The University of St. Thomas

Center for Catholic Studies | John A. Ryan Institute

Reviews

Reviews

Reviews

 

From Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J.
Centre Sèvres of Philosophical and Theological Studies, Paris

Among so many books on the ethics of the enterprise, this one stands out.  It is well grounded in Catholic philosophy as well as in economic knowledge.  It shows experience in dealing with people engaged in business.  It does not avoid the burning questions that many would never dare to touch, as the question of spreading ownership.  It leads to deep personal reflection.  It is organized around a central concept, ‘integrity,’ which means that the reader is approached at the level of his very sense of responsibility and human solidarity.  I sincerely would welcome its publication and I hope it be also translated into my own language, French, as well as in many others.

 

From Johan Verstraeten,
European Centre for Christian Ethics
Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven
  

This book is an excellent presentation of the basic principles and perspectives of Catholic social thought (in the broad sense of the word), which are relevant to business.  It is both a contribution to a Christian approach of management and to the Catholic social tradition because it offers a hermeneutical horizon of Catholicism.  It also connects business ethics with spirituality, which is very much of current interest.  Although the book is based on relevant academic and scientific literature, it is sufficiently pedagogic to be accessible for a broader audience.  I am convinced that this book will be for many members of the business community an important source of inspiration.

 

From William F. May,
Cary M. Maguire Professor of Ethics
Southern Methodist University
  

They have written a very solid, balanced, accessible account of Christian social thought as it bears on management.  The book will help the Catholic moral tradition become a voice at the table in the boardroom for those willing to read and ponder the ramifications of their faith in their decisions as board members and managers.  

 

From John C. Haughey, S.J.,
Professor of Christian Ethics
Loyola University Chicago

As someone who has published several books on the topic of faith and work, I think Helen and Michael provide a unique integration of Christian social thought, management practice and theory that deserves distribution to a wide audience.  It is a work that bridges theology and management and that considers the practical realities of managers within a social theological context.  

 

From Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology, May 2002

This jointly-authored work, by two Catholic academics, explores the Christian social tradition and recovers principles which should inform the managerial style of those who would take Christianity seriously. This volume is the first in the Catholic Social Tradition series.

The authors, a social scientist and a theologian, take familiar ideas from the Christian tradition, like the common good, virtue, trust and so on, and connect them to equally familiar management notions like job design, wage structures and communication. Numerous examples and case studies drive home the point that a “Christian” approach to management often makes good business sense. However, the book is far more than a simple recitation of platitudes. The authors take Christian theology and practice seriously and strive for nothing less than a holistic integration that joins work and spirituality. A final chapter even introduces the idea of liturgy as a paradigm for placing work in its appropriate theological setting.

The work is specifically Catholic and draws most of its inspiration from that tradition. However, the majority of the discussion is generically Christian, and non-Catholic readers will certainly not be put off by the particular stance of the authors.

Managing as if Faith Mattered is well-suited for use as a text, with carefully organized sections, questions at the ends of the chapters and suggestions for further study.

 

From “The Tablet”, July 27, 2002

Return of the Corporate Soul 

         Looking back on the twentieth century, social historians will remark that in the last 20 years of the century, business came to lead human endeavour but in the process lost the human soul. The arts, medicine, education, and the sciences can all be subordinated to the whims of corporate mission statements and marketing strategies; and business gurus such as Tom Peters can proclaim, unchallenged, “Let’s leave the Bible, the Koran and facile talk of spiritual leaders at home.” No wonder many believe that “business is the spiritual desert of our time.” Even the most committed Christians in business struggle to reconcile the split between work and spirituality.

            So Managing as if Faith Mattered, which seeks to reconcile them, is a godsend. Intelligent and sensible, it never fails to recognise the realistic tensions of business life. The authors are well qualified to bring a sound and precise voice to the debate about Christian social principles in today’s organisations. Helen Alford is a professor of social sciences at the University of St. Thomas in Rome, having previously served as lecturer in the Engineering Department in Cambridge. Dr. Michael Naughton holds a joint appointment to the Theology Department and the Graduate Business School at St. Thomas, Minnesota.

