How to Lead a Significant Life Through Faith with Mark Whitacre

Sometimes, the life of our dreams isn’t the life we need.

It’s easy to be caught up in material things and get distracted by shiny objects. We often believe that having a massive house and expensive cars equates to success. Plus, shopping without looking at the price tags and going on expensive trips is a sign of success. But correlating success to financial achievements only brings harm by sowing the seeds of greed. This creates an endless cycle of insatiable desire, wanting more and more yet never feeling satisfied.

In this episode, Mark Whitacre recounts the largest price-fixing case in US history that utterly destroyed his life and mind. He discusses how he recovered his faith and hope in the aftermath of this ordeal. Mark also shares the psychological effects of corporate greed and the harrowing experience of working as an FBI informant. Lastly, he goes on to discuss his inspiring story of finding faith and purpose in prison.

Listen to this episode if you want to find out what a significant life means.

3 Reasons to Listen:

  1. Find out Mark’s incredible journey through addiction, loss, and faith.
  2. Discover the effects of addiction, corporate greed, and materialism on a person’s mental and spiritual health.
  3. Learn how faith can help you lead a significant life.


Episode Highlights

[04:02] Who’s Mark?

  • He is currently 64 years old, and the price-fixing case took place 32 years ago.
  • Back then, he was the Divisional President of the Biotech Division at ADM, a Fortune 500 company.
  • Today, Mark is a father to three adult children with his wife of 42 years and blessed to have a second chance.

[05:37] Mark’s Definition of Success

  • Thirty-two years ago, success meant the size of his house and the number of jets he had.
  • But today, he believes success is living a meaningful life and the impact you leave behind on the world rather than materialism.
[05:57] “I would feel strongly that success is really more a life of significance, kind of what you’re leaving behind when I’m no longer here because I can see the end of life a lot closer than I can the beginning of life.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • Also, he strongly feels that the younger generation is obtaining wisdom beyond their years to mentor others younger than him.

[08:02] The Value of “Significance”

  • All the houses and cars that Mark used to define success are rusty now, thus having no long-term value.
  • His materialistic definition of success was simply selfishness, and so was the leadership shown by Mark and the other executives involved in the price-fixing case.
  • Selfish leadership could have gotten him to the level of Bill Gates.
  • Thinking that there must be more, he learned that no material thing could fill the void in a heart through a journey of brokenness.

[12:12] A Background on ADM

  • Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) was one of the world’s largest food additive companies, with 70 billion in revenue and 30,000 employees.
  • It wasn’t a bad company, and the employees worked with the right moral compass.
  • However, four of the top leaders were self-centered, with Mark being the youngest.
  • When you buy a food or beverage, there are likely ingredients from ADM.

[14:48] The Price-Fixing Case

  • In April 1992, Mark got promoted to Corporate Vice President of ADM.
  • He received a $100,000 bonus and 25,000 stock shares, but bonuses were unusual at the time. However, he was greedy and did not return it.
  • The illegality came up when they discussed passing the baton and mentoring him, but they simply dismissed the laws as outdated.
  • They said it was essential to the commodity business, and Mark believed them.

[20:08] The FBI’s Involvement

  • They were having sabotage problems with a $300 million biotech plan they built for a food additive that goes into poultry.
  • It was nerve-wracking that the FBI became involved in the sabotage problem, but there was also a larger price-fixing case that was occurring at the same time. 

[22:59] Where Does The Extra Profit Come From?

  • But his wife knew something was wrong, and he was becoming selfish, narcissistic, and materialistic.
  • With a profit margin built-in, prices will rise, and consumers will bear the cost.
  • A few dollars from consumers around the world is the source of the extra profit.
  • Ginger was confused as to why her grandmother was paying extra. A major expense, when they lived in a mansion with a jet and flashy cars.

[25:40] Mark’s Addiction

  • In 1992, Ginger told him that she would rather have a smaller house and her husband back.
  • She had lost Mark to a whirlwind of temporary success.
  • Being Christian, she brought God into their conversation, but Mark didn’t believe in God due to his scientific education.
  • She accused Mark of being addicted to work and materialism.

[27:55] The True Whistleblower

  • The largest price-fixing case in US history and third largest in the world would never have happened without Ginger.
  • A whistleblower sacrifices everything to do the right thing, and that was Ginger.
[28:55] “She said I’d rather be homeless than live in a home where illegal activity is occurring. And that's a whistleblower.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • On the other hand, an informant is usually someone trying to get less punishment.

[30:20] Being an FBI Informant

  • They were wired every day for three years and were under immense stress due to the severity of the issue.
  • An inner part of him was still greedy, and he was still getting promotions at that time.
  • He began to wonder what company would accept him if he wore a wire against his own company.
  • Falling apart, he wrote five checks for $9 million to justify what he’s owed in stock.

