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Joel Manby entered the work force with all the subtlety of a meteor entering the earth’s atmosphere. With an MBA from Harvard and tremendous leadership instincts, he was destined, it seemed, to move from one accomplishment to the next.
Growing up, Joel had watched his father work sunup to sundown plowing fields, mowing lawns, and working in a factory. But somehow the family never seemed to get ahead. With the opportunities Joel had been given to make a better life, he felt a responsibility before God to be a good steward of those prospects. In essence, he felt called by God to achieve his maximum career potential as a servant-leader in business.
And achieve he did.
Upon graduating from Harvard, Joel was offered his dream job—he was one of the first four people hired for a new General Motors start-up soon to be known as Saturn. As part of this groundbreaking team, Joel distinguished himself in the auto industry.
Fueled by that early success, Joel moved up quickly through the GM ranks. His skills, gifts, and work ethic made him perfectly suited for high-level executive leadership. He was destined for the top. At the age of thirty-four, he received an incredible offer to become the president of Saab Cars USA. So he left GM to take on a whole new level of demands. Joel excelled in his new position, and with the success came more responsibility.
Joel was soon put in charge of Saab in Asia, South America, and Canada as well. There seemed to be no limit to his future, but at the same time, there seemed to be no end to his frustration. You see, career wasn’t the only arena in which Joel had goals for his life. He and his wife, Marki, had dreams for their family as well. By the time Joel reached his peak at Saab, they had three daughters. While each of Joel’s promotions took them a step closer to reaching their financial goals, each demanded more of his time as well. Time that he knew belonged to Marki and the kids.
Marki embraced her role with the same tenacity Joel exhibited in the marketplace. She was committed to being a team player. She didn’t always like the hand she was dealt, but she accepted it and did the best she could. She held down the home front while Joel worked to build a bright future for the family. But there was always the frustration, the loneliness, and at times, the anger.
As Joel describes it, “I was traveling more than 50 percent of the time. There were car shows and dealer meetings all the time. And when I was home, I wasn’t really there—I had a latenight conference call with Japan or an early-morning conference call with Sweden. In my heart I wanted to be with my family. But I felt like this job was something I had to do. Our family had financial goals, and I felt like God had given me this talent that I should be using. And I viewed each promotion as his reward for a job well done. The truth is, I just couldn’t say no. Looking back, it wasn’t God prying me away from my family. It was me.”
One day, a close friend called Marki to wish her happy birthday. During their casual conversation, a wave of emotions began to surface, surprising even Marki. It was the second year in a row that Joel had been out of town on her birthday. He hadn’t forgotten. He just had a job to do. And she had willingly agreed he should go. But somehow, in that moment, Marki was hit with the reality that the very things they were working so hard to achieve were slipping through their fingers with each passing day.
In yet another long-distance phone call, Marki confronted Joel with the painful truth that he was not being the husband or father she had signed up for. In the weeks that followed, Joel and Marki had many heart-to-heart conversations. As Joel began to notice the despair in her countenance, he knew he had to make some major changes. Fast.
“I looked at Marki, and she was bawling her eyes out,” he explains. “I knew that if I continued down this path, I was going to lose my family.”
Joel made a decision right then and there. He didn’t have a plan. He wasn’t sure how he could pull off the changes necessary to bring balance to his personal life. He didn’t know how he could disentangle himself from his involvement in the car industry. But one thing was certain: He refused to keep going in the direction he was going. Things had to get better. Little did he realize just how bad things would get.
In an attempt to regain control of his life and family, Joel left the international demands of the auto industry for the fastgrowing dot-com world. On the morning of April 4, 2000, Joel began his first day as the CEO of a well-funded Internet startup company, with high hopes for the future. By the end of business on April 4, 2000, it was a very different picture. That day’s market plummet marked the beginning of the stock market crash of 2000–2002, which caused the loss of five trillion dollars in the market value of companies, as well as the loss of Joe’s hopes for an easy answer to the challenges between work and home. In fact, two weeks into the new company, Joel found himself laying off two-thirds of the company’s three hundred employees. The emotional toll of firing two hundred people, combined with twenty-hour workdays, led to more sleepless nights. His first attempt to reclaim the life he wanted led to further distance from Marki and greater desperation.
The remarkable events that followed have had an incredible impact on Joel’s life. As he and Marki describe it, the aftermath of Joel’s decision to reorder his world was the clearest indication they’d ever experienced of God’s presence in their lives and marriage.