Serious Business of Values and Influence…An Interview with Ferrill Gibbs

by Jonathan Simpson
Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2005

Boxing GloveWhen Ferrill Gibbs was 10 years old, his dad gave him his first set of boxing gloves for Christmas. “My first match was with my sister and I was lucky to get a draw. I’m not sure why getting hit was fun, but I loved the sport of boxing and was, eventually, actually pretty good at it. Some of my favorite fighters were Rocky Marciano, Gene Fulmer and Carmen Basilio. I made sure that I tuned in on Wednesday and Friday nights to see fights mostly sponsored by Gillette or Pabst Blue Ribbon. I admired those men because I knew to some degree the satisfaction derived from overcoming fear and fatigue while taking punishment.”

His greatest lifetime challenge, however, was not in a ring. In May 1996, he was operated on for colon cancer. His treatment following the operation consisted of 48 weekly chemotherapy treatments coupled with experimental and other drugs. Ferrill notes, “Nine years plus, I’m still here and cancer free. I wish to publicly thank God for my health and all our friends who prayed with me. God has blessed me far above what I really deserve.”

Ferrill and his wife, Linnie, have been associated with Covenant Church of Mobile and its people for more than 35 years. Presently, he and his son, Ferrill, Jr., and son-in-law, Dennis Braswell, own and operate Southern Oil, a five store chain selling gasoline, general convenience items, and deli foods. He is a seasoned businessman who has demonstrated an understanding of marketing principles and the knowledge required to make them work.

“Today”, says Ferrill, “you must choose, what group you want to identify with. Now more than ever, there is a great opportunity for Christians to make a cultural difference.” Ferrill himself is an “influencer” who believes that being a positive influence should be an objective for Christians—as they go about their work. Affirming this, with an eye on the emerging generation, he believes in fostering opportunities for those willing to work. Their training, he says, is now a Church-wide challenge, especially in cases where good parenting is not evident.

What follows is a brief interview with this insightful and successful entrepreneur….

Ferrill Gibbs in front of one of his gas stations121: As your business has grown and added stores, you’ve undoubtedly faced times of taking business risks. Under what conditions do you take risks and how has it worked out for you?

FG: Obviously, the products we sell are in high demand and we have ample competition. One slight miscalculation in terms of type of location can have a significant bearing on anticipated volume. Some risk is involved in practically every site selection but we try to eliminate it completely by research. Some of our study includes geographical location, traffic count, population density, existing competition, and finished cost of development. If the numbers are favorable when compared to existing units, we proceed. Faith, however, is still required because you never really know until the doors are open, whether or not you made the right call. We have been right on all of our existing locations, but earlier in my career I learned a valuable lesson. I learned the value of wise council and “two heads are better than one”.

121: Do you believe there should be a difference in how Christians measure business success compared to a non-believer?

FG: Profit is the most common measure of success in any business. The difference could be the way people operate their business and whether or not it accomplishes their objectives. In our business, profit is very important, but our methods must be fair and honest in dealing with customers, employees, suppliers, and taxing authorities. We feel that playing by the rules is God’s way. We negotiate hard but we can not misrepresent for gain. We also work hard to develop positive relationships with people who work with us. I must admit that most of the practical things I’ve learned about the business came from our employees. People can truly be an asset. Organizations that surround themselves with smart, honest, dependable, and loyal employees are destined for good things. We believe we are successful when we create a climate of mutual respect and open dialogue.

121: You have expressed a concern for the emerging generation and the bombardments they face by society. How can this be addressed?

FG: I think most parents and grandparents love children and grandchildren as I do and want the world they live in to be a place of peace and opportunity. I think most of us, however, are beginning to realize that our world is changing daily. Truth is altered by political correctness and “good ‘ole common sense” has taken a back seat to foolish political thought. Christian values seem to be changing daily. Perhaps our traditional methods of teaching our children should be reviewed in order to counter the constant pressure to conform to a society that is moving in the wrong direction. One example that is creative and direct is currently underway in our local church. Some ladies meet weekly with young girls and young women addressing real life issues and challenges they face. I’m told that they answer the hard questions about dating and other issues as well. My hat is off to teachers who answer the hard questions and sometimes can resort to “I don’t know.” Teachers who accept this type of challenge can expose “cool” as uncool. They can make youngsters understand that all that glitters is not gold. When some of our best and brightest are referred to as “nerds” and “geeks”, then I think it’s time for us to review our own thought process. I’m sure we have talented teachers in our congregations that can convey to youngsters, and adults as well, that hard work, education, and faith in God can direct us in a life that has a proper mix of fun, freedom, and responsibility.

121: What are some practical ways in which we can share our faith?

FG: There are many ways to share one’s faith, but one of the most compelling to me is when a person’s behavior demonstrates Christian principles. There is no question that I still have work to do in this area, but it does not diminish the truth. Jesus describes believers as salt, or that ingredient that makes a recipe work. Some salty characteristics of people who demonstrate faith are honesty, integrity, a “be of service” attitude, hard working, and one who sets the standard of performance.

In the social realm, a believer should be patient, kind, dependable, help in time of trouble, a friend to all—avoiding political positioning, sincere, happy, and in control of their finances. They help in the time of trouble and what they put their hand to do, they do it well. A person with these personal attributes is rare in today’s world. They do exist, however, and I believe that the application of Christian principles can translate into effective leadership. Those who practice biblical instruction will usually wind up the head and not the tail.

About the Author:

Jonathan Simpson

JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.