[34:13] The Effects on His Mental and Spiritual State

  • He was falling apart and losing his identity.
  • He was thinking about how to protect his family and himself.
  • Ginger told him she needed to find God.
  • Because of what happened to Mark after three years, the FBI no longer allows informants to wear wires for more than a year.

[36:48] Prison, Suicide and Bipolar Disorder

  • For the movie “The Informant,” they did consult with advisors and psychiatrists on bipolarity.
  • Before going to prison, Mark got a plea agreement that would’ve shortened his sentence to 6 months.
  • But Mark ripped it up because he was angry at Ginger for getting him into that mess.
  • He attempted suicide twice before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and admitted to the hospital. Following that, advisors and psychiatrists provided information about bipolar disorder.

[39:27] The Movie Storytelling

  • The movie ended when Mark was in prison and showed a 30-second clip about what he’s doing at present.
  • Mark thinks the story would be better if they included the rest of it.
  • At the red carpet premiere, the director was clear that he wasn’t looking for a redemption story but a crime drama to share in an entertaining way.

[41:51] Mark’s Childhood 

  • He grew up with wonderful parents with the right moral compass.
  • Mark was the only one out of four brothers to attend college and became senior class president and homecoming king.
  • Growing up, Mark would have never stolen an apple, much less $9 million.
  • Going to an Ivy League college, he started losing his faith in God.

[44:14] On Christianity

  • Mark considered faith to be a crutch.
  • He assumed that his parents believed in God because they did not attend college.
  • Even though Ginger attended college, he assumed she became a Christian because she was not interested in science.
  • He thought church was like joining a club and meant you’re Christian.

[47:50] Mark’s Faith Decision

  • His two attempted suicides were reported in the news.
  • Ian House from Christian Businessmen Connection (CBMC) told him that prison was the beginning of his life and he’d find his purpose. Mark regained hope.
  • Chuck Colson of the Watergate scandal challenged him on his disbelief in God.
  • Chuck presented him with scientists that believed in God, and he surrendered his life to Jesus.
[50:50] “After reading everything I read that Chuck Colson exposed me to, I thought this, Tim: how can you be a PhD scientist and not believe in God?” - Click Here to Tweet This

[51:43] How His Addiction Was Cured

  • He used to earn seven figures, but now, with $20/month, God has filled the void in his heart. God took everything away to show him what it means to be a servant leader.
  • He started helping others get their GEDs. 
  • A selfish leader will be addicted to more and create a void that will never be filled.
[53:03] “Because if you’re a selfish leader, all you want is more, you’re addicted to more, and you’re never going to fill that void.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • The first time Mark felt peace was at 40 in federal prison.

[53:59] Life After Prison

  • Mark, being a PhD scientist from Cornell, does not doubt that Jesus exists.
[55:14] “I feel like God said, ‘I will give you a second chance.’ But this time, God’s way. And not my way.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • While bipolarity still needs treatment, his deficiency in faith was more than the chemical imbalance.
  • After prison, he was hired in the biotech industry and became the COO of California’s cancer research company.
  • Currently, he’s the Executive Director for Coca-Cola, one of the victims of ADM’s price-fixing case, and continues to be a servant leader for 15 years.

[56:42] God’s Miracles

  • Mark gets asked what would happen if he signed that 6-month plea agreement. If he did, he probably would never become a Christian.
  • He had to be broken to find himself and what’s important in life through Jesus.
  • Being able to save his marriage and get re-employed are also miracles of God.
  • Ginger was given a whistleblower award, and his family was financed while he was in prison.

[59:15] The Spirituality in His Journey

  • In the movie, the director was an atheist and thus removed the spiritual aspect.
  • While it was entertaining, Mark believes it missed the last 25 years of his journey and continued his life through and after prison.
  • Even Mark thought his life ended in prison; it was just beginning.

[59:59] What’s Next For Mark and Ginger?

  • Mark and Ginger believe that their purpose aligns with 2 Corinthians 5:20 and that they are ambassadors for Jesus on Earth.
  • They are all about making disciples and sharing the teachings of God with other people.

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About the Podcast

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Seek Go Create
Redefine Success in Leadership, Business & Ministry

About your host

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Tim Winders

Tim Winders is a strategic coach, author, and host of SeekGoCreate, a podcast, and YouTube interview show. He has worked in the areas of leadership, business, and ministry for almost 40 years. Tim was the guy that looked like he had it all: the big house in a Country Club resort, two businesses valued at over a million dollars each, plus over $15 million in real estate. But, in 2008, the real estate markets crashed. After a slow and painful erosion of his companies, he and his wife were bankrupt and homeless living out of their Honda van by 2013.

Fast forward to today. Tim and his wife are still homeless, but they consider themselves essential nomads. They live, travel, and work in their 39-foot motorhome while enjoying the best locations North America has to offer. Through this journey, he is convinced that we must redefine success in order to live our best life. This topic is what he has explored with his guests on the SeekGoCreate podcast since 2019.