            Having laid out an interesting exposition of three models linking faith and work-the natural law approach, the faith-based approach and the prophetic model-the authors focus on the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Courage. These virtues are then discussed under the headings of job design, just wages, corporate ownership, marketing communications and product development. It is a neat equation and provides a rich diet for thought and action. The chapter on employees’ pay, which draws on the virtue of justice and the principle of just wages, is especially good: a subject that most contemporary writers have successfully avoided is treated here with honesty and good sense.

            The abundance of cases taken from the American corporate business world may make the book less accessible to British and other European readers. And with the service industries now dominating British business it would have been good to have examples from the professional service field, the catering or tourism industry in the UK. A key to survival in today’s business world is the culture of service and this is hardly mentioned.

            One of the most unusual subjects in this book is “liturgy at work”  a curious subject to find in a book on social teaching. But the authors seek to make the point that work can be celebrated through the sacraments. Perhaps more emphasis could have been placed on non-sacramental liturgy at work and finding connections there. It is a sad reflection that when it comes to “liturgy at work” most other Christian denominations are ahead of the Catholic Church.

            The authors use an impressive number of different sources to expand their argument, from Mother Teresa to St. Augustine, from Lee Iacocca to Karl Rahner. Not all modern-day commentators are applauded, and Stephen Covey and Tom Peters are given short shrift. This is a pity: Covey in particular has provided some helpful thinking on personal development. It would also have been good to have had more engagement with psychology which in many European human resource and training departments has taken the place of Christianity.

            As you would expect from a book of this sort it has almost 70 pages of notes and references and a most comprehensive index. At the end of each chapter there are study questions and video suggestions, which help to focus the mind on the issues at stake. This book is a must for all observers and students of modern business practice, but its usefulness goes further than that: it deserves to be read in every corporate strategic planning office in every company. It is an oasis in the spiritual desert of business.        Kit Dollard

 

From "Theological Book Review," University of Notre Dame Press, January, 2002

This is the inaugural volume in a series on the Catholic Social Tradition.  It contains introductory discussions on how to relate fundamental categories of Catholic social thinking; among them the common good, solidarity, and the cardinal theological virtues, to the tasks of management; such as job design, organizational principles and product development.

This approach rejects any suggestions that are unbridgeable dichotomies between spiritual values and institutional and organizational ones.  It claims that such a view is largely a consequence of Enlightenment utilitarianism.  In place of this, the book focuses on the role of virtues in human management, organization and achievement and shows how they can be applied.  This is an intriguing claim, which is well deserving of the treatment it here receives.  Whether or not straightforwardly utilitarian considerations in organizational theory can be put aside in this way is, of course, a debatable point.  What might result from this, as is suggested throughout the book, is that they re-emerge as a consequence of the achievement of human fulfillment in work.  In this way, what humans need for their individual and collective fulfillment is harnessed with what organizations need for their success.  This inaugural volume could well engender an important debate.
                                                                   John Elford, Liverpool Hope

 

From New Blackfriars, October 2002

The capitalist market economy pervades most of the world and almost every person's life is touched by it. It provides most people with their livelihood and sets the context of their economic choices. It is impossible to contemplate modern life without the capitalist market economy. Most christians work within it, some work at its lowest levels, some are managers within businesses and a few are even leaders of large corporations. Does christian thought have anything to say to the millions of christians who work in businesses and to the managers and leaders of those businesses? Does the church have anything to say to those millions who spend most of their productive lives in offices, who rise early and commute long distances, to managers who regularly have to make difficult decisions like making staff redundant? Is it possible to apply christian beliefs into the modern business corporation or should business life be kept separate from the spiritual life? This book, by a Dominican teaching in the Angelicum University (Rome) and a professor of St Thomas University, Minnesota attempts to answer these questions. It convincingly suggests that many areas of business can and ought to be guided by christian social thought. It is a much-needed book, and this reviewer hopes that it will encourage others to engage in a similar manner with the modern business world.

