Nelson Publishers President : Sam Moore Proudly Mixes Religion and Profit

Associated Press

In the business of Bibles, Sam Moore is the chief shepherd of an $80-million publishing firm--and he isn’t afraid to use the words God and profit in the same breath.

Moore, president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, says it is “by the grace of God” that he heads the world’s largest Bible company but adds that there is no sin in being a good businessman, too.

Thomas Nelson sells 6 million copies of the Bible annually, publishes a host of other religious books and has expanded into greeting cards, magazines and secular books through recent purchases of the Dodd Mead, Ideals and Morning Star companies.

In 1983, Nelson unveiled its most ambitious project ever--a new version of the King James Bible that took seven years and $4.5 million to prepare. Nelson assigned 130 Bible scholars the task of making the King James more readable by deleting the “thees and thous” but charged the scholars not to lose the spirit or poetry of the work.


The time and expense was inspired by Moore’s son, who, then age 10, told his father he could not understand the King James Bible.

For Moore, 54, a born-again Christian who began his career as a door-to-door Bible salesman in college, the new translation was the high point of a pilgrimage that began in his native Lebanon.

Changed by Trauma

Born in Beirut, Moore’s heroes were the American missionaries who ran his school. “That’s where I became partial to the American way of living and thinking. I thought Americans were God’s people,” he said.

Although he admired the selfless giving of his missionary friends, he was more attracted to a life style of “wine, women and song” until a traumatic event during his 17th year changed his direction.

Moore (his original name was Ziady, which means “more”) recalled walking into a friend’s house one morning and seeing his buddy’s girlfriend with a gun in her hand--still angry that his friend had pledged to marry her but had been dating another girl, too.

“The first thing that came to mind is that Charlie is a fine boy from one of the finest families in the city. He died and he didn’t have peace with God. Here I am, wanting to become a Christian, but I was living for the devil. That’s the day I became a born-again Christian.”


Moore studied to be a doctor until 1950 but then he came to the United States to study economics at the University of South Carolina.

Sold Bibles Door-to-Door

His $600 savings lasted only six months, though, and a string of odd jobs could not pay for an education.

“I was really discouraged. Then I saw a sign on the board that said you could earn up to $100 a week” selling Bibles, he recalled.

“The first week, I made $18. Oh, I was discouraged. I almost quit a hundred times. People slammed the door in your face. It’s a very hard way to make a living.”

However, by the end of the summer, working an average of 75 hours a week, he had saved $2,600 and began supervising other salesman the next summer. After four other summers of sales, he had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, bought a car and saved $10,000.

He signed on as a management trainee at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York but decided he could make more money selling Bibles than opening new checking accounts.

Moore came to Nashville in 1957 to visit relatives and recruited 23 college students as salesmen. “At the end of the summer, I was flabbergasted. I made $27,000--which is three times what Chase would have paid me,” he said.

Booming Business

His business boomed in the heart of the Bible Belt and, in 1969, the then 170-year-old British publishing firm, Thomas Nelson & Sons, offered him the job of heading its American division. But Moore surprised Nelson executives by scraping together $2.5 million and buying the American unit outright.

The two firms later merged and, for the last 13 years, have averaged better than a 28% increase in profit annually. Nelson moved from 10th to first in the religious publishing industry and is now bigger than the next three companies combined, Moore said.

“People here in this company love God, too, and they have a mission to do a good return to the shareholders’ equity, to honor God in their lives and to help humanity. When you believe in what you’re doing, you get fired up,” Moore said.

The Word of God

To Moore, the Bible is both the word of God and a product to sell.

“My dream is to package that product in as many beautiful covers, to put as much helps, illustrations and the most beautiful typeface, so you can take this book and love it and read it and cherish it.” he said.

Moore, who lives on a farm in Mount Juliet outside Nashville, attends Sunday school and services every Sunday at the First Baptist Church, opens his management team meetings with prayer and reads the Bible during his daily morning devotionals.

But he admits that he feels more at home with a balance sheet than a religious book and is too mild-mannered to stand in the pulpit, although he considered the ministry at one point.

Instead, his “calling” was in the business world, he said, and distributing God’s word has become his mission.

“I could have made a lot more money in different businesses,” said Moore, whose base salary is $125,000 a year. “But you can drive a Cadillac or a Porsche or a Ford and, believe me, they get you there in the same amount of time.”

“I give credit for my success to God, only to God, because I am just a two-by-four businessman. I come from a minority background, from another country. Most would complain they didn’t have the education . . . or resources, but I don’t worry about this. I took God as my partner . . . and God is with me. If I pray and seek his ways, he will bless me. And that is what he has done.”