LOVELAND – You could say that Thom Schultz was in the right place at the right time.
During the early 1970s, he was working as a journalist and volunteering a ta youth ministry when he realized that there were few tools available for religious teachings.
“I decided that I would jump in and try publishing resources,” explained Schultz, founder and CEO of Group Publishing Inc., Loveland.
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When he started the company in 1974, he was 22 years old. Investing $500 of his own money and three years of evening and weekend hours, Schultz worked full-time for television and radio stations while he got the company up and running.
Judging from the success of his enterprise, his work paid off. Today, Group Publishing has blossomed into a multi million dollar business that produces hundreds of publications and guidelines for curriculum, and hosts religious retreats and workshops.
But success for Schultz is measured in more than dollar signs. As CEO, Schultz runs an organization that ranks servanthood, quality and people friendliness at the top of its core values. In addition to fulfilling a niche for providing Christian educational materials, Schultz and his team have made a positive impact on the community.
His entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the company’s involvement with charitable activities, were two of the reasons that Schultz was chosen from a pool of about 50 local nominees to receive the first “Bravo Entrepreneur Award,” representing Loveland.
“There were several worthy people nominated, but Thom’s qualificationswere the best by far,´ said Jim Willard, a member of the Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards Committee and manager of public relations at Hewlett-Packard Co. “He really epitomizes an entrepreneur from the community. He had a vision for meeting the needs of a group of people, and is very interested in community efforts.”
Was Schultz in the right place at the right time? Maybe, but he attributes his success to a higher power. “God led us through those early years,” he said. “We started really, really small, our overhead was nil, and we used patience to gain momentum.”
In the beginning, Schultz charged $4 for a one-year subscription to Group Magazine, a 24-page tabloid that gave churchgoers and volunteers hands-on, practical suggestions and ideas. Twenty-four years later, it is a 100-page, 4-color, glossy magazine with thousands of subscribers who pay $25.95 annually. Over the years, Group Magazine has been joined by Children’s Ministry Magazine and Vital Ministry Magazine, two publications that provide similar information to different audiences.
The momentum that Schultz describes really picked up steam in 1990, when the company began producing weekly Christian curriculum guides for junior-high and high-school students.
“It was a great departure from traditional literature,” Schultz said. “It employed authentic learning elements with an active approach. We use experiences that are fun and engaging that will reflect a biblical experience. We take issues like peer pressure and dealing with parents, and wrap biblical studies around them.”
Schultz applied this philosophy of education to a new book that he wrote with his wife, Joanie, titled “The Dirt on Learning.”
“We really believe that people take more away from an experience if they do something rather than just listening to a lecture, Schultz explained.
“If you verbalize your thoughts you learn a lot more, retain that information better, and it affects your life more deeply,” he added.
Serving an audience that spans the gamut from toddlers to adults, Group Publishing now produces hundreds of book titles and recently entered the multimedia arena with videos, music, and television productions.
A higher calling
“Our focus is to provide resources to the church,” Schulz said.
Building on that premise, executives from Group Publishing appealed to subscribers for help when flooding from a 1976 rainstorm killed 139 residents and destroyed many homes in the Big Thompson Canyon. Response to the call for help was astounding, and prompted Schultz to organize seasonal work camps and conferences that provide people with opportunities to help those who are less advantaged.
According to Group Publishing literature, nearly 10,000 teenagers pay for their own transportation, lodging, food and some home-restoration supplies to participate in the company’s work camps each summer. In addition to several work camps, workshops and conventions, the publisher also organizes and hosts a national convention in February.
Although many functions fall under the Group Publishing umbrella, Schultz describes his company’s growth as a natural evolution prompted by the needs of the church.
Accommodating that growth was difficult at times, says Schultz, whose biggest hurdle has been refocusing individual efforts.
“I’ve had to retool myself from a craftsman to the keeper of the company culture,” explains Schultz, who acted as the writer, editor, designer and advertising executive in the beginning.
“When you start out running the company as one person, you have to learn how to delegate,” he added. Today, 200 staff members create Group Publishing’s products, and Schultz sees his main role as support staff.
“We printed our organizational chart upside down so that the front line people are at the top,” he explained. “Our role, as the executives of the company, is to serve and support those who report to us.”
Peppered throughout the sweetness of the company’s success are a few failures that Schultz attributes to overly ambitious plans.
“Sometimes we’ve been too far ahead of the market,” he said. “Innovation is a core value, but sometimes we’ve been ahead of our time, missed the market, and had a few flops on our hands as a result.”
Yet, Schultz believes that those flops have enabled staff members to read the needs of the market more effectively. “We now do a better job of reading where people are, and giving them what they need,” he said.