Business leaders explore ways to carry Catholic values to the office

Washington — Venture capitalist Frank Hanna believes that just because he's a Catholic business owner, his faith and values don't have to be checked at the office door.

If anything, Catholic virtue and a deep feeling of solidarity with colleagues, customers and poor people around the world guide his decision-making to, as Hanna puts it, help humanity flourish.

Hanna, CEO of Hanna Capital in Atlanta, told 75 participants at a Sept. 24-26 conference on the vocation of business at The Catholic University of America that moral values in business must be a priority for Catholic business owners and managers.

Wealth is not measured solely by dollars, but by how business owners conduct themselves in delivering goods and services and building solidarity -- the Catholic principle of the being in unity with others -- with people of all walks of life, Hanna said Sept. 25.

"He or she must not neglect the dollars, but must in the end conduct himself as if something else has priority," Hanna said. "This issue of being a Christian in the business world is not a constant Manichean choice between having money or being good. It's rather a matter of priority.

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"Do we put first things first? The way to practice solidarity in business, such that human relationships are strengthened and human flourishing abounds, is to make such solidarity the higher priority. It's not in place of profits, but it's more important," he said.

Afterward, Hanna told Catholic News Service that God and family are his highest priorities and that out of that sense of responsibility he has been able to guide a successful financial services firm.

"The Lord gave us an example in saying if you can fill people with the good news it's the greatest gift you can give them," Hanna said. "So that's what we try to do."

Co-sponsored by the California-based Napa Institute and The Catholic University of America's School of Business and Economics, the three-day conference was titled "Liberty and Solidarity: Living the Vocation to Business." Held at the university in Washington, it brought together current and retired business owners, Catholic university faculty and clergy and women religious to explore Catholic social teaching. Much of the emphasis was on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and how they can be forces for good in the business world.

Participants and speakers told CNS that they wanted to better understand how their faith could be carried into the business world, where priority is given to maximizing profit regardless of how it is achieved.

Lawrence Blanford of Naples, Fla., retired CEO of what in March became Keurig Green Mountain Inc., said he wanted to share Catholic values with high school and college students before they entered the business world.

He said that in conversations with students, he learned they believe that in their careers they must leave behind the foundation of their Catholic faith.

"That's absolutely, in my view, not true. It doesn't mean that they necessarily have to wear their religion on their sleeve, but what I try to help them understand ... that in every decision that you're making and in every interaction with individuals within the company or customers or with investors, that you are drawing on your moral center of gravity, you're drawing on your formation," Blanford said.

Sean Fieler, president of Equinox Partners, a New York hedge fund, said it is important to encourage financial professionals to "bring their faith to work without having to put 'Catholic' on the door."

"Just because you don't have Catholic on the door doesn't mean you have a values-free, faith-free zone, which is kind of the presumption within the field of finance," he told CNS.

"If you haven't explicitly made it Catholic, than any of those values are actually out of bound, so to speak. And that's exactly the dynamic that creates a Catholic ghetto and we're trying to work against it. We're not trying to segregate it. We're trying to mainstream it," Fieler said.

In an opening address, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, welcomed the contributions of men and women in business as vital to improving people's lives as long as they promote the common good.

He encouraged attendees to ground their work in prayer and the tenets of the Catholic faith in order to continue God's creation.

The Vatican, he said, has come to see that life in business is itself a vocation.

"It simply means that one has a calling, a calling which comes from God our creator," Turkson said.

"Business is in fact a vocation and a very local vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life," he said, quoting Pope Francis' message to the World Economic Forum in January in Davos, Switzerland. "Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all. And so business then belongs to such human activity, and entrepreneurs should see themselves as called by God to exercise their necessarily important skills and activities to assist in continuing God's work of creation."

The cardinal said the church must work with people in business to "respond appropriately to their vocation and to find a place of their activities in God's own design for the human family and for the world."

He reminded the business leaders that "every Christian is called to practice charity" toward others and to see their work as a gift from God so that they can function as stewards rather than solely as owners or managers of a business venture.

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