A Man Whose Success Was Forged from Faith
By: Lynita Mitchell-Blackwell
Husband. Father. Business Owner. These are all titles that Daniel Merck holds with pride, but he is very clear that they are the direct result of his Christian faith that runs deep and strong. The CEO of UniVirtual Solutions, an IT company in Locust Grove, Georgia, Daniel is focused on his priorities: faith, family, business, and community. This clarity was obtained through defining life experiences that have led him to success.
Faith Born in Challenge
Daniel was born and raised in Henry County, Georgia in a family that was “in and out of the church” throughout his formative years. Daniel clarifies, “Although consistently attending church does not make you a Christian, it’s the daily seeking of Christ and denying yourself that makes you a Christ follower”. Daniel admits he grew up in a dysfunctional and abusive home, which he attributes to the lack of Christ-seeking consistency, yet Daniel always felt God was with him. This feeling was so strong that at the age of 12, with no prompting or encouragement, Daniel accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and became saved at the family’s church, Eagles Landing Baptist Church. However, even after becoming saved, Daniel still had his struggles that led to a difficult high school experience. Seeking to start fresh and obtain guidance and character, he joined the United States Air Force upon graduation. The experience was all that he hoped and then some. “I learned how to be a Man, everyone is accountable to someone, and extraordinary leadership skills that I used to build my business.”
It was during his time in the Air Force that Daniel also learned just how good he was with computers. Although his duties had nothing to do with technology, Daniel worked part-time at a local technology consulting company and built computers for fellow airmen. He had always loved computers – he obtained his first at 16 – and always felt that his career would be around technology.
A Spectacular Realization
Upon honorable discharge from the military, Daniel followed his passion working with computers and joined Compaq as a help desk specialist. After about a year, he was offered a position with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a systems and database administrator, and it was then that he had a realization: “I wanted to do something spectacular with my life.” Daniel was not sure what the “spectacular” would be, but he knew that knowledge and skill would be a big part of it. He worked hard and developed his skill set in what he loved – technology.
God’s Gift of Family
Not too long after he joined FAA, Daniel met the love of his life – his wife Cherie. He was waiting for his father before Bible study in the lobby of the church, when Cherie’s mom came over to him to have a casual conversation. Little did he know, she already had plans for him to be the future son-in-law for her other daughter. Cherie’s mom invited Daniel over for dinner, and when Daniel arrived, he realized it was a family dinner – siblings, aunts, the works! He was immediately taken in by their warmth and love. And although he thought the sister was nice, he was smitten with Cherie, and five months later they were married. “When you know, you know!” He said with a smile.
The young couple remained on their honeymoon several years before their children were born, dating, traveling, and growing as a couple. They were overjoyed when their daughter was born three years into the marriage, and Daniel was the quintessential proud father. He was very involved in every phase, including meal time, and eight months in, that is when things changed forever. Daniel fed his daughter a spoonful of peanut butter, and they almost lost her. Her precious face started to swell, her tongue swelled out of her mouth, eyes swelled shut, and she could not breathe. Daniel and Cherie felt so helpless, but leaned on their faith in that powerful moment to ask and trust God to sustain their daughter’s life until help could arrive. After multiple life-threatening allergic reactions to foods, environmental triggers, and animals, extensive tests revealed that their sweet baby girl suffered from Anaphylaxis – “a severe, and often fatal abnormal allergic response, triggered by the body’s immune system”. Not only was their daughter anaphylaxis to peanut butter, she suffered potentially anaphylaxis shock to many foods including shellfish, fish, tree nuts, soy, wheat, eggs, and milk.
Daniel and Cherie felt so helpless, but leaned on their faith in that powerful moment to ask and trust God to sustain their daughter’s life until help could arrive.
Daniel and Cherie quickly learned that all meals had to be prepared at home. Every food item consumed was and is rigorously examined and scrutinized before ingested. When their son was born two years after their daughter, Cherie and Daniel thought the chances of having another Anaphylaxis child would not be likely; however, they quickly recognized their son’s food allergy reactions and knew he too suffered from this life-altering condition and would have to follow a strict diet.
During these child-bearing and baby years, Cherie loved her career working at Southern Company as a training specialist. Cherie was the first in her family to work and pay for her own college education, obtaining a Masters degree in Adult Education. Cherie worked hard to finally reach her title as a training specialist. All of the years of college and previous job titles had paid off, and she had found where she wanted to be. However, with all of the children’s medical conditions, Daniel and Cherie stepped out on faith and decided that Cherie would leave her career and focus on what mattered – the children – who were ages three years and eight months at the time. Shortly after Cherie left her career, another huge hurdle was about to test the family’s faith. Daniel’s love of his life – Cherie suffered an unexpected ruptured artery and only by the grace of God and prayer, survived. “Emergency surgeons did not expect Cherie to live, but we prayed and believed God was in the business of working miracles,” Daniel adds. Cherie still fights to overcome pain and consequences this medical tragedy conveyed upon her body, but Daniel says if you ask her she will say “every day is a gift”.
