School of Divinity

Rev Dr Robert (Bob) Funk

Founder of Express Employment Professionals.

Robert Funk in New College quad, Edinburgh
Robert Funk in New College quad, 2018

After studying theology here in 1963, Robert Funk went on to achieve outstanding success as founder, President, and Vice Chairman of Express Employment Professionals, the largest privately-held staff recruitment company in the United States.

A businessman, philanthropist and long-term benefactor, he has made a substantial contribution to the University of Edinburgh through student scholarships and the New College Library, as well as in funding floodlighting, signage and building maintenance projects at New College.

During a visit to the School in October 2018, we asked him:

Why did you decide to come and study at the University of Edinburgh?

“Reputation and economics,” Dr Funk told us. “First, the quality of New College as it was represented around the world, from a student who had been here and a professor who had been here while an undergraduate.

“The economics of coming here made sense. I grew up on a farm and it was more reasonable to come here than to go to an American university. I didn’t want to work while I was a student. I could do that here. Coming here helped me to achieve my Masters degree from Seattle Pacific University.”

How did a trainee minister end up in the International Franchise Association Hall of Fame?

“I was going to be in the ministry, it had been my ambition since I was 11 years old. Our pastor was evangelistic. He encouraged us to go into ministry or missionary work and six of us did, out of a congregation of about 160.

“I tried the ministry but there was ‘a great awakening’ at the end of every sermon I gave at our home church, so I knew that was not my calling!

“I was looking for a job and a Christian gentleman in the personnel business spoke at my church so I went to work for ACME Personnel.”

He was employed with them for 17 years.

In 1983, Dr Funk co-founded Express Employment Professionals (formerly Express Personnel Services), now a multi-billion dollar operation that employs millions.

“So now I’m in the staffing ministry of helping people find jobs,” Dr Funk explains. “In the beginning I used to counsel applicants who were discouraged. Oftentimes on this spirituality my boss said, ‘I appreciate you’re trying to help people but we do need to make a profit!’

“I agree with Ronald Regan who said that ‘the best social programme is a job.’ It helps with social and financial problems. We’re enabling people to find employment which helps them from a mental and spiritual standpoint.”

What are your fondest memories of your time here as a student?

“The entire experience was extremely valuable. The experience of going overseas to a different environment, a different climate. Experiencing the depth of history here was a real surprise. In the USA, 200 years is old. The architecture of Edinburgh blew me away. 

“I also admired the professorial relationship with the students. We have a different grading system. I studied Old Testament, New Testament, Greek and Church History. I was OK with the Old Testament and New Testament but not with Greek.

I’d been raised an evangelical. But New College was more intellectually inspiring. The analysis of scripture, the New Testament in particular, was much deeper. The exegesis of just two verses was unfamiliar; it was very exciting, very challenging, to discover more about their historical context.

“I had some great professors including Robin Barbour, JS Stewart, Tom Torrance and John McIntyre. We loved JS Stewart. He would take us into his home once a month, the students from overseas, to discuss theology. I wasn’t the best student and he wasn’t only interested in those who made the best grades. The Gospel for me is very simple.  It isn’t an intellectual exercise, it’s faith.

“I probably played too much basketball. We beat Oxford – my greatest athletic accomplishment, although we were beaten the next day by London and then by the RAF team. We did have a lot of fun.

“I drove with three other students to Bethlehem for Christmas. Two of them were from Canada. We thought it was probably our only opportunity to see the Holy Land. We drove through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Newspapers came out and interviewed us. We were baptised in the River Jordan. That caused some confusion later on as the Baptist Church wanted me to be baptised in the Church as a deacon. I thought, ‘Well if being baptised in the Jordan isn’t good enough for you…’ I told them I couldn’t find that rule in the New Testament!”

Do you have any advice for young people who are thinking of coming to Edinburgh to study?

“Oftentimes the monetary aspect of business is not the most important. It’s helping others to be successful and the love of others that Jesus Christ extolled. Anyone in our company will tell you we are founded on Christian values and that makes us so much stronger that our competitors, because we care.”

Links

Express Employment Professionals

Bob Funk legacy website

Bloomberg profile

Recognition as University Benefactor

Edinburgh Friends Milestone 2018: Lighting up a city icon

Dr Funk Lights Up the School of Divinity 

New College Library Robert Funk Special Collections Project (2006-2016)

New College Library Pamphlets Cataloguing Project