As he celebrates his 35th anniversary at Shelby Systems this week, I jumped at the opportunity to ask Shelby’s CEO, Frank Canady, a few questions about what these 35 years have been like.

A big part of what I learned is that Shelby sure has come a long way in its 36 years. I’ve known for a while that Mr. Canady had started at Shelby as the second employee when he was only a teenager, but I didn’t realize how much sacrifice and struggle came with working at the world’s first church software company.

Although the software that we offer is a product, it was created so that churches and nonprofits could manage their financial and membership data with a little more ease. More importantly, it also allows these organizations more time to fulfill their purpose. That’s why Shelby was created, and that’s still…and always will be… our goal.

“I was finishing my degrees in Accounting and Data Processing at State Technical Institute here in Memphis when I saw a message on the job board.  After contacting and interviewing with Ernie, it sounded to me like a good opportunity.  I had been doing computer operations and program modifications for a printing company for a while from 10PM to 6AM while at State Tech, so I wound up being the only applicant with actual practical work experience.”

  • What made you decide to take a position at a small company at such a young age (that was trying something that, to top it all off, hadn’t been done before)?

“I said I thought it was a good opportunity, but most of the people around me, including my family, didn’t think so.  I knew it was the best chance for me to learn more about my chosen field from Ernie and since I would be programming and utilizing my accounting degree, also.”

  • What was Shelby like when you first started working here?

“When I started, it was just Ernie and I.  We spent most of our time at clients’ offices, so we didn’t have one of our own.  We were out of town most weeks since all the programming we did was on our clients’ hardware.  Being a small company, we had to be able to do everything ourselves from sales to programming to training.  I do remember renting our first office and it being two rooms in a one story building in front of storage units.  It was actually a storage unit with a wall dividing it up.  I had the front office with the window, but in the summer, the air conditioner could not keep it cool.  I remember my father asking why I went to work sometimes in the middle of the night… and my reason was to not overheat.”

  • Did you share the same vision as Ernie back in 1977 about the future of computers and how beneficial they would be?

“When I started, I had graduated a year early from high school and finished two associate degrees in two years, so I was just 18.  At that stage in my life, I didn’t have any vision past what I was going to do that day.  Ernie’s vision rubbed off on me over the 20 years I worked with him before his death.”

  • Was there a large need for church management software when Shelby was first founded?

“There was, but we had to do a lot of custom programming in the early days for customers ranging from manufacturing to rental to farming to truck tire retreaders.  That was how we paid the bills for the first few years while we were developing our accounting software.  Before Shelby Systems was established, Ernie did service bureau work for churches while he was attending seminary.  We utilized that knowledge of what was needed for the church to develop what would start as membership, attendance and contributions modules.”

  • As CEO of Shelby Systems, what do your daily roles consist of now?

“I consider myself first and foremost a developer.  I still work daily writing code because that is what I love to do.  Along with that, there is the job of leading a 100+ employee company.  I feel blessed to be able to do what I love to do and also have talented people around me to ensure that Shelby Systems is continuing to move forward.”

  • Besides the growth in size, what are some of the biggest changes that Shelby Systems has gone through in its 36 years?

“In the years Ernie was here, he did most of the management and decisions himself.  With the size we are now, that management is spread among a talented group of managers, directors and officers.

As I have always heard and known, God never promised a life without problems.  Early on, Ernie and I had problems of not always having enough to pay ourselves.  We had to move out of one office because we couldn’t pay the rent.  I lost my first wife to cancer.  Ernie died in a plane crash.  I purchased the company from his wife just before 9/11.  We moved into our new office building just before the housing market collapsed.  But through all of this, God has also blessed.  If I had been able to look into the future and see those obstacles,  I might not have been able to experience the future blessings.”

Thank you, Mr. Canady, and congratulations on 35 years of hard work and dedication!