As with all challenges, a decision must be made – will it make or break you? The Merck family was “made” stronger and closer: Daniel and Cherie recently celebrated their twelfth anniversary. The family shares most meals, as they are all prepared at home, and practice a very healthy lifestyle. They are also food advocates, speaking up for allergen-free foods and overall healthier food choices. “It’s a shame we have to fight for our health, but it must be done.” But not one to dwell on the negative, Daniel shared that he does not feel deprived – his wife has perfected The Perfect Cupcake – free of eggs, wheat, nuts, and dairy. “It tastes better than a regular cupcake,” he said with pride.
A Monumental Undertaking
Even with all that going on with his family, Daniel felt God’s direction in his professional life and followed His voice to move forward with his mission – and that would include education.
Daniel obtained his Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Science from Troy University while working at FAA. It was a grueling task: he was working rotating shifts, was newly married, and had small children who were both diagnosed with life-threatening allergies. But, God saw him through it all. He also became a certified Oracle Database Administrator (DBA) and served as the Lead DBA at the State Capitol of Georgia for a year. That position led to a rewarding experience with Southern Company. During the five years he was with Southern Company, Daniel obtained several more certifications, including becoming a certified SQL Server database administrator. It was during this time that he realized what he was called to do: build his own company. While at Southern Company, he did it – and UniVirtual Solutions was born.
It was during this time that he realized what he was called to do: build his own company. While at Southern Company, he did it – and UniVirtual Solutions was born.
Daniel was committed to obtaining the business skills and knowledge he would need to be successful in his business, so he enrolled in the Georgia State University Executive MBA program. However, with work demands and a family, he realized after two semesters that he would need to do things differently, and he completed his MBA online with Nova Southeastern University in South Florida.
In God’s perfect timing, once Daniel completed his degree, UniVirtual Solutions began “growing like wildfire”. Daniel was working 80 hours a week, and it was starting to take its toll. So once again, he and his wife stepped out on faith – away from the sure salary, great benefits, and pension – and Daniel left Southern Company to manage UniVirtual Solutions full time. Daniel was very honest when asked about times of doubt. “Of course there are times when doubt appears, I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t, but I’ve learned to doubt God is foolish. Whenever I have doubts, He reassures me that stepping out on faith is the right thing to do.” Those reassurances usually come from some action that has included gaining new customers and receiving high praise from current customers. The praise from customers is most reassuring, because satisfied customers lead to more referrals – and referrals are how UniVirtual Solutions has grown. The company does not focus on advertisement – clients have come to them through referrals and word-of-mouth.
When asked how they’ve been able to grow without advertising, Daniel said, “Customers know if you have their best interests at heart.” Daniel understands the interest of business and technology, and he is able to apply that when coming up with a plan that best suits his customers’ needs. “We strive to be experts in our field. We’re very focused on what we do best – IT.” The company invests a lot of time and resources in training and developing its staff. The ultimate goal is to help customers achieve their technology goals. Truly “stress free IT for customers”.
UniVirtual Solutions are experts in Cloud Services and Technology, Virtualization, Database Management, Managed Services, and Infrastructure Services. They also do network security, disaster recovery, VOIP phone systems, and compliance services. Daniel works hard to ensure UniVirtual provides excellent, customized services for its customers, no matter the size. They serve small to enterprise (up to 26,000+ employee) organizations, and government. The company’s customer base also covers the entire Southeast United States and includes most industries and non-profits.
UniVirtual is on pace to keep up with the company’s fantastic growth, including training its staff and hiring new employees. Daniel is seeking to open other offices and wants to be staffed with the best people to carry out the company’s Vision & Mission Statement and Core Values:
Vision & Mission Statement – “To provide innovative, industry-standard and best-practice technology products and services that support our customer’s unique IT needs and educate our customers about today’s ever-evolving technology.”
Core Values – “UniVirtual Solutions is a Christian-based organization. Every decision made by management at UniVirtual is based on our faith and our Vision and Mission statement.”
“UniVirtual Solutions is a Christian-based organization. Every decision made by management at UniVirtual is based on our faith and our Vision and Mission statement.”
Daniel is very proud that they are a Christian-based company and shares that with all interviewees. He has been pleasantly surprised by the response from potential hires when they hear it. “I’ve had people tell me that they’ve never heard that before, others have said that they feel comfortable being themselves, and several people have cried. But this is who we are. We are honored to serve our customers and the community.”
As a testament to its commitment to the community, UniVirtual offers discounted services and special pricing to non-profit organizations and many times pro bono assistance. That assistance includes IT work, referrals for other services, and sponsorship for advertising and marketing – such as the ad for Relevant Church included in this issue. Daniel is always looking for ways to help and serve, as this is a strong sign of leadership and thanksgiving for all which God has blessed him.
Although the company has experienced amazing growth in its six years of existence, Daniel is determined to ensure they continue to specialize and remain experts in their field. UniVirtual Solutions are “technology transformation experts” and transform technology from what it is to what it needs to be.