The catholic tradition is rightly proud of its social thought, developed by many papal encyclicals and documents from the various Conferences of Bishops. This rich tradition includes encyclicals such as Laborem Exercens, the US bishops' document on the economy and, recently in Britain, The Common Good. Most of these documents generally cover what economists label as the 'distributionist' agenda. The context of this is the way economists describe the two-part challenge of the modern capitalist economy: how to generate wealth and then how to distribute it.

The first part is complex as it deals with how the modern business enterprise functions, produces goods or services, its competition, and the very profound and difficult process it goes through to create wealth. The 'distributionist' agenda is equally important and concerns how best society should distribute the wealth that is created. Hence the focus on trade unions, tax rates and promotion of a more equal distribution of wealth within a country and between countries. These issues are important but, to put it bluntly, businesses need to create wealth first, before it can be distributed. This creation process is incredibly complex and messy in a capitalist market economy. One observation on catholic social thought, has been its lack of engagement with, some would say complete silence on, the process of wealth creation by businesses as compared with its many documents covering issues of wealth distribution.

This book begins to redress the balance. The engine of wealth creation in the modern market economy is the business enterprise, and the book's focus is, the application of christian social principles to this enterprise. It begins by providing an overview of .the purpose of business, and then highlights four areas of business: Job design, just wages, corporate ownership, marketing communication through to product development. Each of these areas is discussed using christian social principles. These principles are the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, the universal destination of goods, and the theological and cardinal virtues. The chapters are well written and provide valuable material for those christians who are trying to integrate their work and their faith. For the authors, the purpose of business is not just to make money, although they recognize this as a critical 'foundational good', but more that it has responsibility towards the common good. Business also needs simultaneously and not sequentially to pursue 'excellent goods' which promote human development. Specifically, job design should be done in a human centred manner. A similar approach is then applied to the topic of wages, structuring it around three areas. A living wage based on the principle of need, an equitable wage based on a just slice, of the firm's profits, and a sustainable wage based on the employer's ability to pay wages that are sustainable in terms of the health of the business. The chapter on corporate ownership is probably the weakest (see below), and comes out strongly in favour of ESOPS (employee stock ownership plans). The next area covered is marketing communication and product development. The emphasis is on promoting a genuine relationship with the customer, and a new product development process focused on the common good. The final two chapters entitled 'Sustaining the Engagement', again offer very practical advice on how Christians can develop 'authentic habits of Christian spirituality of work'.

Overall I recommend this book to all those christians who are interested and are involved in business. Possibly for the first time, we have a systematic analysis that integrates the principles of christian social teaching and business management. As the authors say, 'a religion that isn't good on Monday ain't any good on Sunday'. However, this christian engagement with modern business needs to continue. There is much to do, and although this work is very important it still misses some of the biggest issues we need to deal with, such as competition and corporate governance. The latter has a significant contemporary relevance. The shareholder value model of modern capitalism is the foundational principle of corporate governance; businesses are owned by shareholders who expect to maximize their return. The authors reject this model in favour of a common good model, which is oriented around corporate capital being used to promote a just distribution of wealth. This is unrealistic. The shareholder model dominates all aspects of modern capitalism, and we need to find a better way to deal with it. One aspect of the current manifestation of the shareholder model, which is only briefly mentioned, is the immense power of shareholders who usually come in the form of large institutions and pension funds. These institutional shareholders (and the many christians who work for them) are not about to give up their power for a common good model. But the shareholder model and the whole governance structure of the modern corporation are under pressure. The demise of Enron and WorldCom suggests that, although management teams were hired by shareholders to promote their interests, they ended up promoting management's interests. The area of corporate governance is one of the fundamental issues that christian social thought needs to explore. But none of this should be taken as a criticism of the authors. They are to be commended for producing a landmark book that begins the journey of christian engagement with the modern business corporation and wealth creation. I hope other scholars and practitioners will continue this engagement.
                                                                                       BEN ANDRADI