Milligan Commencement Address
May 6, 2001
by Joseph R. Gregory
Vice Chairman, King Pharmaceuticals
President and COO, Monarch Pharmaceuticals
To Chancellor Leggett, President Jeanes and his administration, Chairman Nice and the Board of Trustees, Dean Matson and the Milligan Faculty, Dean Fox, the Milligan student body, and dear friends thank you on behalf of my family and myself for this honor, made more distinguished because of the reputation of the conferors. There is a song that goes “In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering O’er the wreaks of time.” I think that Hymn was written about me. But God reached down and saved me through Jesus. He gave me a home and a future and confirmed once more his amazing plan to cause the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I feel like the famous Casey Stengil who was hired by the New York Yankees in the middle of their exceptional run of 9 World Series victories in 11 years. After he was congratulated for winning the World Series once more he said “Thanks, I couldn’t have done it without the players.”
Our lives are defined by the players, how we touch them and they touch us, our life experiences and our response to them, especially to God-given challenges. I thank God for my praying grandparents, wonderful Mother and Father, for my family especially my loving wife Cindy and son Jonathan, the King family and also this supportive community.
Through the times of adversity in my own life, I was just simple enough to believe in the promises of a greater Heavenly father who cared and was capable of rescuing and seeing me through it all. Praise His mercy and goodness to not allow me to be tested above what I could stand and to allow me the memories of a life of Christian victory from nothingness. I will always remember it and this honor. Yesterday I was abased, today I am abounded. Tomorrow, I could be eating grass like Nebuchadnezzar, but I will still know the faithfulness of the one true living God and your kindness to me and my family here today. Thank you.
To the 123 members of the 2001 Milligan the graduating class, the College, the 10,000 plus strong Milligan Alumni and our community congratulates you and salutes you for fulfilling the rigorous educational programs requisite to attain your respective degrees. Today, you enter a world hungry for our shared vision to change lives and shape culture for Christ. As the College’s new crop of leaders, before you get too far, I’d like to afford you the opportunity to publicly stand and thank those College leaders, educators and counselor’s of deep conviction and sacrifice who were so instrumental in your successful Milligan years. Please stand and join me as we show them the gratitude they richly deserve.
Okay, be seated. Now folks I’ll start getting serious with you.
From its beginning Milligan’s mission has been to educate leaders such as yourselves to discover God’s truths and His gifts within you and to flourish in your endeavors that you may address the needs of the world around you for the cause of Christ.
As we begin the new millennium, those dreams have not changed, but the demands and realities of our society have. Newer technologies are having a sometimes disruptive and catastrophic impact on our abilities to adjust or accommodate. The demands and challenges of young leadership are greater today and more complex than ever before. It is predicted that business will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last fifty, challenging and dragging our core values along with it.
It was only 10 years ago we were discussing the advent of a service sector economy over a manufacturing sector economy. And now we are already experiencing an accelerating information-based economy based on global electronic information networks that are outstripping any ability we have to plan or forecast. This pace of change places unique demands on our society yet offers great opportunities as a whole, and I believe that our young Christian leadership is better equipped to deal with these demands having a posture of continuous learning and improvement with a heart for God and the individual. Be ready. The need to cultivate the core Christian values you carry into this society will not lessen in the information age, they will become greater.
Consider the height and depth and the breadth of the greatest leader of all times, Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks of what it takes to be a good leader – be humble, be decisive, have God’s vision and have God’s heart and compassion for people. Be an over- comer and a person of principles and character. Biblical leaders made themselves available to God, gave Him the credit for their success, trusted Him, and had faith when tested, believed and obeyed God. The world you enter is a lover of self and money.
All too often in this country, business leadership looks to satisfy themselves first, their shareholders second, their creditors’ third and their employees last. At King Pharmaceuticals, we’ve recognized early on that the successful approach puts God first in a position of honor, puts our employees next and then our creditors, those who have honored us with a line of credit. After that giving back to your community a portion of the rich blessings that God has provided for you becomes an important aspect in what you’re trying to accomplish. And only lastly do we consider our shareholders, and then ourselves. This is an intrinsically better business model because it has as its goal the higher calling of pleasing God rather than the myopic and ultimately unfulfilling goal of pleasing oneself. It’s been said that most people want to serve God but only in an advisory capacity, but Paul said, “We make it our aim to be well pleasing to Him.” And so I say to you, the graduating class of 2001, lead with humility desiring to serve others, remembering that people with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. As you strive to address the challenges of change, develop a vision grounded in core Christian values of integrity, excellence and the infinite worth of individuals to God with the goals to serve others and better your businesses and your community for eternity’s sake.
