Doing Business With Benedict


Universe Column for June 30th 2002

By David Alton

A venue close to the financial heart of the City of London was where Timothy Wright, the Abbot of  Ampleforth, recently led a discussion about “doing business with Benedict.”

The theme of how busy executives and managers can stay spiritual while living out their stressed and hectic lives is also  the theme of a new book which the abbot has co-authored with Kit Dollard. Kit, and his wife Caroline, run a retreat house, courses, and workshops in collaboration with the monks at Ampleforth.

Both men displayed a considerable understanding of the harsh realities of  a world in which the average chief executive now lasts for only two and a half years before he is sacked.  The demise of companies like Enron has also  led to a collapse of trust in business ethics.

The thirst for something deeper than crude materialism haunts many of the people who get trapped in the business world. They rapidly realise that a full filofax and even a bulging bank account do not necessarily represent a fulfilled life.  Some 7,000 people spent at least one night at Ampleforth last year, many searching for meaning in their lives, many wanting to search for God.

Of course, the spiritual part of our lives is usually the first to be squeezed out by day to day pressures.  St. Francis de Sales said we need half an hour every day for prayer and spiritual reflection – except when we are really busy and under pressure. Then we need at least an hour.

The Abbot said that the four Benedictine priorities would be leading; caring; inspiring and being aware.

A good business executive  would lead by consulting and by “listening to the younger members of the team”; a caring  executive would look after people: “by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel”; they would inspire – “the greater your maturity the more you can bring others to maturity” and they would be aware and sensitive: “laughter is therapeutic and healing.”

Someone trying to live out their faith in the business world would build relationships and be a servant. A Christian is called to point the way back to the Word of the Master. “Service” said Kit Dollard  “is not about taking tents at Wimbledon or champagne at Ascot.”

As I thought about the endless buzz of mobile telephones and the cacophony of noise in the nearby dealing rooms of the City I was also struck by another of St. Benedict’s maxims that might be applied in the business environment: “There are times when it is best not to speak even though what we have in mind is good.” Advice for the world of politics too.

The rule of St. Benedict is 1500 years old.  Yet it remains contemporary. In a world of stress and burn out its effect could be dramatic. And who can doubt that commercial ethics would be radically improved if we seriously decided to do business with Benedict?