Going Up: How an Unlikely Elevator Startup Is Changing the World
Jay Arntzen, Genesis Elevator Company and Revelation Manufacturing
July 21, 2020
In 2007, after many years in executive roles for a global elevator company, I felt like I had hit a plateau in the organization. When the company went through a reorganization and I landed in a role that I did not feel allowed me room to grow, I knew it was time to go. I was ready for a new challenge.
My wife Tracy and I founded Genesis Elevator in the basement of our home that year—with our three sons, Joshua, Jared, and Mason, our two dogs, and our niece all under the same roof at the time. Starting a business right before the Great Recession meant that we had to fight hard and run lean from the beginning. But, from the start, we had a powerful Purpose driving our work.
When we decided to start our own company, we committed to making it a faith-based business. We did not fully understand how that would look in the beginning, but at a basic level, we knew we wanted to build a company grounded in the same core values that defined our Christian faith.
In 2012, through a transformative mission trip to Cambodia with my son Jared, I learned first-hand the need among orphans in that country. On that trip, I met a five-year-old girl named Vichika (aka Susan). My wife and I had raised three boys, and I love kids, but the connection I felt with this little girl was extraordinary. I came home from that trip and knew I had to do something for her—and for other orphans who could not be adopted.
Cambodia’s borders, like those of several other countries, are closed to adoption by U.S. citizens because of the rampant problem of human trafficking and corruption. Traditional adoption was not a possibility. Instead, we realized, the closest consistent family connection we could offer Vichika and other children would need to be delivered in a different way. If we could provide the necessary technology to orphanages, we could facilitate “virtual adoptions,” connecting families in the U.S. with orphans to build life-long familial relationships through video connections, as well as regular in-person visits by the adoptive family. We believed that by taking this kind of qualitative approach, we could impact change for generations to come.
Today, Saving Susan Ministry, the nonprofit organization we founded to do this work facilitates virtual adoptions and also funds trade school and college for orphans, providing them a path to Purpose. The organization not only provides personal purpose for myself and my family, it fuels the growth of our Evergreen® business. We always knew we were building a faith-based business, but this ministry has become our north star, the reason Genesis Elevators exists today.
Our Purpose fuels our Paced Growth and our commitment to remaining Private, propels our Profit, guides our People First programs, and has inspired us to approach this phase of life and the life of our company with newfound commitment and energy.
Here are just some of the ways our Purpose is reflected at Genesis Elevator today:
Sustainable growth will allow the company and Saving Susan Ministry to exist well beyond my wife and me, on an Evergreen time frame. Our commitment to this company has nothing to do with a desire to cash out and get a big paycheck or check items of a bucket list. It’s about growing and innovating to continue to change the lives of orphans and the families who are blessed to partner with them.
In 2019, we launched a manufacturing division, Revelation Manufacturing, to produce residential elevators. Large, global elevator companies are not interested in this market, so it’s pretty fragmented and made up of small companies. Entering this new market and expanding our footprint provides the opportunity for significant growth. Growth and increased profitability will allow us to help more at-risk children.
Our industry, like so many, is being inundated by private equity. In fact, the third-largest elevator company in the world, ThyssenKrupp Elevator, is about to be acquired by a consortium of private equity firms. We get calls from these firms, as I’m sure most private companies do. However, our response is clear: “This isn’t going to work. First, we’re adhere to the Evergreen 7P™ principles and are a member of Tugboat Institute—you can go look up what that means if you are interested; second, your money can't deliver what God's delivering for us unless you’re going to commit to the ministry (our purpose).” Needless to say, the conversation is over pretty quick.
About a year after our initial trip to Cambodia and the launch of our ministry, we held a company board meeting. We were finally breaking through the lean years that followed the Great Recession, and we were looking forward to celebrating our numbers and being able to breathe a bit easier. At the meeting, one of our board members said, “Well, Jay, as a faith-based company, your priority for the first profits should be to direct them to your ministry.” That was not what I necessarily wanted to hear, but as I let the idea settle, I knew he was right.
That first year of profitability, we committed 15 percent of our profits to Saving Susan Ministry. We have raised our annual commitment by one percent each year since. Last year, 19 percent of our profit went to the ministry. Seeing the fruits of our labor dedicated in this way is powerful and drives us to continually work toward increased profitability.
Our Purpose fuels the culture of family at Genesis Elevator and guides our People First practices. We're constantly evaluating our culture to better understand how we can help our team prioritize family and maintain healthy connections. We say “Family matters to everybody. It matters to us. It matters to you. It's more important than this business.”
One benefit we have implemented to help family well-being is to make mental health professionals available to any team member or their family members when they have difficult situations that they need help with, free of charge. We know that life's tough. You don't get through life without difficulties, and we want our people to know that we are there for them and that they can have a resource for confidential support when needed.
I have been in the elevator business since I graduated from college, all of my professional life. But elevators don’t get me up in the morning. I have always loved the people I have worked with, across all the roles I’ve had, which kept me in the field, but I never felt a deeply held purpose in my work other than to take care of my family.
Now, I get up in the morning to serve the people in our company and the ministry. In the end, it is our team, sustainable profit, and manageable growth that will allow us to continue to have a positive impact on at-risk kids. With 140 million orphans in the world, we won’t run out of opportunity in my lifetime. Vichika is 12 now, and our relationship with her grows every year. We also support her brother, Mesa, who is 16, as well as another young girl, Grace, who’s six. These children may not live with us physically, but be assured they are our kids—just like our three boys. They are part of the Arntzen tribe, and they have blessed our family beyond measure.