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Anthony tells grads to seek work they can love

April Anthony mug 2008Abilene Christian University trustee April (Bullock ’89) Anthony was the featured Commencement speaker May 12 in Moody Coliseum at ACU. April is CEO of Encompass Home Health and Homecare Homebase, both of which she founded. In February, she and her husband, Mark Anthony (’86), made the largest gift in ACU history: $30 million for construction of an on-campus football stadium, for the College of Business Administration, and for a new science building in honor of the late Robert R. Onstead. The construction is part of the university’s $75 million Vision in Action initiative to build three science facilities and two on-campus  stadiums. One of the Anthonys’ three children is an ACU student. 
Good afternoon and congratulations to all of today’s graduates.
I’m excited to be here today but I have to admit: about two months ago when Dr. Schubert called me and asked me if I would be willing to speak at Commencement, I was sort of taken aback by the request. As you will soon come to see, I’m not an eloquent presenter. I don’t make speeches for a living, I don’t have any fancy regalia or advanced degrees. I’ve only achieved the same bachelor’s degree that you are being awarded here this day.
But in spite of all those obvious limitations, and after some considerable thought, I decided that perhaps I would have a few moments of things to share with you that would be of value.
April Anthony Commencement 5-2014You see, 25 years ago, I sat exactly where you are sitting today, with my mother sitting behind me, proud of the accomplishments I had achieved. And as I looked forward, I saw all kinds of opportunities ahead: opportunities for a career at Price Waterhouse where I had obtained a position, opportunities for financial independence – which made my father happiest of all – and opportunities to gain influence in the world of business. But the fact is, the opportunity I wanted the most was the opportunity to retire, the opportunity to fall in love, get married, have a family and be a stay-at-home mom.
I left ACU 25 years ago with a great education, a great job, but no prospects for a great husband. But the God that we serve is good, and as He has done so many times before and after in my life, he provided. He provided my heart’s desire when through a blind date I met my husband, Mark.
We began dating that summer after graduation, were engaged about a year later, and were married before the second anniversary of my graduation. It seemed to me that life was headed exactly where I had always dreamed that it would. Now all I needed to do was work a few years, save a little money, allow us to build a nest egg so that I could, in fact, retire and be a stay-at-home mom.
But although God is always good, sometimes he’s sneaky. Sometimes He’ll slip up on you and provide you with an opportunity or a challenge that you never imagined would come.
About a year after Mark and I were married, I decided that it was time to leave Price Waterhouse. At Price Waterhouse you work a lot of long hours, and it wasn’t particularly fun as a newlywed to not see your husband very often. And so I decided I just needed a new job, a place where I could work for a couple of years as I began that transition.
So at the conclusion of busy season in 1992, I went on the job search. I was fortunate. It was a good time in the job market, and I had four job offers. Three of those job offers made a ton of sense. They were good companies that I had audited in industries that I had experience for positions that I was well qualified. But one of those job offers made absolutely no sense. You see, it was to go to work as a controller being in charge of an accounting department at a home healthcare company. I had just turned 25 at the time, and I had very little business being in charge of anything. I was new to leadership and lacked the requisite skills to lead a department. And I knew nothing about home care or even healthcare for that matter.
But, as my husband will tell you, I’m pretty fond of being in charge. So being enamored with the opportunity to take on a position of leadership, I decided to jump right in – in spite of my lack of knowledge, experience or even qualifications for the position at hand. And here came God with a surprise attack of His will in my life.
You see, shortly after I arrived on the scene in this home healthcare company, I discovered that one of the subsidiaries of the company was struggling significantly. They were losing quite a bit of money, and it was going to negatively impact the other aspects of the business. As a financial leader, it was my responsibility to find someone to acquire that business so that we could get it out of our organization. And I gave it my best shot.
I spoke to my friends at Price Waterhouse, I made connections with other people in the healthcare industry, but in spite of all my best efforts, I found no interest in this particular business. And so after a few weeks of failed attempts to sell this business, I went to the owner of the company to explain my efforts. Being one who doesn’t really like to fail, in the middle of the conversation, the following sentence came out of my mouth even as a total surprise to me: I explained my failures and I said, “Hey, what if I just buy the business?”
