Tag Archives: entrepreneur

Holy Saints… as wholly businesspersons

Every baptized Christian is in the business of striving to become a saint. Some canonized saints, however, literally ran businesses of their own — and quite honorably.

They experienced the kind of difficulties and successes commonly experienced in entrepreneurial ventures and conducted their enterprises with admirable integrity and virtue. In that regard, they serve as inspirational role models for businesspersons in the modern world.

Here is a glimpse of just a few such saints.

A good (business) man

The distinction of sole recognition as the patron saint of business people goes to St. Homobonus Tucingo, who lived in 12thcentury Cremona in what is now part of Italy. The son of a successful tailor and merchant, he inherited his father’s wealth as well as his desire to serve God and neighbor through his conduct of business.

He earned a reputation for scrupulous honesty, commercial success, and for donating the majority of his profits to the poor. He clearly understood that the financial blessings he received through his entrepreneurial gifts were meant to be shared with the needy around him. Some say the more he gave away, the more his business grew. At the age of 50, he gave up his tailoring business to devote himself full time to his charitable initiatives. Always a devout and pious man, he died at 86 while attending Mass, collapsing to the floor with his arms outstretched in the cruciform position.

“In addition to being a married layman, what was interesting about Homobonus is how quickly he was canonized,” says Dr. Robert Sexty, professor emeritus of business ethics at Memorial University of Newfoundland who used the saint to teach his graduate students how good corporate citizenship is good for business.

His story, Sexty says, raises questions about social responsibility. “There’s been a shift away from pure giving with no strings attached,” he said. “Businesses and individuals should consider doing good works that are not directly connected to a financial return.”

Homobonus did indeed achieve sainthood quickly: in 1199, two years after his death, he was canonized by decree of Pope Innocent III. “His business he looked upon as an employment given him by God,” read the papal bull. Homobonus, it continued, “is a saint by acquitting himself diligently, upon perfect motives of virtue and religion, of all the obligations of his profession.”

‘They were complementary and united’

Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin were each accomplished entrepreneurs even before they met in Alençon, France, in 1858 — the same year they wed and started a family that would include a daughter who would one day be known as St. Therese of Lisieux. Louis was a successful watchmaker and jeweler, while Zelie had a lacemaking business: she would design patterns, assign sections of the work to her employees, and then assemble the pieces into the exquisite lacework for which Alençon is known.

The Martins operated separate enterprises for awhile, but eventually Louis sold his shops so he could assist his wife as her manager and salesman. As something of an artist, he also designed lace. He traveled throughout France drumming up business for their enterprise.

The Martins “worked very hard and were conscientious employers,” says Fr. James Geoghegan, OCD, who has spoken and written widely on St. Therese and her family. “They had a developed sense of social responsibility, with a practical concern for the poor. Louis insisted that the lace workers be paid as they finished their work, and he took good care of them, especially when they were sick.”

Zelie’s preserved letters reveal the ups and downs she experienced in her business. “How much toil and hard work for this cursed Alençon lace, which  is filling up my suffering to the brim!” she wrote in 1866. “I earn a little bit of money, true, but my God, at what cost!” At times she expressed exasperation, as she did in 1868: “My business is going badly, really badly, it couldn’t get any worse.” But Zelie’s faith would always carry her through. “When I began my Alençon lace business, I ended up sick with all the worries,” she wrote earlier that same year. “Now I am more reasonable about it; I worry less, and I accept all the unpleasant obstacles that happen or could happen. I tell myself: the Lord wants it this way, and I don’t think about it anymore.”

Louis also provided concern and encouragement for his wife, as evidenced by letters he sent home during his sales trips. “You’re working too hard, you’re tiring yourself out,” he once wrote Zelie from Paris. “We’ll work hard, but God will take care of the rest. We’ll build up a small, prosperous business, but don’t be killing yourself in the process.”

