Born Into The Business
I remember growing up with boxes in the living room. Boxes for duck calls to be shipped to stores; boxes for mom to bring food to a needy family; boxes of hunting supplies; boxes were always a part of our life. We ate dinner in the living room, we folded boxes. We got in trouble, we folded boxes. So many boxes! As Duck Commander grew, the need for boxes grew.
Being the family business, Willie, Jase, and me all remember those early days of building a brand, but Jep doesn’t know anything different. Us older boys grew into the job, but his house was always the factory. He was literally born into the business.
"I think I did everything that you could possibly do in the business. In the show, Si makes the reeds; I did that for a good while. I pretty much did everything once. So many memories! We all did what we were told to do and got the job done." Jep Robertson
Working in the family business was all a part of growing up Duckmen. Recently, while flying back from an engagement, I was led to Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8. Jep’s position of being ‘born into the business’ fits well into the narrative.
Despite his initial misgivings and doubt, Gideon has been recorded in history as one of the most valiant leaders of the nation of Israel. As I read through the text, I noticed that Gideon faced four enemies: self doubt; a contaminated culture; mistrust in God’s provision; and self-exaltation.
Self Doubt: The Least of the Least
My family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
When God called Gideon to rise up as a leader of Israel, it was their darkest hour; they were in the throngs of wickedness, overrun with idolatry and oppression. They needed a man to lead them out of the darkness. As a member of the tribe of Manasseh, Gideon was not one of the front-runners for the job.
Historically, the nation of Israel was divided into twelve tribes named for the twelve sons of Jacob. Ephraim and Manassah, two half tribes named after Joseph, together represented one tribe. Gideon was the youngest son in a family of a half tribe of the least of the children of Israel. You can see where some of his insecurities came from. Sometimes it is hard to step out and do what God calls you to do when you think of yourself as the least.
“All through high school, working in the family business was part of growing up,” said Jep. “After a needed family intervention when I went off the deep end, dad put me under a three-month house arrest. House arrest in our family meant that all you did was go hunting and eat mom’s cooking. I think I gained about 40 pounds in those months. But I believe that’s when I really started to love hunting and found my part of our business—video. My brothers were so good at the hunting part of being Duckmen; it wasn’t the actual shooting of the duck that interested me, but the way it looked behind the camera. It was an art. I started to play around with editing. It was super fun.”
Just like Gideon, God used an intervention to get a hold of Jep and show him his place in the story.
Dad didn’t know about video; truthfully, none of us did. Being the youngest and most in tuned to the changing electronic culture, Jep understood the importance of video. He had that natural impulse to experiment with camera angles and editing.
To survive in the fast-changing digital world, family businesses must embrace the generational nature of legacy. The young generation may not understand all that has been established, but they understand the demands of the current culture. Generational diversity is necessary for the growth of a business.
“From the moment that I fell in love with video and knew that God had plans for me in the digital part of Duck Commander, I knew that I had a place,” said Jep. “I shot everything I could with my Canon XL2; it wasn’t that great, but I had a passion. I had very little experience, but I enjoyed it. God used me and I was overjoyed. I pretty much became the assistant camera guy—well, I called myself the assistant camera guy. I did a lot of the grunt work, making sure all the batteries were charged, maintenance and repair, and logging tapes. But I was a part of the team and that’s what mattered.”
Contamination: Cautious Living in a Contaminated Culture
So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid to do it by day, he did it by night.
Rather than remaining loyal to the God who had brought them out of the nation of Egypt, the nation of Israel had let the religious practices of the surrounding cultures seep into their worship. Ba’al had become another deity in the pantheon of gods that Israel looked to for protection and prosperity. God called upon Gideon to tear down the altars to Ba’al and to rise up as a leader in the midst of a culture devoted to hedonistic practices, idol worship, and oppression at the hands of the Midianite armies.
Gideon had no example to follow; no one had courage to stand up against the cultural wickedness overtaking the people of God. While he was afraid for his life, Gideon knew that following God is always more important than the fear of man.
He didn’t have a path to follow; neither did we.
When Jep started producing our early Duckman videos, we had no idea that they would become a literal lifeline to our audience. They became the driving force behind our company as it was a way to project what we did upon our fan base. Now, we look back on the Duckman videos and see that it was truly the impetus that propelled us into national fame. The camera captured our lifestyle; our lifestyle became our niche; our niche became our audience.
