GREENVILLE, S.C.-"Persistence is one thing I learned," says South Carolina businessman Jack Shaw, thinking back over more than 60 years to his first entrepreneurial success. When he was 13, he sold cleaning products door-to-door in the small town of Honea Path, S.C. "To tell the truth, a lot of times I would knock on doors and hope nobody would answer," he says. "But when they did, the juices would start flowing-and I did pretty well."
It's only 35 miles from Honea Path to Greenville, where the 76-year-old Shaw-accompanied by his wife and twin sons-today oversees a successful commercial and residential real-estate company. The longer travel was theological: Shaw in college showed a clear talent for business-he supported himself by buying used cars from a wholesaler in New York and selling them retail in Burlington, N.C.-but he wondered whether a career in business was a worthy endeavor for a follower of Jesus Christ.
Those misgivings were not-so-subtly reinforced by the church culture in which he was raised: "The mentality was that if you're going to be meaningful in your service to God, be in ministry, be a missionary-that's the only way you could really serve God." Later, though, Shaw "heard something that changed my whole attitude-that there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. What I do is my ministry."
Shaw's dad after World War II became a homebuilder and developer of subdivisions. "I got started in the real estate business from the ground up," Shaw chuckles. "Dad gave me a pick and a shovel and told me to dig footings." Eventually, the younger Shaw became a builder himself. "On the first house I built, I made $250 on the whole process," he recalls.
As the Greenville area attracted more businesses and jobs, Shaw Resources, Inc. eventually shifted from its original home-building focus to real estate development-picking up clients such as Walmart, grocer Publix, and multiple fast-food chains. The course of success wasn't smooth. Some deals-including several with fellow believers-turned into disasters because of his own failure to get details in writing, Shaw says: "Lack of documentation destroys more relationships than anything I know."
A providential investment more than 30 years ago has helped Shaw Resources survive such setbacks. Shaw invested heavily in a small South Carolina bank, hoping to gain a majority position eventually. That didn't happen, but in 1986 the bank merged with a much larger bank, another merger followed, and Shaw became a major stockholder in one of the biggest banks in the Southeast. Both real estate prices and the value of bank stocks have declined recently, but he's optimistic: "I see better times ahead."
Shaw has no plans to retire: Despite a bout with prostate cancer a decade ago, he works at his business, works out three days a week, and plays competitive golf. A long-time Sunday school teacher, Shaw set out a few years ago to put some of his life lessons and theological reflections on paper. The result was Little by Little (CrossBooks, 2009), a book that focuses on finding "success and significance" from a biblical point of view. He says, "I want to be remembered as person of purpose, and that purpose is fulfilling the calling that God showed me could be mine in business."