17 Big Companies That Are Intensely Religious
Many big brands are intensely religious, even though consumers may not realize it. Most of the time, it comes from a devout founder passing his or her values on down the line.
Some companies put their religion right out in the open, and are proud of their identities. Chick-fil-A is infamous for closing on Sundays, and In-N-Out puts Bible verses on its packaging. Interstate Batteries’ mission statement states up front that it exists “to glorify God” while selling its products.
Still, it’s risky for brands to affiliate themselves with a religion directly. Since it’s just a polarizing subject, it often opens companies up to controversy.
Purchase a skimpy $15 top or $19 skirt from trendy but budget-conscious clothing retailer Forever 21 and you may notice “John 3:16” printed on your shopping bag.
Printed on the bottom of each of the store’s bags, the biblical reference is perhaps the most obvious reference to the religious beliefs promoted by the store’s owners, the Chang Family, who are born-again Christians.
Mrs. Chang told Business Week last year that the store had religious roots, citing that “God told her she should open a store and that she would be successful.”
The store provoked criticism last summer when it released a slew of religious-themed tees emblazoned with slogans such as “Jesus ♥ You” and “Holy.”
Many customers may not realize it, but Tyson Foods is a very religious company that embraces spirtuality in the workplace.
Founder John Tyson speaks openly about his Christian beliefs, and the company’s core values say that it “strive(s) to honor God” and “be a faith-friendly company.”
Since 2000, the company has employed approximately 120 office chaplains who are there to provide “compassionate pastoral care” to employees, according to Tyson’s website.
Founded by devout Southern Baptist Truett Cathy in 1946 in Hapeville, Georgia, Chick-fil-A has since expanded to become a major American fast-food chain, with more than 1,500 locations in 39 states.
Throughout its success, the company has stuck to its founder’s religiously-motivated decision to be closed on Sundays.
“(Cathy) believes that all franchised Chick-fil-A Operators and their Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so,” according to the restaurant’s website. “That’s why all Chick-fil-A Restaurants are closed on Sundays. It’s part of our recipe for success.”
In a 1997 interview Mary Kay Ash, founder of the cosmetics behemoth of the same name, attributed her company’s success to the choice to “take God as our partner.”
She expounded on these views in her biography, “Mary Kay: You Can Have it All,” where she stated, “God has blessed us because our motivation is right. He knows I want women to be the beautiful creatures he created.”
The religious bent has caused controversy from some of the company’s salespeople, who have said it promotes a cult-like environment.
In-N-Out, the California-based burger chain is beloved for its commitment to fresh ingredients and its secretive “special menu.”
It is also well known for the citation of Bible passages printed on the chain’s cardboard cups, containers and wrappers.
The company does not address religion or the passages on their website. Company spokesman Carl Van Fleet told USA Today in 2005 that the founders’ son Richard Snyder instituted the practice. “He told me, ‘It’s just something I want to do.'”
Timblerland CEO Jeff Swartz is well-known for his commitment to promoting corporate social responsibility.
For example, Swartz moved to sever the company’s ties with a Chinese factory where human rights violations were allegedly occuring despite the fact that it took a hit to the shoemaking company’s bottom line. Swartz attributed his motivation to his own personal Jewish faith in a 2008 Fast Company profile.
“I can’t show you the scripture that relates to the rights of a worker, but I can show you text that insists upon treating others with dignity,” he said. “It says in the Hebrew Bible one time that you should love your neighbor as yourself, but it says dozens of times that you shall treat the stranger with dignity.”
Fly aboard Alaskan Air and you’re likely to get some bible passages along with your in-flight breakfast.
Each breakfast tray comes with an inspirational notecard printed with a passage from the Old Testament, a company tradition dating back several decades.
Salon columnist Patrick Smith took issue with the notecard, and received this message in response from the Seattle-based company:
“The quotes have application across many Judeo-Christian beliefs and are shared as a gesture of thanks which reflect the beliefs of this country’s founding as in the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Pledge of Allegiance and every U.S. coin and dollar you handle. Alaska Airlines is an international carrier with very diverse customers, and we have no intentions of offending anyone or their beliefs. An overwhelming majority of our customers have indicated they appreciate the gesture, and those who don’t are not forced to read it.”