And he said, “Sold.”
And I said, “Wait, wait, wait. I was just talking hypothetically. I can’t actually buy it. I don’t have any money. I couldn’t pay you anything for it. But I could just assume the losses that have been incurred.”
And again he said, “Sold.”
And again I said, “Wait, wait. I’m still kind of talking theoretically here. I’ve got to see what my husband thinks of this grand idea.” So that evening I drove home in my car (that I could barely afford the payments for) to my home (that was leveraged to the max with the biggest mortgage we could get and badly in need of remodeling and repair), and I shared with Mark my grand proposal that had literally slipped out of my mouth earlier that day.
And he quickly said, “What do you know about home healthcare? Why in the world do you think you could handle this?” I remember as if it was yesterday saying, “It just doesn’t seem that hard. I think I can do it.”
That’s how my auspicious career in home care began. Mark’s obviously a pretty trusting guy. So the next day I went back to work and I explained to the owner that I was ready to transfer this business into my name. So with 58 days of experience in the home healthcare industry, at the ripe old age of 25, I became the owner of a home health business that was struggling, losing money that I didn’t have.
And so the first thing I had to do was lay off as many employees as possible. I had to take on any responsibility that I could remotely handle. I was responsible for hiring and firing. I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business, the building and for sales and marketing and accounting. And in the process, here came God again, sneaking up on me every day with a business that I was falling in love with, a business that challenged me relative to my financial skills, a business that inspired me to be the kind of employer I had always wanted to have, a business that made a difference for patients in crisis.
And all of a sudden, what I came to realize was that God was calling me in a completely different direction than I had ever imagined I would go. So you’re wondering, “Why is she telling us this long story?” Well, I hope there’s a few simple takeaways that you can think about from my story.
When you leave this place, you’ll leave here with jobs. The statistics show that if you don’t have one today, you will by the end of the summer. As you enter those jobs, I would challenge you to look beyond your paycheck, to look beyond the opportunities for a career or a position of authority but instead to seek to find your calling in your work.
You see, most of us will spend more time at work than we will doing any other single activity, so my charge to you is to find meaning and inspiration in your work, to find work that you love, that challenges you not to just be the best employee you can be, but to be the best person that you can be – that makes you excited to go to work every day.
I’ve been fortunate, and I’ve had much success in my career. I could have achieved that original goal of retirement long ago, but I haven’t done that because I believe I am called to lead my company, called to be a great employer, called to honor God in my work, called to care for those in need, called to give them the quality of care they need at the end of life.
Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it, and it just gets better and better as the years roll on. As someone who believes they’ve found their calling, I can tell you just how true those words are.
I hope that each of you will keep looking until you find work that you love, work that inspires you, work that you feel called to. But I also tell you this story to inspire you to believe that anything is possible, that this place has prepared you to achieve more than you could ever imagine.
One of my favorites quotes is that “God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.” My hope for you is that you will believe in yourself, that when opportunity knocks that you will respond with confidence, knowing that if you trust in God, lean not on your own understanding, that He will equip you for the opportunities that are before you.
And finally, I tell you this story to say that when you become convicted enough about why, you will figure out how. For me, I lacked the skills, the knowledge, the experience, the financial resources to become a business owner at the age of 25, but in spite of that when I arrived in the homecare industry I quickly became convicted about why I was there, and so I did what had to be done to learn the business from the ground up, to acquire the financial resources necessary to allow it to grow, to lead with conviction and make a difference in the lives of employees and patients.
My hope for you is that you will find something that you will become so convicted about that you will overcome any obstacle to fulfill your dream.
ACU has given you the foundation that you need to be successful in work, in life, in relationship, in ministry. My prayer for you is that you will build on that solid foundation, that you will find inspiration in whatever you choose to do, and that in all things you will work as if working for the Lord.
Congratulations, Class of 2014.