Is Christian Humanism Good for Business?

Interview with Business Consultant Paolo Pugni

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ROME, FEB. 10, 2005 ( Attempting to close the circle between business and ethics, Paolo Pugni proposes that work can be a path to holiness.

He is the author of "Work and Responsibility. Humanism and Ethics of Management in Business" (Lavoro & responsabilità. L'umanesimo alla conquista del business per un'etica del management), published this year in Italian by Ares.

In this interview with ZENIT, Pugni explains how sanctity can be helpful to be good at business.

Q: How did you come to this idea of holiness through work?

Pugni: On one hand it seems to me that there is nothing new in regard to what the magisterium teaches and what someone like St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer started saying some eighty years ago, namely, that work is an instrument and area for man's sanctification. However, if we wish to proceed by degrees, I would say that that the fundamental reason is that I believe strongly in providence.

Q: In what sense? What has providence to do with your incentive?

Pugni: First of all, thank you for using the word incentive: it is precisely what I have repeated many times in the text. I certainly do not want anyone to believe that my presumption is to transform businesses into seminaries, or that I would also like human resource personnel to require prospective employees to present, together with their resume, a letter of recommendation from the parish priest and their certificate of confirmation!

What I wish to say in referring to providence is that it seems to me that our society is really in a bad way: values are shattered, wills are clouded, families and schools give up teaching because it is too much of an effort, and also because it is neither pleasing nor popular. The result is a society dominated by late-adolescents who remain prisoners of their Bermuda triangle, with some variations.

If for a 16-year-old the three summits of the black hole are the couch, fridge, and television (or Internet or Play Station), for a late adolescent, and even a 40-year-old, they are the bed, work and amusement. Allow me a parenthesis, I wish to make it clear that I am exaggerating the hues to be able to highlight the situation, not to condemn a whole society! Having said this, a world of egotists, focused on their own satisfaction, seems not to work in business. Today's businesses are in need of ethics and values.

Q: But, what do you mean? Isn't the economic world characterized by cynicism and corruption?

Pugni: No, I would say no. There are cases of corruption everywhere, it's true, and the pursuit of profit does not always rhyme with humanism. Therefore, although I want to be optimistic, I don't want to seem foolish. But it is also true that businesses speak increasingly of ethics, codes of conduct and values because they have need of them. On one hand, to regain the confidence of the markets and investors, after the scandals of the beginning of the millennium; on the other, because they have realized that the dimension that counts today in doing business is the relational, human, direct dimension. And to establish straightforward and profound relations with clients there is need of people who are rich in humanity.

This is the sense in which I say providence is at work. My professional experience confirms that businesses today are seeking more than rich talents of technical competence. They seek talents that are as rich, if not more so, in human values, in virtues. What they are in need of are people who are able to listen, to smile, to work together, to have patience, to be able to make sacrifices, to be able to ask for pardon, to be able to recognize their own responsibilities, to be able to be passionately dedicated to satisfying their clients and colleagues.

The working world is giving indications and showing a model which is light years away from the one of the man who must never ask for anything. For example, one of the first marketing rules is "never give a product a name that might seem repugnant to clients." Now, in recent years there were high quality perfumes called "Egoist" and "Arrogant," obviously because egoism and arrogance were perceived as values. Today I see the word humility in the principles and values of many businesses. A nice change, don't you think?

Q: So, salvation comes from business?

Pugni: I didn't say that. I said that if at least one new element comes to disturb this apparent nihilistic course toward dissolution, at least, it's already something. One more point to encourage influence on society.

Q: I agree, but why should businesses need saints?

Pugni: The qualities required in a manager today are very centered on the capacity to communicate, to make others work and to work with others. This requires human qualities which are none other than virtues. However, we know that to try to be "perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" is not an easy undertaking. It means effort. And there is effort only when there is a strong motivation.

If we check to see what Abraham Maslow has said about motivation, we discover that the summit of his famous pyramid of needs is self-fulfillment, namely, self-esteem. To obtain this result we are ready for any sacrifice. So, I say: let's add a new step to Maslow's ladder and say that man's highest need is not to obtain self-esteem, but God's esteem: to please God. This is holiness.

And it has been explained clearly that this must exist and can be achieved in the professional realm: to sanctify work, to sanctify oneself with work, to sanctify others at work. "Laborens Exercens" speaks clearly: work is for man, and not the contrary, because through work man can contribute to creation, as God ordered Adam, placing him in the Garden of Eden "so that he would cultivate it," well before hunting.

In offering his work to God, carried out with human perfection, without stain as prescribed for every offering raised to the divinity, inevitably man furthers his own business.

Q: Is it a working model?

Pugni: Most certainly. Many cases around the world are reported in the book in which an approach based on the centrality of the person, has produced striking results: from Cisco to Technogym, from S.C. Johnson Wax, to Southwest Airlines. Policies based on the truth of the human person pay, they do indeed!