A Conversation with David Grizzle (Sr. VP at Continental Airlines)

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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David Grizzle is tall and imposing, a confident man whom people follow naturally. As senior vice president of corporate development at Continental Airlines, he has an impressive resume of acquisition, mergers, and alliances. Before his current position, he applied his legal credentials and business savvy to rocket through a number of venture capital firms.

Only a few minutes with David make clear that he would rather learn from others than impose his own views. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, but in practice, David intently absorbs from those around him. When someone finally turns the tables, David is apt to talk most about his wife, Anne Grizzle, counselor and author, or his three sons. David and Anne are most often known as deeply faithful people who choose to live thoughtfully in the fast lane. Their lifestyle is aggressively modest; their interests tend to focus on church and family. People who know David notice that he is remarkably centered on the things that really count.

What are some of the ways you are able to demonstrate your faith in your current position without jeopardizing professional expectations?

I find that if I am excellent in my professional work, it buys me a wide berth to be fully who I am at work—in what I say, what I wear, and obviously, how open I am about my faith. I use the same vocabulary at work as at church. Many people who think they are persecuted for their faith in the workplace are actually only receiving the just criticism for mediocre work. I avoid "God talk" in both locations, but openly talk of prayer and calling and belief in what I believe is clear language to the religious as well as the secular. I offer to pray for people who need prayer, and I make this offer irrespective of their personal religious position. I have never had anyone be offended, or turn me down. From time to time, I pray with my colleagues who are followers of Jesus. I also pass around Trinity Forum epigraphs to everyone who shows any interest in the multiple versions I keep on the coffee table in my office. In essence, I live out my faith as openly at the office and in other professional relationships as I do anywhere.

You have to be tough to do what you do. How are you able to negotiate the line between professional toughness and the demeanor and outlook Christ calls us to?

I am very "tough." I believe that many Christians have a uni-dimensional image of Jesus, seeing him almost exclusively as the Good Shepherd. He is also the Lion of Judah and the one who spoke to more individual people with blistering clarity than he spoke with gentle words of comfort. My model is Daniel: his heart was devoted totally to God and his commitment to God was greater than to life itself; and yet he was a trusted adviser of Nebuchadnezzar and certainly sat in on war councils and participated in decisions causing the death of thousands. Whenever I have fired people, I have always done it with a great concern for them and awareness that the tough act I was taking was probably one of the best events that could occur to the person.

You and your family have made some unique lifestyle decisions. Explain how your decisions have affected your own faith and the way others see you.

Living far below our means has been one of the most powerful influences on my children's lives. It has made a palpable reality to them that we are on earth not to serve ourselves, but to make our lives available to serve others. When I arranged in 1998 to have my "stay" bonus given away to charity rather than receive it, I believe that it had a powerful effect on my fellow officers of indicating that my faith was something real and not just words. I can't say that anybody came to faith through that alone, but I believe it brought about greater credibility to me as a follower of Jesus. The challenge is for our relatively parsimonious lifestyle to not become a source of pride and distinction to me.

How is it more challenging to be a Christian in the business world and how is it an advantage?

I don't think being in business is more challenging for a Christian than not being in business. In fact, for most Christians in big corporations, the experience is generally very advantageous because of the high premium paid on excellence and the existence of a legal environment that is generally highly consistent with ethical behavior. Small businesses are far more likely to present ethical challenges, because ethical behavior can be expensive. One area where business can be challenging is that business can produce a hardness of heart because of the competitiveness and relentlessness of business.

If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you do differently? What advice do you give your son or other young professionals starting out?

I made a major compromise that I now regret. When I graduated from Harvard Law School, I was not certain of my passion and calling. I had a hunch about what it might be (public service), but there were significant risks in pursuing what I at best only had a hunch about. Consequently, I moved into professional areas at which I was very talented, but about which I had no special passion. I enjoyed my work, but I had not been passionate about the substantive activities of the work. I excused myself by saying that my passion was for the relationships and other engagements that were enabled by my profession. Relationships and these other engagements—church, Boy Scouts, men's ministry—have been valuable and fruitful. But I believe now that I cheated myself and my contribution to the world by not forcing myself to be courageous and tenacious enough to find work in which I was passionate about the substance of the work. Not only would I have enjoyed it more, but I would also have been better at it.

How do you think business smarts can help ministries? How have you been able to lend your expertise to boards, etc?

The best contribution of business to ministries is the value and practices of excellence. Some ministries resist excellence because it requires tough decisions. I have found most gratifying my board work where I have been able to assist the organization in developing definitive objectives and then relentlessly managing to them.

Anything else on the subject you’d like to say?

The only other thing I would add is that I have made a major contribution to the work of God at Continental Airlines simply by openly identifying myself as a follower of Jesus. We have 250 people involved in Bible studies and Alpha courses at Continental. I am not personally involved in any of them. However, simply knowing that there is a senior vice president who shares their faith has been a source of great encouragement. I have also been able to provide invaluable coaching to them about how to pursue specifically Christian activities in a way that is consistent with policies that we have to maintain generally.