Ed Cannon: Stepping Away From High Paying 25-Yr-Career Included Unusual Prayer
When it came to making a life-changing career choice that included potentially walking away from millions of dollars, Ed Cannon didn’t want to wait for a still, small voice from God to tell him what to do.
Cannon, who left a 25-year-career in the oil industry, including progressive leadership positions with British Petroleum, Amoco and Standard Oil Company, is president and CEO of Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). He tells the story of getting into full time ministry this way:
“I was operations manager for one of the largest refineries in the United States. Standard Oil became Amoco, which merged with British Petroleum and then I took an international assignment where I was its operations director for refining international … oil refineries on all five continents.
“I worked there for 25 years in all different kinds of capacities — operations manager of a refinery, a global refining operations position where I was responsible for 27 oil refineries and their technical operation… reporting to the top management at BP.
“But the thing that I learned there specifically, in addition to business, was how to work with an international global culture. We were doing deals in China, Middle East… refineries all through Europe, Australia, US, Africa … and so it was truly this international, intercultural responsibility which would show up later in my career. At the same time, what I was really finding myself doing when BP was very aggressive in terms of merging companies” led to a turning point, he said.
“So, BP and Amoco merged, we merged with a number of small European refiners, we merged with Castrol. They were constantly doing these kind of deals, so what I really felt like I was doing in consolidating these companies” was facilitating the process of “laying people off left and right.”
Cannon explained that part of his job included finding overlap and discovering which organizations could be shut down, finding “efficiencies in operation and therefore fire people.”
It is at the height of this duty that his awakening came.
“I remember one time that I was in Germany, we had just announced a refinery there that we were consolidating (the careful word we were using),” he said. “About one-half of the refinery was going to be shut down and so a whole bunch of people were going to lose there jobs. After work that day I took a walk and I ended up stumbling across this soccer field out in the Black Forest and there were a bunch of little kids playing soccer, and I was watching and I realized that most of the people in the stands had these uniforms from the refinery.”
As Cannon watched the game and saw the parents in the stand he realized that “a bunch of them were going to lose their jobs and they were going to come home that night and tell a bunch of those cute little kids that night, ‘Well, mommy and daddy lost their jobs today.’”
That realization led to the following prayer, he said, “Lord, is this what you really want to do with my life? Is this really what you want me to do, is make a bunch of wealthy investors in New York and in London real wealthy because I’m increasing the profitability of this company? I don’t understand, if this is your will for my life I don’t get it, but whatever it is you want me to do, Lord, I am available, but I don’t want to have to guess. I really want you to hit me over the head with a baseball bat so hard that I know for sure that I am doing your will.”
Cannon continued, “I kinda heard from the Lord: be faithful in the small things I’m giving you and someday I’ll let you know what I’m going to do. So, I continued to be honest in trying to be a Christian in a difficult workplace.”
He said that during this same time period, he was living in Chicago and commuting around the world.
“My wife and I had been significantly impacted by the radio ministry of the Moody Bible Institute. She had actually become a believer some 25 years earlier by listening to a program on Moody Radio. I love Moody Radio, I was listening constantly.
At a board event he attended he was asked about his opinion on how money was being raised.
“Little did I know that the board was actually looking for sort of a business leader like me,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were sort of interviewing me for this position and I was just offering my input.”
After he was offered a job at Moody, which meant he would have to quit his job with BP, he said he went back to the prayer he prayed in Germany, telling God that “whatever you want me to do I’m happy to do, but I want you to hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I don’t want to have to guess.”
“So, here’s an organization that is essentially responsible for my wife hearing the gospel for the first time and for a significant portion of my spiritual growth, and they were asking me to help them,” he said.
Cannon added, “The Lord may never knock on your door again and ask you to do something. You can’t say ‘no’ to the Lord and expect Him to come back to you. I realized this is exactly the way I prayed and so I had to quit my job.”
He said he was probably a year away from retirement, vesting of stock options and guaranteed health benefits for life.
“It was pretty clear to me that the Lord was saying, ‘Ed, this is not about your retirement. You said you were willing to serve me and when I ask people to serve me, it’s not will you serve me with part of yourself,’ Cannon said.
“I realized that I had asked the Lord how I can help Him and He said this is how. You can’t say okay, well, I’m willing to do that on my terms. It has got to be on His terms.”
Interview by Alex Murashko