Vocation of the Business Leader Conference

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:15 PM PDT

From October 11 to 13 the Center for Business Ethics at SU organized a conference inspired by The Vocation of the Business Leader (VOTBL), an important document released by the Vatican that discusses the role of business in society.  VOTBL was released in March, 2012 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 


Why is VOTBL so important?  Catholic social teaching goes back to 1891 with the publication of Rerum Novarum, and the various encyclicals over the years have dealt with a number of issues related to business indirectly, not directly, and often in language that is hard to follow.  This is the first document from the Vatican to directly address the role of business in society and to do so in a readable and sympathetic format.  

One of the keynote speakers for the conference was Professor Michael Naughton, from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.  Naughton was one of the chief architects of the document.  In his opening address he gave a nice overview of the document.  He noted the document is asking "What is the nature of the good business?" and what does that mean for a business leader?  He reminded the audience of "The Logic of Gift," or basically what is known as, "To those who much is given, much is expected."  Business leaders have been given much, and therefore should be grateful for that.  That gratitude should motivate them to lead a good business.


What does a good business look like?  Naughton provided a nice framework for the six core principles of a good business:


"Good goods" - provide goods and services that meet true human needs and maintain solidarity with the poor by also meeting their basic needs.


"Good work" - create a workplace that supports the dignity of the worker and practice the principle of subsidiarity in the organizational structure.


"Good wealth" - create wealth in a sustainable manner and distribute it in a just fashion.


(Naughton recalled that we first met in 1991, when I was at Creighton University and part of a group organizing a conference to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum.  Mike noted that he was just out of graduate school and happy to find a group of scholars with interests similar to his own.  He has gone on to be one of the world's leading scholars on Catholic Social Teaching in the economic sphere.)


The keynote address was followed by a series of panel discussions throughout the day on the 12th and into the morning of the 13th.  They were organized to provide different faith perspectives on the documents, so that not only Catholics were involved in the discussion.  The organizers worked hard to make this an interreligious event.  Protestant, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, and other perspectives were included. 


The panels included a mix of highly regarded academics, such as Dr. Patricia Wehane from DePaul University, Dr. Ken Goodpaster from the University of St. Thomas, and Dr. Moses Pava, business dean at Yeshiva University.  They also included representatives from the business sector such as Sherri Flies from Costco Wholesale, Brian Mistele, founder of INRIX, and Mark Seidl from REI.


John Dienhart, our Frank Shrontz Endowed Chair in Professional Ethics, was the main organizer, but he had lots of help from colleagues in Albers and across the campus.  This included Professors Jessica Ludescher and Marc Cohen in Albers, and Michael Trice from STM and Fr. Peter Ely, SJ, SU's VP for Mission and Ministry.  There were plenty of students who assisted, especially John's graduate assistant JP McCarvel.


The conference was a big success.  We estimate that over 200 student, faculty, staff, and community members participated.  Congratulations to John and his team for putting it together!


VOTBL needs to be part of the student experience in the Albers School, and we are in process of figuring that out.  We have had some success with that, but more work needs to be done.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read VOTBL if you have not already done so!