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Christian business legend – The R. G. LeTourneau story

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    Robert Gilmore R.G LeTourneau, an extraordinary Christian inventor, businessman, and entrepreneur, left an indelible mark on the world with his remarkable journey from a sixth-grade dropout to the leading manufacturer of earth-moving machinery during his time.

    He achieved this feat with over 300 patents to his name, revolutionizing road construction and heavy equipment. However, it’s not just his business acumen that makes LeTourneau an inspiring figure; his unwavering commitment to advancing the Gospel places him among the greatest Christian businessmen of all time.

    LeTourneau’s story began in 1901 when, at the tender age of 14, he left school to work in an iron foundry. His early years saw him in various trades, but it was his growing fascination with machinery, starting as an auto mechanic, that ultimately led him to become the creator of the largest earth-moving equipment on the planet. After a stint with the Navy during World War I, he returned to a struggling car dealership, co-owned with a partner battling alcoholism. In 1915, burdened with a $5,000 debt, LeTourneau found himself at a crossroads.

    It was during this challenging period that LeTourneau’s journey took an unexpected turn. He accepted a job to level land for a wealthy rancher, an experience that brought him immense satisfaction. This marked the beginning of his ascent into larger land-leveling contracts, often secured by underbidding competitors and innovative machinery solutions that kept him afloat in the industry.

    In 1919, LeTourneau’s Christian faith began to guide him towards a greater purpose. He sought counsel from his pastor, Reverend Devol, believing that true commitment to Christ required becoming a pastor or missionary. However, Rev. Devol’s profound advice, “God needs businessmen too,” transformed LeTourneau’s perspective. He started seeing his business as a partnership with God.

    At the age of 40 in 1927, LeTourneau faced a substantial setback when a construction project left him $100,000 in debt, coinciding with the onset of the Great Depression. Yet, he remained steadfast in his faith, convinced that God could restore both his business and life. Despite the dire financial situation, an unexpected miracle unfolded. The surety company, originally intent on foreclosing on his business, had a change of heart, allowing LeTourneau to continue working.

    Although the financial crisis persisted, LeTourneau remained committed to his annual missions pledge, even though he was significantly behind on payments. To everyone’s surprise, the business managed to stay afloat, and the missions commitment was fulfilled that year. It was during this time that LeTourneau made a crucial decision to focus entirely on manufacturing his machinery inventions, effectively overcoming his financial woes.

    The subsequent years witnessed remarkable financial success for LeTourneau’s manufacturing business, even during the heart of the Great Depression:

    – 1932: Net Profit – $52,055.61

    – 1934: Net Profit – $340,275.49

    – 1938: Net Profit – $1,412,465.68

    In 1935, inspired by his wife Evelyn, LeTourneau adopted a 90/10 split, with 90% of the income dedicated to the Lord’s work and 10% for themselves. He often emphasized, “It’s not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.” This led to the establishment of the LeTourneau Foundation, which managed donations. By 1959, the foundation had contributed $10 million to religious and educational causes and maintained assets worth approximately $40 million.

    In the same year, 1935, LeTourneau overcame his fear of public speaking, delivering his first speech at the opening of his new plant. This marked the beginning of a lifelong commitment to speaking on the integration of Christianity and business. His business success allowed him to purchase airplanes, enabling him to share his message with audiences worldwide.

    RG LeTourneau’s life is a testament to the transformative power of faith and dedication. His legacy continues to inspire Christians in business, reminding them of the profound impact they can have in both the corporate world and the advancement of the Gospel. For an in-depth look into his life, one can delve into his autobiography, “Mover of Mountains and Men,” where he shares his incredible journey in his own words.

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