Louisiana Christian University’s 7th Annual God in the Workplace series began this year with a guilty confession.
“My name is Kenny, and I’m a chocoholic,” announced Dr. Kenny Holt, dean of the Young School of Business—as a way of introducing this year’s speaker, Shawn Askinosie.
His addiction—shared by much of the audience by the reaction—led Holt to Askinosie Chocolate during a visit to Springfield, Missouri—and as they say, the rest is history.
Askinosie, the founder and CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, left a lucrative 20-year career as a criminal defense attorney to start the small bean-to-bar chocolate company, headquartered in Springfield, 13 years ago on a quest to find more meaning and purpose to his life.
“I loved my work until I didn’t,” he said.
Following a routine day in court, Askinosie said he starting having panic attacks and feeling like something was missing. He had spent decades defending people accused of murder and other serious crime and had never lost a jury trial, but he also was in a very high stress career field that included death threats.
“My path is not a prescription, it’s a story,” he said.
Askinosie spoke to LCU Monday night and Tuesday during Chapel.
“We were thrilled to have him share his mesage, which is so meaningful to today’s students,” Holt said. “Whatever you do, find a way to serve your fellow man.”
This sentiment was echoed by LCU President Dr. Rick Brewer.
“Mr. Askinosie was able to engage with Rapides business leaders, LCU students, faculty and staff about his transformation and pursuit of his passion and purpose,” Brewer said. “It was a powerful message about what it means to live your life and lead your business on mission with God and not be driven by monetary success or external rewards.”
Askinosie’s journey to chocolate began with soul-searching and prayer—and led him to the corners of the impoverished world. He has since written a book about this journey, “Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul.” His daughter Lawren, CMO of the company, co-wrote the book with him.
“God in the Workplace is me,” he said. “It’s me. It’s the changing of my heart. In my own life, I want to find God in every place. I don’t have to go 10,000 miles away to have that.”
He encouraged the audience to search their own spiritual lives to realize that finding God in your surroundings must start by looking in the mirror.
His inward journey began by volunteering to work with dying patients in a local hospital—and simply talking with and praying for them. The joy he found in doing something for which he expected nothing in return, in fact, gave him the most incredible gift.
He found joy.
“Those seconds I spent focused on someone other than me, turned into joy in doing something totally for others.”
Askinosie’s decision to start one of the first bean-to-bar chocolate businesses in the country was not easy. He joked that his wife—upon telling her of his idea—asked if he could just increase his anti-depressants to find more happiness.
Today, the couple has been married more than 37 years—and Askinosie has made 46 trips foraging for the perfect beans.
He works directly with cocoa bean farmers in Tanzania, the Phillipines, the Amazon and Ecuador and shares in the profits of his company with them. Two of the four main farms he works with are owned by women.
Askinosie also invests in them and their communities—and encourages them to take ownership. He does not put his or his company’s name on anything he does in their villages, despite the fact that he has provided more than 1 million lunches for children in the Phillipines and Tanzania, helped build a preschool, and created educational programs through his Chocolate University progam.
He has taken high-schoolers from Missouri each summer for over a decade to experience the work first-hand, and they are changed by the experience.
Photo: Karen Carter