Outgoing Workmatters CEO reflects on nonprofit’s 20th anniversary

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 557 views 

David Roth, founder and former CEO of Northwest Arkansas nonprofit Workmatters.

It’s been 20 years since David Roth left a corporate job with J.B. Hunt Transport Services to lead a Northwest Arkansas nonprofit that helps people integrate their faith and work.

But as he exits as Workmatters CEO — a transition the organization announced earlier this year — Roth, 66, said in a recent interview that he’s just as enthusiastic about the work as he was in 2003.

And that means that if you’re a senior business leader who’s grown accustomed to Roth’s mentorship and leadership over the past two decades, you likely haven’t seen the last of him.

“I still have the same level of [integrating] faith and work as I did 20 years ago because the need is so big,” he said. “I’ve seen it over and over again. I want to be an individual who’s helping people do that, but I don’t want to lead an organization anymore.

“I want to be an individual that’s helping other individuals integrate their faith and their work. What that looks like for me, we’ll see how it works out.”

Roth will be a Workmatters consultant through the end of the year, but his final day as chief executive was Oct. 1. The following day, Brandon Swoboda, who spent the past five years as the executive director of the Fayetteville nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, took his place.

Roth said he’d poured much of his heart into Workmatters over the past two decades, but he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife and family.

“His passion for closing the gap between faith and work is only matched by his passion for his family,” said Steve Blair, Workmatters board chairman. “The board is excited to support David as he embarks on the next chapter of his story, focusing on his family and individually coaching executive leaders that yearn to integrate their faith into their work.”

On Oct. 11, Workmatters hosted a 20th-anniversary event at Osage House in Cave Springs, which doubled as a gratitude-filled sendoff for Roth.

“There was a lot of emotion,” he recalled. “It was like going to your 40th birthday party, and 150 of your best friends came.”

Board members also told Roth that a significant donation from one benefactor had created an endowment in his name.

“I had no idea they were going to do that,” Roth said. “I’m so grateful. I love Workmatters, and they are going to succeed wildly without me. But I know that my time here will provide value for the organization going forward.”

Workmatters is a non-denominational Christian ministry. It began at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville in 2002. Due to interest and demand, it became a nonprofit after just one year.

Roth, a Stuttgart native and University of Arkansas graduate, was Workmatters’ founding board member. He quit his job as vice president of sales and marketing at J.B. Hunt to lead the nonprofit as president in 2003.

Before J.B. Hunt and Workmatters, Roth worked for Manugistics, American Software and McKesson Corp.

Roth was the sole employee. Earlier this year, in a note to supporters announcing his departure, he jokingly recalled those early days.

“On Oct. 13, 2003, with my wife Theresa cheering me on, I worked my first day as the founder of the newly launched nonprofit, Workmatters Inc.,” Roth wrote. “I sat in a cramped office, behind an old desk, with no salary — full of excitement, hope and fear.

Today, Workmatters has nine employees with a national and global reach, and according to the nonprofit’s most recent 990 tax return, its 2022 revenue was $929,164, mostly from contributions and grants. That’s up about 20% from the previous year.

Roth is a leadership coach and personal resource for many past and current Northwest Arkansas executives, including former Tyson Foods CEO Donnie Smith, former Walmart CFO Brett Biggs and J.B. Hunt President Shelley Simpson.

“David has been a good friend and wise counselor for many years,” said Simpson, a Workmatters advisory board member. “The impact he has made to Northwest Arkansas and the nation on integrating faith at work is long-lasting and leaves a great legacy.”

Ross Cully, founder and CEO of omnichannel retail agency Harvest Group in Rogers, is also a Workmatters advisory board member.

“David Roth and Workmatters have significantly impacted many lives and companies worldwide,” Cully said. “He was a pioneer and early thought leader who helped many integrate their faith and work. It is becoming more broadly understood that people want to bring their whole selves to work, including who they are spiritually, and they flourish when they do.

“His life’s work leaves an enduring legacy, including in my life and our company culture.”

Roth said Workmatters’ mission is not to impose religious beliefs but to help people find a greater purpose in their work. At a strategic level, he noted how culture had changed dramatically and has presented the most significant challenge in the past five to 10 years.

“Especially in publicly traded companies,” he explained. “There’s a hesitancy to bring any faith conversation into the organization. I get that. We’ve had great partnerships and done [work] inside J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart. But we have strategically put more emphasis on privately-owned companies owned or run by Christian leaders who had a real interest in us.”

Workmatters offers content in various formats, including blogs, videos, audio and workbooks to guide small group studies in workplaces nationwide.

Workmatters’ signature content piece, Workmatters Institute, is a biannual, 10-week program that provides face-to-face guidance and mentoring for young professionals seeking to balance faith and work.

“It is, by far, the most transformational thing we do,” Roth said.

Roth said Workmatters has reached more than 1 million people through all of that outreach.

On the horizon, Roth said transitioning the institute’s content to an online “plug-and-play” video platform will scale the outreach while maintaining its impact.

“We’ve been testing it for a year,” he said. “We have done most of that work, and as we move toward launch, somebody like Brandon is perfect to come in.”

Roth concedes that some change is inevitable and beneficial after his retirement as a nonprofit founder. Still, he feels strongly that Swoboda is the fitting successor to ensure the organization aligns with his vision.

“I am overwhelmed with the kind of person Brandon is, and I am so excited that the board picked him,” Roth said. “He’s done three things I love — he has owned businesses. He has planted a church and run a nonprofit.

“He’s got a big vision wherever he goes, and he’s got a competitive DNA that spills out into his work.”