Thinking about those early days of video sales, Jep said, “I guess I first realized the importance of the show at a Ducks Unlimited convention in Memphis. It was just crazy. We were selling those things like hotcakes. After day one out of three, mom was shaking she was so excited. We had done it! That’s when they really took off and we saw a larger public consumption of the product.”
From an amateur videographer in a duck blind to a personality on a nationally recognized television program, Jep has followed God’s leading. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Living in the public eye is like living in a fishbowl. We could have easily focused on the professional side of our business; the excellence of the Duck Commander product is a testament to itself. Jep could have chosen to simply document the growth of a national brand by highlighting our unique product production and quality control. Rather, with the support family, Jep chose to document our spiritual journey.
We are a national brand recognized for our faith in the midst of a culture contaminated with sin and wickedness.
Misplaced Trust: Relying on God Rather Than Self
Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?
In a nutshell, when facing an army of valiant soldiers with only a handful of men, Gideon had to trust that God had a plan. Originally an impressive force of 22,000 troops, upon God’s direction, Gideon whittled down the Israelite army into a company of 300 men. By engaging in battle with so few men, no one questioned that victory was a miracle from God, not the might of men.
Duck Commander shouldn’t have worked. We are a family business in West Monroe, Louisiana. We’re as country as they come. Hollywood should not know our name.
Jessica, Jep’s wife, chimes in with a nugget of truth: “When I first met the family, Duck Commander was nowhere near what it is today. Some of our first dates were selling duck calls, if I remember correctly,” she says with a sweet smile. “After we were married, the money we made selling duck calls went towards vacations. Everyone thinks that we always had money, but that’s really not the case. We never went hungry, but it was a long road. But God has blessed us.”
Obviously, Dad and Jase were the original duck hunters and Willie was the entrepreneur. Jep’s contribution to the family business was just as important to our rise to success as anyone else. Without the videos, we would never have been a nationally known brand. Without the early documentation of what our products could do, Duck Dynasty would not exist.
Just like Gideon, the least in our family of nobodies is the ambassador of our family legacy.
“Yeah,” said Jep, in his classic dry sense of humor, “I don’t know if you know this, but I’m kind of a big deal.”
Pride: Humility After the Victory
I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.
Living victoriously is often synonymous with vanity and self-importance. This final enemy that Gideon faced is probably the most significant.
Being the youngest, Gideon could have given in to his belief that he was not cut out to lead. He could have ignored God’s instructions and failed to take the first step of obedience. But he didn’t. He stepped out in faith, knowing that his God was greater than the culture that surrounded him. He did as he was commanded, fought the battle, and won the victory.
It would have been easy to rest upon his laurels and accept the praise and adulation from Israel. After all, he led 300 men into battle against thousands of trained fighters and came out the victor. In the eyes of the nation, he blazed his own trail and deserved respect. Once Gideon returned from the battle as a victor, the people called for him to be their ruler. It would have been easy to bend the knee and accept the golden scepter of power.
But that’s not how the story went. Gideon humbly refused the power and pointed Israel back to God.
I am so impressed at how Jep and Jessica have handled the spotlight. After all, our television show is a direct result of Jep’s early videography; he could have easily become puffed up with pride that he had single handedly brought our family national fame.
But that’s not Jep and Jessica. They have humbly pointed our fans back to God.
“The Robertsons stick together,” said Jessica. “They do everything together. From the very moment that I met Kay and she wrapped her arms around me, I have seen unconditional love, forgiveness, support, and humility. I was broken and empty and they loved me and shared Christ’s love with me. It was my first impression and it was a lasting impression. The Robertsons point people to Christ; we always have and we always will.”
They’re so natural; they’re so humble. God has done a mighty work in their marriage and they consistently and humbly give all praise to Him. To read more of Jep and Jessica’s story, their new book The Good, the Bad, and the Grace of God is available for purchase at local and online book distributors.
As Luke 4:48 states, For he who is least among you all is the one who is great. Jep has become our family’s version of Gideon. The least among the least, he is a mighty man of Christian principles, a faithful husband, an awesome dad, and a successful business man.
I am one proud big brother.
By: Alan Robertson
Alan Robertson is the oldest son of Phil and Kay Robertson. He helped build the foundation of the family business, Duck Commander. Recently, Alan has returned to the family business after serving in full-time ministry for more than 25 years. Alan plays a vital role in the family’s commitment to spreading the gospel of Christ through their love of hunting and the great outdoors. Alan and his wife, Lisa, are parents of two grown daughters and proud grandparents to two granddaughters and a grandson on the way.