The University of St. Thomas

Center for Catholic Studies | John A. Ryan Institute




God has created me to do him some definite service; 
He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission. I may never know it in this life but I shall be told it in the next. . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for nothing.
                                                                                    John Henry Newman


In 2000, we began team teaching a theology course on faith and entrepreneurship. The course was an instant success among the entrepreneurship students at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota. In 2002, the course received the National Out­standing Course Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. We felt that we were on to something that was, for the most part, repressed by main­stream culture and ignored by the church. Mainstream culture was uncomfortable talking about how faith relates to the work of entrepreneurs in their businesses. The church seemed to have little interest in examining how being good can be a part of being in business.

Students reported that they were attracted to the course because it was one of the few times in their college tenure when they encountered an attempt to integrate the themes of their liberal arts education with their business major. The course focused on the integration of faith and reason, vocation and work, the spiritual and the material, virtue and skill, and princi­ples and policies. This engagement was at the same time theolog­ically grounded in the Christian tradition and seriously engaged in the practical and complex matters of running a company.

We have also talked to a lot of entrepreneurs in the last 10 years who are searching for ways to integrate their faith, their val­ues and their entrepreneurial spirit in their work. They are not interested in a simplistic approach to integrating faith and work that results in proselytizing their employees, customers and sup­pliers, nor are they interested in a moral and spiritual light ap­proach that dwindles their faith to a mere guarantee for success.

These students and entrepreneurs realize that there are more choices to faith and work than a secularism that reduces faith to private opinion or to a false evangelism that fails to respect the freedom of others. They want to be able to speak and live from the center of their faith, but they also want to be sure that the people they work with are able to do the same.

Bringing Your Business to Life provides an alternative by draw­ing upon the virtue tradition that has been nurtured and devel­oped for over 3,000 years. It avoids the trappings of a morally light approach. While sophisticated in the technical under­standing of entrepreneurship, too many books are surprisingly simplistic on the moral complexity of starting and growing an enterprise. In a similar way, books on the moral and spiritual life are naive on the difficulties and pressures of running a busi­ness. This book draws upon a rich and profound tradition of the virtues and is grounded in extensive interviews with entre­preneurs who share their experiences of struggling with how to be faithful within their businesses.

One of the surprises of our work together came when Jeff, who ran his own company for several years, was first exposed to the virtue tradition. He was struck by its explanatory power. Rather than confusing the practical, he saw that the virtue tra­dition within Christianity and Western civilization helped him understand more deeply his own experience as an entrepreneur. It was like discovering that he had been speaking prose all his life without knowing it. Jeff came to the realization that his ac­tions were either good or bad habits, that is, either virtues or vices, and that if he had come to this insight earlier, he may have made better decisions throughout his life, not only as an entre­preneur but also as a husband, father and church member.

The virtues as well as the vices not only explained more clearly what was actually happening in Jeff's work and in him, but the virtues actually brought life to his business by connect­ing him with others and with God. T. S. Eliot captures this kind of life in his poem Chorus on the Rock:

What life have you if you have not life together?

There is no life that is not in community,

And no community not lived in praise of God.

Jeff and many of the entrepreneurs we interview in this book reveal for us that when they are at their best, when they feel con­nected and full of life in their companies, they are often describ­ing a pattern that we call virtue. And the principal characteristics of bringing their business to life center in strengthening bonds of communion with their employees, customers and investors, and with God. These virtues, these bonds of connection, build simul­taneously both a better business and a better life.

Yet, while we had a strong sense of the importance of virtue irri entrepreneurship, very little had been-written-on-the subject. It became clear to both of us that entrepreneurs and the disci­pline of entrepreneurship had a lot to learn from Scripture, Ari­stotle, Augustine, Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, Gilbert Meilaender, Josef Pieper, Alasdair Maclntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, Servais Pinck­aers, Jean Porter, and a host of others who have written on the importance of virtue. What Mike found so striking, however, was how little the Christian and Western tradition connected this profound wisdom of virtue to business and entrepreneur­ship. How unfortunate it was that theologians and philoso­phers were not constructively connecting the virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance to the practical realities of run­ning a business.

Since teaching our first course eight years ago, we have been working together to integrate business practice and the­ory with a faith-filled vision that provides a powerful integra­tion. We have written several articles together, presented papers both nationally and internationally, and have given dozens of talks to entrepreneurs and business leaders. Our diverse back­grounds provide a complementarity between theory and prac­tice, scholarship and experience and theology and business.

