A Leader Who Did Not Make a Name for Himself

By Mark D. Roberts

August 4, 2017

Then they said,“Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:4


Red and Black poster Ad for Herman Miller.

Have you ever heard the name Herman Miller? Chances are you have. Herman Miller is the name of one of the most successful and influential furniture manufacturers in the world. Based in Zeeland, Michigan, Herman Miller serves customers in over 100 countries. The company is well known, not only for its furniture but also for its exceptional commitment to its employees as well as to the common good.

Have you ever heard the name D.J. De Pree? Chances are you have not. Yet D.J. De Pree was the founder of Herman Miller. In 1923, De Pree organized several investors who purchased the Michigan Star Furniture Company. One of these investors was Herman Miller, De Pree’s father-in-law and a business leader of integrity. When it was time to give the Star Furniture Company a new name, De Pree chose Herman Miller, both to honor his father-in-law and to brand his company with a respected name. Thus, today, the name Herman Miller is recognized throughout the world, while D.J. De Pree’s name is known mainly in a small region of southwestern Michigan.

Why have I told this story? Because the contrast between the example of D.J. De Pree and the builders in Genesis 11 could not be more striking. They sought to erect a giant edifice so as to make a name for themselves (11:4). They wanted to be famous throughout the world for their building prowess. D.J. De Pree, on the contrary, did not seek to promote his own name. Rather, he named his company Herman Miller in order to honor someone who had helped him and so that the company might flourish because of Miller’s good name.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s necessarily wrong for someone to name a company after himself or herself. In fact, some excellent companies reflect the name(s) of their founder(s). Moreover, there are plenty of leaders whose companies don’t include their names but who are preoccupied mainly by their own fame. The point isn’t the name of the company so much as what it expresses.

As I think about the builders of Shinar and contrast them with D.J. De Pree, I find myself yearning to be a leader who is committed, not to my glory but rather to honoring the people who make my work possible. Moreover, I want to be motivated in my work, not by what it will do for me but rather by what it will do for others, and, ultimately, what it will do for the Lord. Whether I’m leading the Mark Roberts Company, to cite a fictional example, or the Max De Pree Center for Leadership, to offer a real-life example, I want my work to flow from a deep desire to serve others as well as the Lord.


To what extent is your work motivated by your desire to make a name for yourself?

In your leadership, how do you honor those who contribute to your work?

How are you able to serve God and others through your work?


Gracious God, I thank you for the example of D.J. De Pree. Thank you for his humility. Thank you for the robust faith that lay behind everything he did as a leader.

Help me, Lord, to exercise leadership not for my own sake, but for the sake of others. May I seek to serve them and in so doing serve you. May you be glorified in all that I do, and may it contribute to your work in the world. Amen.

Image Credit: Herman Miller Ad – 1961 by MidCentArc, CC2.0.


This post originally published on September 5, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryNoah’s Descendants and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10:1-11:32)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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