The Business of Building a Legacy

by Trapper S. Kinchen

img_6979We are all human beings. We study, sacrifice, save and build. Our lives are spent — like a drop of water hitting a stone — trying to make a mark. Each person’s time on Earth is momentary, a flash of light that sparks and fizzles in a cosmic instant. So why do we bother setting goals, and why do we work so feverishly to achieve them?

The simple answer is: we want to create a legacy – leave something behind that, after we are gone, will have a lasting impact. Yet it can be tremendously difficult to reconcile our faith with our instinctual drive to succeed. Often times, we hone our focus too tightly on our businesses, creativity, homes, etc., and lose sight of the Lord’s greater plan for our lives.

Seeing Faith Lived

Craig LeBlanc is a businessman extraordinaire – a capitalist focused on leaving a legacy. With a mind open to advice and a heart hungry for God, he has put his entrepreneurial spirit to work for others. His network of industries helps support not only his family, but also his church and community.

Now one of Baton Rouge’s most committed philanthropists, it was a lengthy process for LeBlanc to reconcile his passion for business with the Lord’s special calling on his life.

He was an unassuming and bashful boy who grew up in Port Allen, mostly keeping to himself. Despite his shyness, he developed a special bond with his priest, Monsignor Berggreen. The Monsignor became one of LeBlanc’s first life-long mentors and a good friend. Through that relationship, LeBlanc gained perspective on how faith and livelihood can work in conjunction.

“Monsignor Berggreen was a pillar in my life. I got to see his faith lived more than I ever could have understood it spoken,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc graduated from Catholic High a tremendously introverted young man. He received an athletic scholarship to Louisiana Tech but was quickly recruited to the University of Kentucky. There, he began to shed his timidity and became involved with a rowdy crowd. “Once I went to college, there was a lot more sex, drugs and partying.”

At UK, he fell into a cycle of getting drunk, hooking up, repenting and regretting. And his slapdash behavior went beyond overindulging in sex and alcohol. “I encountered recreational drugs at the University of Kentucky, and I brought that back home with me for about a year,” LeBlanc said.

Eventually, LeBlanc’s drug use humbled him. It happened abruptly. “A turning point in my life was when I went with a friend to a rave in New Orleans. That’s where I got arrested,” he said.

The arrest proved providential. It forced him to confront the trajectory of his life and after some swift consideration, alter it. “Fortunately, they caught me, because I probably would have been pretty good at [selling drugs],” he said.

Jesus, the keystone of his spiritual foundation, reminded LeBlanc throughout the tumult of his arrest that he was loved, and his life had purpose. “I felt that Christ was there with me in the gutter. He wasn’t just in church. I allowed him to come into that part of my life,” LeBlanc said.

After a period of time spent living in humility and readjusting his goals, LeBlanc was ready to undertake a new challenge. “I wanted to use my talents for something bigger,” he said.

Missionary to Young Entrepreneurs

img_6981-1Out of LeBlanc’s personal struggles came the concept for his ministry – Legacy Formation International. Its mission is to mentor young entrepreneurs through a combination of Christian principles and business insight. Legacy was formed because LeBlanc wanted to share with the next generation some of the positive mentorship he experienced as a young businessman.

“Legacy was born out of my relationships with Monsignor Berggreen and Mr. Brian Harris. Those men were the two pillars Legacy was formed on,” he said. “One was about spiritual formation and the older generation handing down spiritual wisdom. The other was about entrepreneurial development and the wisdom Mr. Harris handed down to me.”

Success in business, or anything else for that matter, is only truly gratifying when it serves the greater good, and sharing wisdom is a great place to start. As LeBlanc’s businesses grew, he saw an opportunity to form a network of Christian entrepreneurs who were working hard to leave a legacy of philanthropy, encouragement and integrity. “It’s about helping young entrepreneurs become legacy-minded and feel this responsibility to pass it on to a new generation,” he said.

Legacy is, at its core, about mentorship. LeBlanc aims to help entrepreneurs in their 20s avoid some of the free market landmines that affected him when he was starting out. Thereby, the people he mentors are able to establish themselves a little more quickly than they would if left unguided. It is about one generation sharing experiences, lessons and challenges with another.

It’s a Struggle

Success is measured by a person’s capacity to give back rather than his ability to accumulate assets. One does not have to be a millionaire or a highly skilled craftsman to share wisdom. “I believe every person is a mentor already. We are all called to pass down the wisdom we’ve been given,” LeBlanc said.

Mentorship, in part, is about meeting a person where he is and helping him grow through love, reproach and encouragement. “You can’t stop people from being human, you just have to be there for them,” LeBlanc said.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a businessman is learning how to balance work and family. That is the paramount lesson LeBlanc teaches the young entrepreneurs with whom he works. Reconciling one’s personal life with the demands of building a business can be crippling.

“For those called to entrepreneurship, it is a struggle,” he explained. “You have to figure out how to juggle family, faith and a marriage in the same space as a business that will consume you if you aren’t careful.”

He learned how to balance his faith, home life and businesses through a combination of observation and practice. “Mr. Harris was a mentor for me in that capacity. He was the father of four daughters, he was a great husband, and he built a $400 million business,” LeBlanc said.

With 11 children, a busy wife, countless investments needing attention, mentoring through Legacy and maintaining a relationship with Christ, LeBlanc understands the nuances of juggling his personal and professional lives. However, faith and family always come before the rest.

Acknowledging Wisdom

fullsizerender-2The absolute key to success is being willing to take advice. That being said, one has the responsibility to discern good counsel from a misguided opinion. “It takes life experience before we can acknowledge wisdom outside our own heads,” he said.

LeBlanc’s suggestion for anyone looking to excel in business and beyond is, “just start, that’s it. The absolute worst thing you can do is be indecisive and dream about all the benefits of success without ever digging in and doing it.”

Too frequently, we hold ourselves back. Failure comes when we stall. “In business, it’s always your own laziness, apathy or indifference that takes you down,” LeBlanc said.

Once we decide to get started, we must remember the importance of continual growth. Complacency is fatal, both personally and professionally. “Always increase your skill set, especially being able to network,” he advised.

Sometimes we put limits on ourselves based on past experiences. We cultivate our insecurities when we refuse to grow. LeBlanc went from being an incredibly reserved boy to an energetic and gregarious man. “Don’t let your being shy as a child predetermine your skill set,” he said.

Faith and an honest relationship with Christ are the two most effective implements at our disposal. “Christ has always been a helper for me. I never put him in a box,” he said. “When you can do that, your faith becomes a tool to help you get to the next step.” Jesus is always available to us; all we need to do is call on Him.

LeBlanc’s most significant bit of insight is to “start each day by counting your blessings.” If one is thankful for what one has, one can honestly appreciate each fresh achievement in business and in life. With gratitude comes generosity, and generosity leads to a legacy.

Hard work, determination and ambition are virtues when divinely inspired. If we rely on our own wisdom and disregard the advice and mentorship God has placed in our lives, hard work turns into drudgery, determination becomes obsession, and ambition grows into greed.

When we work with little in mind beyond amassing wealth, we are like the raindrop thudding against a rock – our impact will be minimal. It is only by being legacy-minded –giving back and sharing with a new generation – that our single drop becomes a mighty river, carving a permanent path as it rushes forward, and that path will positively alter the landscape for generations to come.