Books Catholics Should Read: The Pope and the CEO

January 3, 2012

The Pope & The CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, by Andreas Widmer

In a society that increasingly sees business — and in particular, business for profit — as dirty, Andreas Widmer, a Swiss guard turned CEO entrepreneur, delivers an essential message:  For-profit business can be a force for good in the world, especially if its leaders live out a “person-centered ethic.”

Widmer offers a seemingly unlikely model for business leaders today – Blessed John Paul II, namely because of the great pope’s emphasis on the humanity of each individual.  Business, even in a for-profit context, exists to serve man.  It serves employees, who strive to earn a living; it serves customers, who gain a service or product; and it serves investors, who earn returns on financial investment.  The leader who loses sight of the fact that business exists to serve people sets himself and his company up for long-term failure (even if there is material profit in the short-term).

This is not to say that profit is bad, of course; according to Widmer, profit is the incentive that helps us serve employees, customers, and investors even better.  But profit for its own sake, without any concern for man, is dangerous.  That’s why Widmer so strongly advocates for a “person-centered ethic,” so distinctively embodied in John Paul II.

Widmer offers 9 lessons — drawn from John Paul II’s teachings and from anecdotes of personal encounters with the pope — to help the business leader cultivate his ethic, virtue, and humanity.  What makes this book so outstanding, however, is that while it is directed towards business leaders, anyone can apply John Paul II’s teachings to their lives.  Virtue, after all, is to be lived out no matter what your situation in life — whether you are a layman, a CEO, or a pope.

in short…
Content:  9 chapters dedicated to 9 leadership lessons, based on Andreas Widmer’s encounters with the pope while he was a Swiss guard.
Style:  Very colloquial, which makes for an easy and light read.  (Read through it on your next long plane flight!)  Alternates fluidly between (auto)biographical sketches, encyclical quotes, and abstract lessons.
Catholic?:  It’s refreshing to find a businessman and author like Widmer who sincerely tries to live out his Catholic faith in all aspects of his life, instead of compartmentalizing faith, work, and play like so many of us are wont to do.  It is Widmer’s attitude that will leave the reader convinced that business for profit, too, can be a vocation.

Overall:  4/5


Why it makes sense that America’s #1 Business School is Catholic

November 16, 2011

I’m taking my first business class at Notre Dame this semester (Entrepreneurial Insights, a 1-credit course), and it’s given me a greater appreciation for Business that I, as a liberal arts major, did not have before.

What’s struck me is that the Mendoza College of Business — at least from what I’ve seen — is very, if not outwardly so, Catholic.  And it got me thinking:  It makes sense that America’s #1 Business School is Catholic.  Because Catholics have values that often can lead to success in the business world.  Here are some of those values:


1)  Ethics:  Business is all about reputation.  No one wants to deal with a person who is shady or untrustworthy, but everyone wants to deal with someone who is upright and has concern for others.  Ethics play a huge part in that.

Notre Dame thrives at fostering business ethics in her students because as Catholics, we’re taught to keep the bigger picture in mind.  It’s important that we uphold our integrity and stay true to our values; temporary material gain is never the final goal.


2)  Risks:  In business, you have to take risks.  Otherwise, you will never succeed.  Catholics, too, are called to take risks.  Risk-taking, to an extent, is the ultimate sign of trust in God.  It’s the realization that God gave us certain gifts, that we are called to risk and grow those gifts ad majorem Dei gloriam, and that divine Providence will guide us to where we’re meant to be.

Consider the Parable  of the Talents.  The master punishes the servant who was too scared to invest his money.  But he rewards the two servants who took the risk of investment.


3)  Opportunity Recognition:  You have to recognize and take advantage of opportunities in business.  Catholics thrive at this because from the cradle we are taught the skill of opportunity-recognition — specifically, recognizing the opportunity for grace.  God placed us on this earth so that we can bring His presence to others and so that we can grow closer to Him (through a good deed, through an expression of concern, through a prayer).  It is our job to be ever-attuned to these opportunities for God’s grace.


