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The two most important days in anyone's life are the day they are born and the day they find out why they were born,” says Frank Fox. “It took me over seventy years to discover the second.”
Fox is a friendly man, quick to shake your hand and make you feel at ease. He’s a little shy to share his story but hopes it inspires others. As a scientist, he had many years as president of Armstrong Industrial Specialties. “I had a lot of good mentors from Armstrong who allowed me opportunities that I didn’t feel I was qualified for, and helped me along in my career.” Fox also had the opportunity to serve as the CEO of Interface Solutions, a spinoff of Armstrong. He retired in 2012. “I had an inclination that I hadn’t found what I wanted to do, but I was leaning toward helping other people and giving back,” he says. His thoughts continued to grow year after year. But then something changed.
“I went on a trip with HOPE International and I had the opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic. My wife and I wound up in the middle of a sugarcane field with a migrant group of cutters,” he says. HOPE was trying to create a second level of commerce in that community. Fox recalls being able to talk to those individuals and others who were trying to open small businesses. “ I felt like I was talking to college professors. They were profound in their intellect and the awareness they had. And then it hit me like a bolt of lightening: I’m 1,500 miles away, I have more stuff than I need, and here are people who are deprived.” The disconnect was disturbing. “It was at that point, I’m not a man of considerable means, but I decided my mission in life is going to be to give back, in every way that I can—with finances and personal service.”
First, he decided to create family security and he opened three little businesses so his family could have sustainability because he knew they weren’t going to get revenue from him because he was going to give it away. He opened the restaurant Aussie and the Fox in downtown Lancaster with his granddaughter Julia Garber and her husband, Colin Morrell. (Yes, Morrell is “the Aussie” and Frank is “the Fox.”) He also opened a party planning company in the DC area with his son. Finally, he and a partner opened a research group, called Sustainable Composites that makes products with recycled leather.
Second, he has gotten involved in the community to do outreach projects. He’s on the board at Elizabethtown College and he works with Allegro the concert group. He enjoys being on the board of the Lancaster Science Center and the advisory board at Millersville’s Ware Center. He also enjoys teaching a night class about entrepreneurship to students at Lancaster Bible College. Fox also takes great care to remain faithful to his home church, the Lancaster Church of the Brethren. Internationally, he’s been involved with projects in Guyana to help establish community, and working with a group called Hiinga which provides resources to farmers in Uganda.
Fox humbly admits that he is just one person making an effort and that others should too. He invites people to give back in whatever way they can. “It will greatly reward their life and they’ll have more excitement than they ever thought was possible,” he says with a smile. He feels he’s finally found his purpose in life and his agenda is twice as full as it ever was before. But so is his joy.
“When I read the Bible, I couldn’t find the word retirement anywhere. I use the ‘R’ word but I move from retirement to repurpose,” he says laughing. Fox is a happy man. He says there’s no easy path to finding your unique purpose in life. He has a lot of good experience and understanding—which is also called wisdom. “Recently, I’ve had step two of an awareness of what my purpose is, but that’s a story for another time.”
Interests as a kid?
As a young child, I always liked chemistry. I would make modifications of gunpowder and take it out in the backyard or in the basement and blow things up. I did make some pretty good explosions!
I remember an event where one of my general managers came into my office with a white-lined sheet of paper and on every line was a defect I had and the reasons he didn’t like me as a manager. I made the decision, at that time, to ask him to be my mentor and help me understand those things he’d written. He said he would help. We worked through that and I replaced him when he left, because he was a very good mentor. It was a painful process, but that’s the importance of mentorship.
Good advice to share?
Once you realize you’re managing God’s resources, that you don’t own them, it’s a lot of fun to bless others—more fun than watching your pile grow.
Any more good advice? The most interesting people you’ll ever talk to aren’t on Wall Street. They don’t necessarily run large companies. They’re the people you see around you: people who have shops, the janitors, those are the most fascinating people in the world. Spend time learning about life from them. You’ll find it very enriching. And never think you know it all.