Memphis company chooses ministry over millions, shares profits with community

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A local business has gone from rags to riches and building a kingdom by choosing self sacrifice and service.

When people need to do some heavy lifting, more often than not, they turn to Barnhart Crane & Rigging. It's the top crane and rigging company in the country, and got its start right here in Bluff City.

"My mom and dad started the business with a pickup truck, a ladder and a welding machine," said Alan Barnhart, CEO. "The international corporate headquarters was two bedrooms of the home I grew up in."

Over the years, you've seen their work. They installed the steel on the Pyramid, the A.W. Willis bridge,  and much more here and across the country.

Eric Barnhart would be considered the "technical brains" of the outfit. His brother Alan is the numbers guy and company CEO.

They say the company has gone from 10 employees to 1,000 and went from under $2 million dollars to $400 million dollars of revenue.

But the brothers don't own the company anymore — and it's not because they lost it.

"We actually gave away the company in '08, '09," Eric Barnhart said.

They still work there, but they did what few business owners have done before: They turned their backs on a huge payday.

"God's not impressed with the commas and the zeros. God wants faithfulness," Alan Barnhart said.

They gave their $400 million company to ministry.

"If you leave God out of the equation that business model seems crazy," Alan Barnhjart said.

For Barnhart, it's crazy good. From Wall Street to Main Street, the company is an undeniable success. They'd need one of their cranes to hoist all the money they've made.

But at this heavy lift company, they judge success by a different standard.

"We take 50% of our profit every year and send it to organizations that are helping other people," Alan Barnhart said.

That's not a business model that a lot of different businesses across the country would use, but the Barnharts say it's a business model that works.

"We always felt like it belonged to God anyway, we just made it a little bit more official," Eric Barnhart said.

The CEO calls it "profit with a purpose," and to that end, the company is moving mountains — in the Biblical sense. Every month the company donates almost $2 million profit to help charitable causes.

"We've found great freedom in living a life with some financial constraints, living our life saying, 'God, everything we have is yours,'" Alan Barnhart said.

Employees say it helps to know that they're working for a greater purpose than just making the owners' rich.

"It was what draws you to the company, and you realize that you're working hard not so the owners can have more things but you're working together for a common purpose," employee Gene Kaercher said.

In this age of excess, where it's not uncommon for company executives to earn tens of millions of dollars a year, Alan Barnhart and his brother have chosen to limit their salary to around $100,000.

"I think we just found that we're not built to be satisfied with stuff, with toys that will never satisfy us," Alan Barnhart said. "And so, we quit trying and said we're just going to live a simple life and then try to earn as much as we can and use that money for a greater purpose."

Barnhart believes God uses their money better than they ever could, helping people like Henry Joy and Antonio Byrd.

They're Memphians who'd been struggling to find good work until they found Advance Memphis, a Christian-based organization supported by Barnhart.

"They gave me an opportunity to move forward, to do better, to have a better life," said Byrd, with UWT Logistics. "To be able to get what you need, and be able to get out and get a respectable job and be able to come to work every day."

Henry and Antonio now have good paying jobs, thanks in part to Barnhart's generosity in supporting Advance Memphis to empower adults with knowledge and skills, breaking the cycle of unemployment and restoring dignity to those looking for work.

"You know, I didn't have the skills I needed to get to where I'm trying to get, to where I'm at now," Joy said. Now he has a job with benefits.

This Memphis-based company will keep working at being as good at investing its money as in making it.

"We've seen God do miracle after miracle," Alan Barnhart said. "We keep shoveling the profits out, and God keeps shoveling them in. And God has a bigger shovel."

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