Robert Milligan in his book The Scheme of Redemption wrote, “The faith of the gospel from its very nature always implies of necessity the obedience of the gospel.” Yet sadly even some Christian leaders have been blinded by our immediate-gratification society. Covetousness is called ambition. Stinginess and hoarding is called thrift. Abuse of power is called industry savvy. If we are to find God’s favor, we must seek God’s favor through our actions and adherence to His word and we must distinguish ourselves as Christian leaders from others by more than just abiding by a standard of good. We must look to Jesus as author and finisher of our faith for His leadership qualities based on love for the individual while maintaining the corporate good.
I can’t tell you how often visitors have come to King Pharmaceuticals and they’ve asked: “What’s your secret, that people are so friendly?” There seems to be a spirit of happiness and peace and unity at our company that they can immediately feel. I’ll never forget the looks of a group of Wall Street bankers who made that comment and we told them that the Holy Spirit of God was welcome in our business. They scratched their heads and decided they were going to go back to check with the SEC to see if that was legal. I believe they wanted us to consider footnoting it in our annual report.
I can assure you that the Holy Spirit involved in your endeavors is definitely an advantage in your life and you should always cultivate this. The Bible says that in their heart a person plans their life, but the Lord orders their steps. So commit your works unto the Lord and your plans will be established. Understand the undetected sacredness of circumstances that God has for you, the places God leads you, and the people He sends your way, all providentially and not by chaotic, random order. I Corinthians 15:58 says “Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
In my own personal life, it has been a drama of inner conviction and inner change. I never won a medal for valor or overcame an abused childhood from dysfunctional parents. I had wonderful parents and the draft ended a year before my eligibility. But the greatest recollections of my brief life surrounded my family’s character in business and sincere acts of godliness when given opportunities or faced with adversity. Standing at the exit and shaking every employee’s hand and congratulating them by name when we got our first drug approval. Praying and fasting for an employee’s sick child or comforting them in their loss. Praying for a customer who refuses to pay or sues us without merit. Hiring the unemployable and keeping them hired. Taking pay cuts so employees wouldn’t have to. Praising God’s goodness in the face of a crucial business deal that didn’t transpire, thanking and trusting totally in Him when things go unforeseeably wrong to deliver us from difficult circumstances. When I consider the river of life’s unbroken stream of memories, I will fondly recall the character of my family’s leadership in so many unpublished and unapparent ways.
I charge you to be brave and innocent and not to be afraid, Class of 2001, “for the weapons of your warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” The world seeks to indoctrinate you and assimilate you into one common nebulous and situational mush based on the new tolerance and will brand you as narrow-minded bigots, fanatics, extremists and hate mongers, subject to public humiliation if you don’t comply with their thinking. They will seek your conformity or, in the alternative, your silence.
You will now be expected to wade into those things that matter most to our God, our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives or personal cost, and your intervention could make all the difference. While I do not believe that we should contend over those things that don’t really matter it is discomforting to think that our natural tendency is to avoid conflict, and appear as non-judgmental given the great commission. In the effort to be civil in conduct, sadly, many Christians who know better actually dilute firm and certain beliefs and truths.
By yielding to a false form of “civility” we sometimes allow our critics to intimidate us as mean-spirited. And we sometimes succumb to this, rather than constantly fight with a lost world and be denounced as a heartless monster. Nothing could be further from the truth. On important matters, crucial matters, matters of vital truth, silence is enforced in our society. But this is not civility. It is homogenization and assimilation that leads to destruction, cowardice, or well-intentioned self-deception at best. This should not be so with you.
I tell my leadership at King, know what you do, do it well and know why you do it. It is in knowing the “why” you do things that you arrive at a leadership based on a higher calling than personal indulgence, a leadership based on love for others rather than a leadership based on fear or power. Respect for the individuals and their infinite worth to God is an absolute and universal value within a Christian organization, balanced with the common good. The reputation of King Pharmaceuticals and its future success reflects an attitude of mutual respect and community spirit among all.
So today, Milligan College graduates, in conclusion, I say to you, to whom much is given, much is expected. And it is my hope and prayer that each of you captures a vision of core Christian values that is a higher calling beyond personal indulgence guarding against societal assimilation. I pray that your leadership is based on the qualities of Jesus, on love for the individual and their infinite worth to God, while maintaining the corporate good. Let your success be judged, not on the position you are able to obtain, but in the challenges of a demanding world you are able to overcome for the cause of Christ. And let your overcoming so shine among us that your Milligan community may see your good works and give praise to the one true Almighty God who has sent you to us and now sends you out with our blessings. We wish you opportunities to plant generously, tend lovingly and reap bountifully for the Lord. Congratulations on your achievements. Thank you very much.
MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.