The business of business may be business, as economist Milton Friedman said, but it is much more than profit-and-loss statements and trying to make money for investors.
|John and Fran Morrissey have found both employees and clients are attracted to their ethical stance. Courtesy of the Morrisseys
Businesses, at their root, are contributors to the common good, communities in which the human dignity of all members is recognized and respected and instruments for the just distribution of wealth in society, according to “Vocation of the Business Leader,” a 32-page booklet created by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
According to the booklet’s executive summary, “Obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms — lack of rule of law, corruption, tendencies toward greed, poor stewardship of resources — but the most significant for a business leader on a personal level is leading a divided life. This split between faith and daily business practice can lead to imbalances and misplaced devotion to worldly success. The alternative path of faith-based ‘servant leadership’ provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles, illumined for Christians by the Gospel.”
Many Catholic business leaders say that they don’t have too much difficulty integrating their faith and the ethical principles it demands with their professional lives, because both are so much a part of them. They don’t necessarily wear their faith on their sleeves, according to the presidents or CEOs of several companies. But visitors to their offices might see a crucifix or a portrait of Mary on the wall, and those who lunch with them might find themselves saying grace before the meal. Their employees have no doubt about the faith of their employers.
“Each of our employees are all fully aware of where we stand in our faith and in our beliefs,” said John Morrissey of The Morrissey Family Businesses in Rockford, Ill. “We encourage them to lead the life they want to lead in terms of being honest and moral. We never want to take advantage of an employee or take advantage of a client.”
John and Fran Morrissey own The Morrissey Family Businesses with their son, John Morrissey Jr. The companies include a tax accounting firm, a company that provides human resources services and consulting to other companies and a payroll processing company. Together, the companies employ more than 50 people, many who have worked there for 20 years or more.
Their faith, Fran Morrissey said, “affects every part of our life, including our business life. When we started, we decided we would do it with ethical values and honesty. Definitely God is the leader of our business.”
To that end, staff members learn when they come on board that they need not fear raising red flags if they run into a client who wants to cut too many corners or try to use deceptive business practices.
At the same time, Fran Morrissey said, they treat employees the way they would want to be treated. “We wanted to develop a business that would be the kind of business we wanted to work in,” she said.
While the businesses have lost some clients and employees because of its ethical stance over the years, the Morrisseys say more have been attracted to it.
The family doesn’t hide its Catholicism. Fran and John are members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher and Legatus, an organization of Catholic business owners and leaders.
Support of peers
Brian Von Gruben, who is the regional director of Legatus for the central region of the United States, said founder Tom Monaghan of Domino’s Pizza fame formed the group to bring Catholic CEOs, owners and presidents of companies and their spouses together to learn more about their faith and to encourage them to set an example of faithful life not only for one another, but for those who work in their businesses. They come together once a month for prayers, confession, Mass, dinner and speaker on a Catholic topic.
With 75 chapters in cities throughout the United States, Legatus aims at being the premier organization for Catholic business leaders, said Von Gruben, who is based in Baton Rouge, La. To join, members must be practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church, but many find themselves drawing closer to the faith as they learn more about it.
“It might be that somebody starts praying the Rosary, or going to daily Mass, or thinks that maybe they could do a little bit of spiritual reading,” he said.
Thomas Muldowney, chairman of the board and a principal of Savant Capital, has been Catholic his whole life but says that he was not always as devoted to his faith as he is now.
A member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Order of St. Gregory, his firm’s clients include the Diocese of Rockford as well as priests from around the country. Three of the four owners of the firm are Catholic, he said, and the fourth is a devout Christian, and they have developed portfolios of investments that are in line with Catholic social principles.
Like the Morrisseys, he cannot separate his faith from his business life.
“It’s not a matter of wearing it on your sleeve,” he said. “We are stewards of each other. I can’t say the Catholic side is incidental.”
That means asking clients to discuss what’s most important to them, what’s most important in terms of their moral compass, as they decide what to do with their money. Far from offending people, he said, most people appreciate it.
“Our job is to do a good job for our clients. That’s our duty,” he said. But taking the high road has also been an advantage in attracting customers.
“If you set out to do the right thing, you will do very well. We don’t have to do anything furtive or sneaky.”
Dave Cyrs, also a financial adviser, said that it’s important to him that he is free to recommend any investments he wants to his clients, rather than working for a company that requires him to sell its products.
“I get up every day and try to have my reflection or meditation every morning about what’s important in life,” said Cyrs, who practices in Rockford. “When I get into my workday, I see numerous opportunities to practice my faith.”
That includes the opportunity to bring God into discussions with clients, who often share their deepest secrets with him.
“Many people are anxious, they are fearful, they are worried about money,” he said. “You can have all the knowledge about money and finance in the world and you can apply that in your practice — and I try to do that — but you can also talk about what’s really important. Maybe it has to do with control, with letting go, with turning things over. In the whole scheme of things, everything comes from God.”
Cyrs finds that attorneys and other professionals often refer widows to him — he feels he has an affinity with them because his father died when he was in junior high — and feels that his business is a calling.
“I really believe God put me where I’m at,” he said. “I wanted to be in a caring profession. I can make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.