Philosopher-president Featured

10:03am EDT July 22, 2002

Jack Faris says he isn't a Republican, though he's portrayed as one on TV.

In fact, while the president of the National Federation of Independent Business has never registered with either major party, Faris once worked for GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander and served as finance director for the Republican National Committee. Polls of NFIB members consistently favor conservative political stands, and Faris dependably carries that water to Capitol Hill. But, he insists, "I'm a salesman first and everything else second."

A conversation with Faris late this summer reveals a man with deeper concerns on his mind: A deep commitment to Christian life and a yearning to spend more time with his wife, tempered by his determination to energize small business owners to promote their agenda in Washington.

What one thing have you accomplished in the last year as president of NFIB that most directly improved the environment for small businesses?

Probably the IRS reform legislation passed by the Congress and signed by the president this summer.

What would you like most to accomplish for small businesses in the coming year?

A substantial gain on getting a new tax code; that's going to take not just next year, but an awful lot of time, effort and energy, resources and push. We hope next year we can get substantial tort reform.

You tell small business owners, You'd better get involved in politics, or politics will run your business. If you had to run for any public office, which would it be?

President of the United States.

What's the worst part of your job as president of NFIB?

How long it takes to make effective change. My background is small business; you want to make a change, you focus on it, you can get it done in a fairly short period of time. [NFIB] is a fairly large business operation. We have an $85 million budget, 1,100 employees.

What's the best thing about the job?

I get to be with small business people all across the country. It is the most incredibly interesting thing to do, because I have never met two alike.

If you owned a small business, what would it be?

Management consulting.

What small business would you least like to own?

A restaurant. You're dealing with the lowest paid people, with a perishable product, and you're depending on other people coming into your business, and you've got 1,600 different people examining your books and looking at your workplace and deciding what's clean and not clean. You've got to have a dependable product that's consistent. You work incredible hours. I just think that's a real hard business.

What living person in business do you admire most?

Jim Herr. He lives in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. He and his wife started a little potato chip business there years ago. They now have a business called Herr Foods. They're dominant in Philadelphia, and they're in nine states, and he has about 1,100 employees, so it's not a real small business anymore. This man is the picture of integrity, he's a smart businessperson, he's a giver not a taker. He is the chairman of the board of NFIB.

What living person in government do you most admire?

Ronald Reagan.

What are you going to do when you retire?

Work hard. I can't read of any example in the Bible where God talks about what you do in retirement.

What is your most valued possession?

My golf clubs. But, a little more than four years ago, I nearly died from an infectious disease. I got down to 140 pounds. I looked worse than death. It took me about 18 months to get over it. You realize that all the stuff you can see, that aren't relationships, don't make any difference. So I value and covet being around people I respect and admire. Some people have things they'd just die if they lost. I didn't really understand how beautiful sunsets are. I didn't see the color of the leaves. But I've gotten to where now, I'll just stop the car and look.

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?

"Always, always, always tell the truth," from my father. He said, "You'll never be smart enough to remember everything you've ever said." I don't know anything that'll keep you out of more trouble.

What is your greatest fear?

That when all is said and done, I will have disappointed God in who he wants me to be.

What is your greatest regret?

What is your personal motto?

A quote from Arthur Ashe, who was talking with a group of students in Atlanta shortly before he died. He talked about achieving excellence. He said: "Start where you are, with what you have, and do the best you can."