Ron Batts recently left a lucrative career as operational head at the fast-growing women’s specialty retailer Charming Charlie to become the president and CEO of Christian Community Action in Lewisville.
An unusual move, to say the least. But everything worked out so perfectly, Batts had to think a divine plan was at work.
It all started when Batts' wife, Martha, who works in human resources at Criswell College in Dallas, received an out-of-the-blue e-mail from a recruiting firm. They wanted to know if she could recommend anyone for the CEO position at CCA, which has been helping and ministering to Denton County and North Texas needy families for more than 35 years.
"So she called me," Batts said, "and she said, 'I know this doesn't make any sense, given your career and where we are at Charming Charlie, but these, Ron, are all the things you're passionate about.'"
Soon, Batts was the leading candidate to become the next CEO of CCA -- despite the fact that he was still quite happy at Charming Charlie and invested in the company, having received stock options in compensation.
It was a dilemma. But then Batts remembered a story from the Bible.
"I couldn't help but think of the story of Abraham," he said. "Just as he was about to sacrifice his one and only son, the angel of the Lord interceded and said, 'Hold up; God just wanted to know if you were willing.'"
Batts concluded that it would take a miracle for him to leave Charming Charlie and all that he had tied up in the company. A few days later, Batts read a passage in his morning Bible study that seemed to speak directly to him:
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?" Batts recited.
Later the same morning, Charming Charlie CEO Charlie Chanaratsopon called Batts into his office with what he thought was terrible news. Batts was being let go -- but his options would be vested.
Batts "burst out laughing," he said. Chanaratsopon replied, "This is serious."
"I just looked up to heaven and said, 'Oh, this is serious, all right,'" Batts recalled.
Man on a mission
About a week later, Batts was installed as the new CEO of CCA after wowing the search committee.
Now in the position for a nearly four months, Batts finds himself on the other side of the non-profit equation. He spent 20 years on the boards of various non-profits, most of them helping homeless people and battered women.
With much of CCA's work supported by the $5 million in annual revenues from its four "reSale" thrift stores, Batts feels that his 40 years of retail management experience and his non-profit board experience -- along with the fact that he's read the Bible cover-to-cover 20 times over the past two decades -- made him a great fit at CCA.
"I think all of those have helped me understand and better connect here," he said. "We have the retail portion, which is significant. We have many different disciplines here, everything from the pantry to the clinic to assistance to ministry. I think with the complexity of dealing with all of those things at one time, God really has been preparing me for this for a long time."
One of the first responsibilities Batts inherited was overseeing the construction of the new Flower Mound collection center.
"It's on schedule," Batts said. "We should be able to start receiving donations sometime around late November-early December, and we expect to make it fully operational sometime around mid- to late spring."
The 41,000 square-foot facility at 900 Lakeside Parkway is "not your father's Oldsmobile" when it comes to collection centers, Batts said. "It's actually quite aesthetically pleasing."
In fact, Batts intends to take a "not your father's Oldsmobile" approach to the goals of CCA as a whole.
"One of our big initiatives that we'll be bringing to our board is, if you look at breaking the cycle of poverty, people need jobs and they need upward mobility in jobs," he said.
"So one of the things we did at Charming Charlie was (study) how you train leaders for growth from two to 33 states in two years," Batts said. "I ended up forming and launching Charming Charlie University in Houston," a training program geared at making the retailer's employees ready for promotion.
"We looked at it and said, 'Wow, the third-largest job market in Denton County ... is retail,'" Batts said.
"Let's explore launching our own Institute for Retail Learning and Leadership." CCA is now in the planning process of such an institution, with the idea of getting the heads of needy families into entry-level jobs with the skills and CCA stamp of approval to work their way up to positions that can pay $22-25 per hour.
CCA is also studying a health care initiative with a wide network of specialists that would expand upon the medical services it already provides.
"We decided we ought to try to be the premier provider with the greatest array of specialists we can put together," Batts said.
Health care professionals have already been recruited to donate their time and skill to serve needy families. "We think we can improve the efficiency and capacity of our clinic, and the reach of our specialist network."
Another initiative is to expand the CCA food pantry into a more varied and enjoyable experience for the needy and provide more nutrition education.
"My challenge to the team here is, let's make this into the Central Market of pantries," Batts said. "Let's have the finest variety and ambiance we can put together, through food drives and contributors, so there's a great variety and not necessarily just, you know, six linear feet of tuna fish. That's protein, that's great -- but let's get them a little more variety here."
Batts thinks big when considering what CCA should strive to do.
"We're about bringing the love of Jesus Christ to life," he said. "We bring it to action; to me that's the 'Action' part of Christian Community Action.
"I have a vision of what we want to accomplish," Batts said. "Seven years from now, I want to be on the cover of, say, Newsweek magazine, and the headline's going to say 'How they eradicated poverty in Denton County, Texas.' And when they ask me, 'Well, how did y'all do that?' I'm going to say, 'It wasn't us. God did it, and he did it moving through the collaboration of the churches and the community. We joined together and reached out to the least of those (among us).'
"We know people will always be entering into our pipeline," he said. "That's great, because I'm planning on putting as many out the other end as come in."
Learn more about Christian Community Action at www.ccahelps.org.