit my
mom anymore, and he goes to church with us.”
frequently commented that the people at Polydeck are not just
their coworkers, but their family. Doing good things for other
people and for each other has brought them together in
a way that no corporate teambuilding program could ever do.
Because they have taken care of each other in very
concrete ways, the term “family spirit” is more than an
ideal or a nice rhetorical phrase. It is a reality
that they live every day.
The bottom line
Is the application of
Christian principles in the workplace good for the bottom line?
At Polydeck, the answer is a resounding YES.
According to company
statistics, the voluntary turnover rate for employees in the past
five years has dropped from 35% to 5%, while the
absenteeism rate was reduced from 5.5% to 1%. People are
staying at Polydeck because they like coming in to work
every day. One employee even told Freissle that he would
come to work every day even if he were paid
half of what he currently makes.
Over the past 5 years,
sales have increased by 45% even in the midst of
a global recession, and the growth has been funded without
Productivity measured by output per person has increased
dramatically, while the scrap rate was cut in half. The
on-time delivery rate improved by 15%, and the workman’s compensation
rate was reduced dramatically from 9% above the industry average
to 16% below it.
For Freissle, these statistics point to
an employee workforce that is aligned with the company’s goals
because they feel that the company is looking out for
their best interests.
His Way at Work: a new ministry
how powerfully God had worked at Polydeck, Freissle felt that
an additional step was needed: he felt called to share
Polydeck’s story and methods with other businessmen so that they
could implement Christian principles in their own companies.
Scott Gajewsky, a friend, successful businessman, and Christian who had
been actively involved in a ministry to homeless families, Freissle
started an outreach organization called His Way at Work.
Its mission is to equip and encourage business leaders so
that they can bring Christian charity into the workplace in
ways that are bold and authentic, yet also practical and
Over the last four years, His Way at Work has
helped over 40 companies, offering coaching and on-site guidance for
applying the same principles that transformed Polydeck. The total number
of employees touched by His Way at Work is up
to 28,000. Many of the companies are small, while some
have up to 9,000 employees.
For Freissle and Gajewsky, watching
the ministry grow has been a chance to see the
wonders God can do with a simple yes, and how
he can make one initiative grow into a thousand blessings.
interesting to see what God can do with a couple
guys and some things he has put on their heart,”
For Freissle, it has been an adventure he
could never have predicted.
“Someone once told me, ‘God cannot steer
a parked car, so put your pedal to the metal
and then sit back and enjoy the ride. And when
God takes the wheel, be prepared for some amazing things
to happen.’ Some skeptics may call these events ‘coincidences,’ but
I have come to see them as ‘God-incidences,’” he said.
firmly believe that all God asks of us is to
put in an honest effort and he will do the
rest,” he said.
For more information about how His Way at
Work is transforming businesses, visit the web site at www.hiswayatwork.com. To view a video of Peter Freissle giving his
testimony, click here.