It was 2007 and things were tanking in the moving business; no one could get mortgages so no one was buying homes so no one needed a moving company.
But Brig Sorber felt OK. After all, even though he'd just taken over as president and CEO of Two Men and a Truck and knew the company had very little money and a host of problems to fix, he had a backup plan.
"When things started going bad and I knew I had to make changes, even to personnel at our corporate office, and we had to revamp all our computer systems office, I knew that I had $3 million in a money market account," he says from his Lansing, Mich., office. "So even though I was praying to God, in the back of my mind I was going, 'I still have $3 million.' I had faith 100 percent, but it was faith in the $3 million."
Then his banker called.
"He said, 'Brig, that money is in securities ... it's like a bond, not a money market.' And I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'Well, the only way to get at these securities is through an auction and the auction collapsed, so what I'm saying is you may never see that $3 million.'
"I went into my office and I just started laughing because it was awesome; it was like God said, 'All right, let's pray now. Now whaddya think?' And I went, 'I got nothin',' but I knew God had this thing.'"
That's one of the stories Sorber, 51, will relate when he takes the podium as the guest speaker Tuesday at the Chattanooga Area Leadership Annual Prayer Breakfast. He'll also admit that he hasn't always been a Christian, even in the early days of Two Men and Truck, which was founded in 1985 by his mother, Mary Ellen Sheets, after he and his brother, Jon, spent some high school years doing odd moving jobs to make money. When they left for college, she took the budding business and expanded it; in 1989, it started selling franchises.
"As of right now, we have 317 locations in the U.S., 26 in Canada, three in London, England, and one in Dublin, Ireland," Sorber says. "This year in the U.S. we will make 500,000 moves, which is two every minute of every hour of every day."
In the last five years, Two Men and a Truck has seen average growth of about 16 percent, he says, while the rest of the moving industry is growing at an annual rate of about 2 percent.
Never an atheist, more of an agnostic, he says his faith developed gradually, starting to take deeper root in college when he met his wife, Francine, who is "No. 12 out of 14 kids in a traditional Catholic family."
"My family, they were very good people, very hard-working, but we were not churchgoers; it was not part of our life," says Sorber, who has a bachelor's degree in geography for urban planning and land-use regulation. "I wasn't a Christian when I started in business but, as my faith started to evolve, I actually brought it into the business and I've watched my business excel. In watching my faith excel in the business, I actually I saw God working in the business and working in my life. I've had the opportunity to know what it's like to be working in my business without God and what that was like."
Eventually, though, "you kind of come to the place where God is fully in the business and you say, 'I'm a Christian and, oh yeah, I'm a businessman,' instead of the other way around."
That big step from acknowledging God exists to giving him free reign to run your business took place after Sorber became president and CEO. Just his luck that, when he took the jobs, the company landed in the Great Recession in 2007, although he says the moving industry started feeling the hurt a couple of years earlier.
"We had barely any money at that point," he says," and we decided that we've got to look at ourselves in the mirror before we blame anybody. We have to take responsibility, take accountability and find why we're really losing business."
The main reason was lack of customer service, he says. The moving industry was going to more of an online business and a lot of Two Men franchisees were ticking off potential customers by not getting back to them when they emailed a request for information, an estimate or a reservation.
"We found out that we were angering more customers by not getting back to them when they emailed than were in the recession," he says.
Sorber says he also brought in new people to find inefficiencies in the company and fix them. In the first year alone, just by getting rid of bad business contracts with some of the company's vendors in computer software, insurance and elsewhere, they saved "hundreds of thousands of dollars," he says.
"So picture this," he says with a laugh. "I get told I have $3 million, but then I no longer have $3 million; I have nowhere to get money. I also didn't lay anybody off; I let some people go, but it wasn't because of the economy, it was just because I had to restructure our org charts and everything else.
"But through prayer, I said, 'You know, you've got to severance all these people, Brig ' and so I severanced out $250,000 when that's about all we had, but I did it out of faith. And, lo and behold, I bring all these new people in, they find gobs more money and we use that money to start to grow the business."
Oh, and the attorney general in Michigan goes to the bank that has his $3 million in securities, "grabs the bank by the neck and says, 'Give them the $3 million now,'" he says. And it did.
So the future is bright.
"There's less moving going on right now, but we're doing more of that less moving and I attribute that to a lot to prayer, treating people right, really putting ourselves second, making sure the customer is taken care of and the franchisees are taken care of," he says. "We made a lot of business decisions during the recession that were risky, but we're being rewarded for that right now."
Contact Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327.