Marriott Hotel founder John Willard Marriott was a devout Mormon who held leadership positions within the church at the same time he was building his hotel empire.
While Marriott passed away in 1985, his religious legacy has lived on within the family-run hotel chain, which is known for sometimes putting the Book of Mormons along with Bibles in hotel rooms.
The company also recently announced that it would no longer offer pay-per-view pornography in its hotel rooms.
JetBlue’s so-called “homesourcing”— the relocation of its phone reservation system to 700 stay-at-home workers based in Salt Lake City — provides a hint to its CEO’s religious roots.
Founder and CEO David Neelman, a devout Mormon father-of-nine, once traveled to Brazil as a Mormon missionary, according to a 2002 USA Today profile.
And it’s a big reason Neeleman prioritizes customer service. “My missionary experience obliterated class distinction for me,” he said to author Jeff Benedict in “The Mormon Way of Doing Business.” “I learned to treat everyone the same. If anything, I have a disdain for the upper class and people who think they are better than others.”
Interstate Batteries speaks to its own religious identity in its mission statement.
According to the company’s website, the mission is “to glorify God as we supply our customers worldwide with top quality, value-priced batteries, related electrical power-source products, and distribution services.”
Former Company President Norm Miller was recognized last year by Dallas Baptist University for “his strong Christian leadership at Interstate Batteries as well as in the community.”
Weapons-sight maker Trijicon made waves in 2010 when an ABC Nightline investigation found that the company had inscribed coded biblical references on high-powered rifle sights used by the U.S. military.
Military officials told ABC they were unaware of the inscriptions, which violated U.S. military rules banning the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Michigan-based company at the time acknowleged the codes and told ABC that the practice started under its founder, Glyn Bindon, a devout Christian who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.
Hobby Lobby, a national chain of roughly 500 arts-and-craft stores in 41 states makes the company’s religious beliefs quite clear.
The company’s first mission statement is “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles,” according to its website, and ends with, “We believe that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, we trust Him for our future.”
Since 1997, the company has run full-page religious ads in every newspaper in which they advertise for holidays including Easter and Christmas.
ServiceMaster may not be a household name, but several of its brands — which include Merry Maids, Terminix and American Home Shield — are.
Former Minor League Baseball player Marion E. Wade founded the company in 1929 and worked to incorporate his “strong personal faith and a desire to honor God in all he did,” according to the Service Master website.
This translated into the company’s “foundational commitment” to “Honor God in all we do.”
George Foreman Cooking
Jeremy O’Donnell / Getty Images Entertainment
After leaving behind a successful boxing career, George Foreman gained new-found fame as the boisterous hawker of low-fat cooking grills.
Foreman discussed his own religious reawakening in an interview with Success Magazine, and said that his personal integrity guides his business decisions.
For example, he won’t invest in products or sellers that promote alcohol consumption.
H.E.B., a grocery-store chain with hundreds of stores in Texas and Mexico, grew from a single-family owned store opened by Florence Butt in Kerrville, Texas in 1905.
Company Vice Chairman Howard E. Butt Jr. is also a self-described “spiritual reformer,” who joined with Rev. Billy Graham in the 1950s to create “spiritual programs for business professionals.” He also oversees the administration of “Laity Lodge,” a Christian retreat center in Texas.
H.E.B. stores used to be closed on Sundays and prohibit the sale of alcohol until 1976, when a new president changed the rules.
Curves gyms are nationally known for creating a men-free environment where women of all shapes and sizes can work out.
It’s lesser known that the company’s founder Gary Heavin, is a born-again Christian who has garnered criticism for conservative political views and donating to anti-abortion causes, according to a 2004 Houston Chronicle profile.
Heavin acknowledged there has been some business “fallout” from his views, which prompted some members to cancel memberships.
Tom’s of Maine
Tom’s of Maine, a natural products retailer best known for its toothpaste, is not that outwardly religious. But its founder Tom Chappell is an active Episcopalian, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School.
Chappell discusses his path from divinity school to business CEO in his book, “The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good.” While at the school, a professor recommended that he treat his business like a ministry, so that’s what he did.
It has worked its way into Tom’s mission statement, which says it exists, in part, “To help create a better world by exchanging our faith, experience, and hope.”