In the middle of the fray
In business for the common good
“The Art of Principled Entrepreneurship” differs from many business books in that it wants us to think of business as more than dollars and cents, profit and loss. Widmer offers a humanistic vision of what entrepreneurship can be.
Catholic entrepreneurs have a towering champion in Andreas Widmer. Think of business guru Peter Drucker wielding a halberd.
The 6-foot-9 former Swiss Guard is an entrepreneur, teacher and enthusiastic cheerleader for the American dream. He is also the author of a new book called “The Art of Principled Entrepreneurship: Creating Enduring Value”.
Business books aren’t everyone’s favorite read, but if you’re an entrepreneur, or want to be, there’s plenty of helpful advice in these pages. There may also be helpful advice for Catholic leaders.
“The Art of Principled Entrepreneurship” differs from many business books in that it wants us to think of business as more than dollars and cents, profit and loss. Widmer offers a humanistic vision of what entrepreneurship can be. In doing so, he also provides a seditiously Catholic critique of some of the excesses of business.
These excesses are on full display these days, from mass layoffs on Twitter and the collapse of cryptocurrency firm FTX, to massive corporate profits even as inflation wreaks havoc on family budgets. The shining stars of the capitalist universe seem a bit dull.
Widmer berates a “go for the gold” corporate culture populated by MBAs who “dream of winning big on the stock market or cashing in on some financial scheme”, people he says are more interested in the harvest than the sowing and creation. Large multinationals are good at cutting jobs, he notes, while entrepreneurs are job creators.
For Widmer, principled entrepreneurship focuses on training and supporting employees and meeting customer needs, not just the pursuit of profits. Widmer is an unabashed defender of well-made capitalism.
Of the market economy, he writes: “While there is much room for improvement – mainly among its participants – I have found it to be the system that best supports the flourishing and freedom of man.”
Indeed, he calls it “the highest achievement of Western civilization: a system of personal freedom and responsibility that can bring about the common good.”
His insistence on the common good as a serious business consideration is a product of his Catholic background and echoes speeches delivered by Pope Francis.
“We should be rewarded for doing great work and profiting from our business – that’s what sets it apart from a hobby,” Widmer writes. “But the intrinsic goal is not to achieve the greatest reward, but rather to add value and contribute to the common good.”
Like all business books, Widmer’s offers a wealth of insight and advice for an ethical and productive culture of entrepreneurship.
It creates “five pillars of reasoned entrepreneurship”. They include maxims such as “The economy exists for the people, not the people for the economy” and “Driven entrepreneurs always seek to create win-win solutions”.
My favorite, however, is “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”.
“Culture is what we do when no one is watching. It shows what is of utmost importance to us. finished and the “real” work begins.”
Widmer identifies “broken values” and “bad corporate leadership” for faulty corporate cultures that leave employees disengaged and cynical. He talks about teambuilding, advocating “a company where there are no ’employees’ but only team members”.
Reading Widmer’s book made me wonder if it would benefit not only budding entrepreneurs, but also seminarians, pastors, and bishops.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast, and pastoral letters and pronouncements will not suffice where there is a culture that tolerates mediocrity and is characterized by conflict avoidance and workarounds.
Every pastor is an entrepreneur. Each bishop a PDG. Andreas Widmer has some lessons to teach the two.
– Greg Erlandson is director and editor of Catholic News Service.
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