Bringing Your Business to Life is the synthesis of our work to­gether. The book examines the virtues necessary for being good, within the complexities of the life of running a business. The book is a unique blend of real entrepreneurial cases and practical insights of the virtue tradition. Bringing Your Business to Life provides principles, practices and stories that display the virtues necessary for business to contribute to a good life overall.

A Look Ahead

The book is divided into three parts. In Part One, we introduce the reader to the larger issue of faith and entrepreneurship and why this topic is so important at this time in our history. Chapter 1 takes a serious look at how entrepreneurs and leaders strive to create a tradition within their businesses in which the good business they create can be passed along to help better our economy and our culture. Entrepreneurial firms have the capac­ity to be a great force for good, so long as they are connected to a robust culture that prepares them for the challenges of run­ning a business.

Chapter 2 introduces the "two Vs"—vocation and virtue. The chapter explores the problem of the divided life, and suggests a remedy to the divided life, namely, a vocation and the particu­lar habits that embody a vocation—the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, courage and temperance).

In Part Two, we examine the specific virtues of prudence, justice, courage and temperance in the context of the entrepre­neurial journey. Chapter 3 explores the importance of prudence to the entrepreneur. The prudent entrepreneur is not to be seen as cunning and opportunistic, the tactician, who by concealing her real intentions, deceives others in achieving her self-centered goals. Rather, she is a person who has the necessary entrepre­neurial skills, perceives the situation as it is, and directs her ac­tivity toward greater ends that multiply the resources of the world. She is a good steward, often using a variety of bootstrap­ping techniques to make the most of the resources she has available to her. She is not a "taker" from the resources of the world, but a contributor. We focus on how prudence connects effective means to good ends in the right circumstances.

Chapter 4 confronts the entrepreneur's suspicion of the virtue of justice. He tends to be suspicious of justice largely because it is so often understood as externally imposed con­straints by the government and other forces. In this chapter, we focus on the meaning of justice within the Christian tradition and examine one company's struggle to establish right rela­tionships from its founding through its compensation system. We show that justice is not some restraint imposed on the com­pany, but a natural reality that needs to be named for what it is—a search for right relationships that creates a community of work. Justice may not be the first virtue that comes to mind when we think of the entrepreneur, but, by creating right rela­tionships with the stakeholders of the business, it should be.

In chapter 5, we examine the relationship between risk­taking and the virtue of courage. Entrepreneurs usually begin their businesses with a great vision, but soon find themselves overwhelmed by adversity. They are tempted to restrict their concerns to survival issues and retreat from the difficulties of a grander vision for the enterprise. While entrepreneurs will acknowledge feelings of being overwhelmed, they rarely de­scribe them as temptations of retreat, of fear, of being vulner­able. This chapter names these fears, doubts and temptations, and explores how the virtue of courage can be a response to such difficulties.

Chapter 6 challenges the entrepreneur to take seriously the importance of temperance, recognizing when enough is enough. Many entrepreneurs find that their work brings out a certain flow, a rhythm, a certain sense of being connected and alive, that other activities don't seem to give. Their work often brings a great deal of pleasure, satisfaction and self-esteem. Yet when does an entrepreneur's desire to make his enterprise successful cross the line from being a healthy passion to achieve something, to an addiction that disorders other important aspects of her life? One of the more difficult challenges for an entrepreneur is to recog­nize when enough is enough. It is precisely the pleasure of the work that can lead entrepreneurs into the temptation to disorder all other important things in life, such as marriage, family, health, friendships and religion. This chapter examines this dis­ease of workaholism in the entrepreneur and prescribes impor­tant practices of temperance that can resist its spread.

Finally, in Section Three, we provide a way of "seeing things whole." In this final chapter we help the reader look at the or­ganization as a whole, to see things whole, and we summarize the practices of the good entrepreneur who aspires to build a company faithful,to the virtues. All of the virtues discussed in this book interact and complement each other in every situa­tion an entrepreneur faces. However, there are pressures that all entrepreneurs face as their businesses grow, that create pres­sures to drift away from their commitment to build a faithful company. This chapter reveals a holistic understanding of the enterprise that helps entrepreneurs see how particular practices fit within the whole life of the organization, and how to bring all of the virtues together to bring life to business.