4)  GrowthCatholics love growth.  The Church has been growing all over the world for 2 millennia.  Catholic families are some of the biggest you’ll see around.  There’s a joy and hope in Catholicism that makes us want to share it with as many people as we can, and that’s why the Church keeps growing.

Business, too, seeks growth — expanding influence, expanding client base, expanding the infrastructure.  The Catholic businessman would be well-served to carry this enthusiasm for growth from the chapel over into the office.


5)  Social Concern:  Businessmen need to be attuned to people’s needs.  A business has no purpose if it’s not somehow serving the people; all the time, successful business arise when entrepreneurs recognize that society has a need.

Catholics, too, are taught to respond to the needs of others.  There’s a recognition that we are not born for ourselves alone, that our lives should in part be dedicated to improving the lives of others.


Those are some of my thoughts.  Do you (dis)agree with this list?  Am I overstretching some of the comparisons?  Any additional items you think should be added?

Invest like a Catholic today

July 26, 2011

Catholics can be a little notorious for not being able to put up a united front in politics.  When was the last time, for example, you heard of the need to win the “Catholic vote?”  Catholic voters don’t necessarily disagree with Church teaching; rather, some Catholics are willing to sacrifice advocating  for certain Church teachings in order to propagate others that are — in their minds — more important. (Whether this is good or not is another discussion.)

But if we can’t unite in the realm of politics, can we do so in the world of business, specifically in investing?  It’s an interesting thought and well worth a read.

I’m no expert in investing and even economics in general.  But Catholic moral investing is fairly simple.  Just as you vote your conscience, invest your conscience.  Don’t judge investments solely on their potential financial return;  consider how they might promote or attack Catholic values.  Whatever financial returns Planned Parenthood, for example, might have, it’s still morally wrong to help it propagate a culture that condones abortion.

One good way to invest ethically is joining a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) mutual-fund, but make sure you do your research.  Some SRI’s will use investing activism to fight global warming but will be completely fine with Planned Parenthood.

The lesson of Catholic moral investing is that wealth, when used for evil purposes, is evil but is also, when used for good purposes, good.  The beauty of Catholic moral investing is that we can pick and choose which companies we support; it’s not like voting, for which we sometimes have to choose a candidate even if we have reservations about his or her moral stances.  The upshot is that moral investing can be a powerful unifying force for Catholics.  (We can only hope that it transitions into the voting booth, as well.)

Catholic moral investing is just another way Catholics can bring positive change to society.  No big deal, as always; just another example of why being Catholic matters.

Books Catholics Should Read: “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive”

July 14, 2011

Every Catholic at some point needs to defend his or her beliefs and explain why they are legitimate.  This book is a good place to start preparing.

by Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin, and Robert B Cialdini

I found this to be a particularly nice read because it teaches you less how to persuade others than how to connect with them–indeed, how to become friends with them.  It’s a good approach because that’s life:  We should focus not on winning the argument, but on learning more about our opponents and about ourselves; it’s much better to make a friend of one who disagrees with you than to make an embittered opponent.  Besides, as this book emphasizes, you tend to persuade people more easily if they consider you a friend, anyway.

There’s also some interesting tidbits of trivia on the Catholic Church here.  Apparently the practice of having a “Devil’s Advocate” (or a diabolus advocatus, as it was called then) originated in the Church:  Whenever a candidate was up for sainthood, it was the role of the devil’s advocate to gather the strongest possible argument against the canonization of the candidate.   Of course, one can say the devil’s advocate actually strengthened the case for canonization because his arguments seemed so artificial and strained.  Yet it’s nevertheless interesting to note how practically all major decisions nowadays are not made without first consulting a devil’s advocate–a practice that began (at least officially) with the Church.  As always, no big deal.  Just another instance of why being Catholic matters.


Content: Varying tips on how to persuade other people, using the two-pronged method of scientific research and personal anecdote.
Style: Direct and Colloquial. Extremely brief chapters (4 pg average) make for easy reading
Catholic?: Not necessarily, but the tips here are nice for any Catholic to know.  Also some nice tidbits of trivia on the Catholic Church.

Overall: 4 /5