February 25, 2013
Speaking from his 23 years of experience in corporate operations, Mark Nowell told OBU business students that elevating his company to godly thinking was the single most impactful move he has made in his role as CEO of Kerr Pumps in Sulphur, Okla.
OBU’s Paul Dickinson College of Business hosted Nowell as a Business Forum speaker Friday, Feb. 22, in the Tulsa Royalties Auditorium in OBU’s Bailey Business Center. He drew his message from his life experience, as well as leading his company through “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale.
Nowell was born in Gillette, Wyo., but his family hails from Mississippi, where his grandmother, Ruby, was born in the 1920s and his father was born in the 1940s. Because his grandfather suffered with alcoholism, the responsibility of caring for the family of seven fell to the ever-positive Ruby and her son, Mark’s father. They endured jobs they deplored –- picking cotton, cleaning chicken coops and cleaning chickens by hand –- to provide for the family.
“My father took strength from his mother and believed in hard work, self-improvement, positive thinking and the good in everyone,” Nowell said.
Nowell moved 18 times, living in Wyoming, Utah, Louisiana and across Texas, before he graduated from high school in Midland, Texas. He learned how to make friends with people and how to judge people based on character above any other factor. Early in life, he learned how to surround himself with positive people who want the best for others.
“If your so-called friends are always bringing you down, get a new set of friends,” Nowell said. “Get a set that brings you up and helps you better yourself. Ever wonder why successful people seem to know a lot of successful people and miserable people seem to know a lot of other miserable people?”
After high school, Nowell earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s of business administration degree from Texas Tech University. At age 24, he was hired by the American Productivity and Quality Center Consulting Group in Houston, Texas, where he quickly mastered a computer technology that allowed his consulting group to assess an organization’s quality performance. An article in the “Harvard Business Review” reported about the new technology and how it was being used. One of his clients was the winner of the Al Gore Silver Hammer Award and two other clients were honored with the government’s high quality award, the Carey Award. Nowell worked in 48 of the 50 states, averaging six airplane rides each week.
A business leader once told Nowell that some people “seem” to be lucky, while other people are miserable and negative. The “lucky” people create positive situations for themselves and others, the leader explained.
“Hire the ‘lucky’ ones,” the leader told Nowell.
At age 30, Nowell’s father presented him the opportunity to help operate a new company in Sulphur. Through a series of events, Nowell discovered that not only was it appropriate for him to involve God in his business, but to be successful, he needed to commit his business to God.
“When we get God involved, good things happen,” Nowell said. “When we get committed to him, miracles can happen.”
Nowell shared life events that solidified his belief that God should be central in his business. While new in his role, Nowell faced several corporate problems: a suit against the company, liens against the company and low income.
During a visit, his uncle offered perspective. Nowell said he has a cousin who, despite great potential, is addicted to cocaine. His uncle asked: “Mark, would you cut your right arm off to get the company on track and eliminate the problems?” Nowell answered that he would not.
“With a tear in his eye, (my uncle) said, ‘I would cut my arm off to get my son back,’” Nowell said. “Then my uncle said something that will stay with me forever: ‘Mark, if money can fix it, it is not a problem.’ I experienced a lesson in life that day and always think of what problems I would trade for my arm.”
Nowell also told about an unlikely series of events that resulted in a turnaround in the company’s income, a necessity if he was to retain his career goal of never laying off an employee due to finances. He said he could not have orchestrated the meetings and contracts which resulted in the company’s profitability; those business successes could only have been orchestrated by God. The result was not only an increase in company cash flow, but literally the resource needed to keep Nowell from laying off several employees.
In 2008, Nowell introduced his entire company to “The Power of Positive Thinking.” He told his managers that he could not force them to engage in the principles of positive thinking, but it was mandatory for anyone wanting to work as a supervisor.
“When we adopted the power of positive thinking, it became the single most-effective thing that impacted the company,” Nowell said. “It is not the power of positive thinking, it is the power of godly thinking. God’s Word is positive. It is a positive message and the operations manual to your life, your dating life, your family life, how to raise kids, how to run a business and how to run a school.”
Nowell said godly thinking resulted in business growth unlike anything his company had experienced in its 60-plus-year history.
“The building was the same, the machines were the same, the raw materials were the same, but something was different,” Nowell said. “The difference was clearly that through God’s teachings, we see things more clearly.”
Nowell closed with a series of life lessons he carries with him: