Gordon Wilkerson: A family legacy of service in West Texas

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Gordon Wilkerson, member of First Baptist Church in Lubbock, is president of Wilkerson Properties, Inc. and Wilkerson Storage Co. Both have been family-owned since 1938, the former providing commercial and industrial real estate development and the latter providing third-party logistics services.

The family business was started by Wilkerson’s grandfather, whose first business in Lubbock was a seafood shop selling fresh fish transported in ice and by rail from the Texas coast. From there, the business expanded into cold storage and rental properties. After his grandfather died in a plane crash in 1956, Wilkerson’s father assumed leadership of the business.

From deep in the heart of one Texan, Wilkerson shares his background and thoughts on being a follower of Christ in the marketplace. To suggest a Texas Baptist leader in the marketplace to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where did you grow up?

Lubbock, Texas

How did you come to faith in Christ?

Through examples provided by my parents and grandparents which were bolstered and confirmed by effective and instructive preaching and teaching from a number of outstanding staff members and lay leaders at First Baptist Church in Lubbock and later through faculty and leaders at Baylor University.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

• Baylor University, Bachelor of Business Administration
• Southern Methodist University, Master of Business Administration

About business life

Why do you feel called into business?

I want to be a good steward of the resources and opportunities God has presented. I enjoy helping others find positive solutions to their space and logistics requirements.

How does being a Christian influence your business decisions?

We are here to serve others. Christian truths as guideposts, humility and hard work serve one well in any endeavor.

What is your favorite aspect of business? Why?

Relationships with customers, vendors and associates, and team building to achieve success.

What one aspect of business gives you the greatest joy?

Our priority is working with our customers to create effective and efficient solutions to their logistics requirements. We must determine proper location, find correct building size, assess best construction techniques and incorporate effective design features. It’s great to see the process move from ideas to plans to a finished product serving the customer.

How do you expect business to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

We are just beginning to witness changes driven by disruptive technology. Moore’s Law cannot be sustained indefinitely, but the rate of change in the last generation has been astounding. Web-based business, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, robots and other innovations will drive an even faster rate of change for the next 20 years.

What do you wish more people knew about business?

A favorite Winston Churchill quote says it better than I can: “Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is—the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.”

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

It’s not easy for lifelong Baptists to admit it, but society is approaching a post-denominational state. We are in a continuing struggle for relevance and, ultimately, for our existence.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

We spend too much time on politics and petty infighting. I often pine for the spirit Baptists exhibited and the positive influence the denomination held in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. I realize we can’t go back but would hope we could chart a course for the future with an objective of achieving a similar unity.

About Gordon

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

My parents, John and Ruth Wilkerson, allowed Christianity to sink into my soul gently and thoroughly like a long, slow rain in West Texas.

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents also were true and laudable examples.

Pastors David Ray, Dan Yeary, D.L. Lowrie, Jon Randles and Bobby Dagnel have provided wisdom, strength, comfort, instruction and compassion while making God’s word understandable, practical and applicable.

Professors Bruce Cresson and H.J. Flanders at Baylor were exceptional Bible teachers.

I wish our children could have the chance to attend even one January Bible Study led by William Tolar or Jack MacGorman.

Ron Lowry led me to an enduring love for hymns and sacred music.

Abner McCall and Herbert Reynolds were true servant leaders.

Baylor Professors L.M. Dyson, Kent Gilbreath, Maxine Hart, Lee Polk, Robert Reid, Richard Scott and James Vardaman not only taught exceptionally, but also challenged my thinking and confirmed life’s priorities.

My brother Ray, who died battling glioblastoma multiforme, showed me a combination of fearless faith, grace under pressure and wisdom—of which I hope to have half a measure at some point in my life.

My wife, Lori, and our three daughters are a continual source of wisdom, counsel and inspiration.

What is the impact of business on your family?

Pros: A high degree of personal freedom, which helps in keeping family a priority. Pride of ownership in finding effective solutions for customers, helping team members grow and achieving financial success.

Cons: When business or markets fail or go sideways, loss is distinctly personal. Particularly in family-owned businesses, it would be disingenuous to say anything other than business operations and involvement can put stress on family relationships, which are ultimately more important.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

• Audio versions of any history course by the late Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma. His course on the history of freedom is exceptional, a true reminder that we cannot take for granted the freedom we enjoy as Americans.
• Biographies by David McCullough; I particularly enjoyed The Wright Brothers.
• To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, as covered in high school English by Sharon Kingston, who inspired a love for literature and confirmed “speed reading” is not fair to reader or author.
• I also enjoy Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal columns, enjoyed the late Blackie Sherrod sports columns and enjoy John Grisham novels.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

Isaiah 41:10. The calm assurance this verse provides is a reminder of both God’s love for us and his power in our lives.

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

Daniel. He’s such a powerful reminder of the importance of keeping one’s faith in a shifting culture and uncertain future.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

I attempted to take up the cello in my mid-50s and gained a new and deeper appreciation for middle school orchestra concerts.

If you could get one “do over” in business, what would it be, and why?

I love Lubbock, but I wish I’d taken the opportunity to broaden my horizons earlier in my career.

Any final thoughts?

I’ve always really liked a quote widely attributed to Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

I was surprised to learn in later research that Churchill never spoke those words. I find what he did say on the topic to be even more inspiring:

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal? And I avow my faith that we are marching towards better days. Humanity will not be cast down. We are going on swinging bravely forward along the grand high road and already behind the distant mountains is the promise of the sun.”


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