As daughter Celine would later write in a biography of her father about her parents’ marriage: “They were complementary and united. Each one approved and gave a helping hand to their charitable commitments. The same for work: it was not so common that a father helped his spouse as [Louis] did with the children and even less so that he left his own work (that he loved so much) to help her work with her (and not in her place), to spend more time with her and to lighten her labors.”

When Zelie died of breast cancer in 1877 after 19 years of marriage, Louis left the lace business and moved his daughters to Lisieux so they could be near Zelie’s brother and his wife. Retired, he dabbled in a few small business ventures and property investments until he experienced declining health and, eventually, death in 1894.

Priest, martyr, and entrepreneur

St. Maximilian Kolbe is well known and remembered as the “saint of Auschwitz” for having stepped forward to volunteer to take the place of a married man with children who was selected for execution in a starvation bunker at the notorious World War II concentration camp in southern Poland. What is less known is that prior to his arrest by the Nazis, Fr. Kolbe was a tireless missionary who achieved great success in the publishing and communications industry.

As a young priest in his native Poland, he founded the monthly magazine Knights of the Immaculate and operated a printing press. In 1927, he founded a new Conventual Franciscan monastery near Warsaw that would become not only the largest monastery in the world but also a major religious publishing house; soon he would employ 700 friars, and his magazine would circulate 750,000 copies (two other magazines would reach peak circulations of over 200,000). Four years later, he founded a monastery and a newspaper in Japan before returning to his Poland monastery to start a radio station.

His publishing house in Poland was state of the art. Consulting the best business professors from Warsaw universities, he implemented a production scheme based on “scientific management” or “Taylorism,” an efficiency method popularized by American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylorism breaks down every action, job, or task into small and simple segments that can be analyzed and easily taught to employees. It would be credited for the immense wartime production from Allied factories, and it helped Fr. Kolbe to efficiently produce printed materials for the edification of his readers.

The Polish priest had other entrepreneurial visions he was unable to act on. He looked into using telegraph and television for outreach; he planned to build airstrips and use planes to distribute his publications more efficiently. Fascinated with astrophysics, he even developed a concept for an “ethereoplane,” a vehicle for space travel.

So impressive was his business acumen that a group of Polish businessmen has petitioned Pope Francis to name St. Maximilian Kolbe “the patron saint of entrepreneurs and start-ups beginning their business journey.” Their petition reads in

As entrepreneurs, we know very well that the world of business needs inspiring role models… We consider St. Maximilian Kolbe one of such people.

St. Peter Faber, the business whisperer?

St. Peter Faber, a 16th-century co-founder of the Society of Jesus and the first Jesuit priest, is a relatively new saint, having been canonized by Pope Francis in 2013. It was done without fanfare; the Pope, dispensing with the conventional canonization process requiring verification of miracles attributed to Faber’s intercession, merely signed a bull of canonization to recognize a new Jesuit saint.

He was a seminary roommate of St. Francis Xavier and actually taught Aristotelian philosophy to St. Ignatius of Loyola. Yet he remains in the shadow of those two holy missionaries, to the point that one of Faber’s biographers refers to him as “the other companion.”

St. Peter Faber was a great spiritual director whose ability to dialogue and teach patiently helped reform the Church and strengthen Catholics in their faith during the turbulent times of the Reformation. His pastoral counsel was often simple and practical: “Seek grace for the smallest things,” he wrote, “and you will also find grace to accomplish, to believe in, and to hope for the greatest things.”

Despite the fact he had no entrepreneurial experience, some have suggested Faber be considered a patron saint for business. Why is that?

Chris Lowney, author and popular speaker on leadership and business ethics, has suggested the wise Jesuit saint had some profound ideas to share about the role of business in society.

Overwhelmed by the rampant poverty in the city of Mainz, Germany, Faber estimated there were some 6,500 beggars and homeless wandering the streets. He did his best to tend to their basic needs, but envisioned a more permanent solution: “Perhaps if we [Jesuits] had a flair for business … and we had not such a [spiritual] harvest to be reaped … we could concern ourselves more with this problem.”

Here he was stating and implying several things:

Business can help alleviate poverty in society. Entrepreneurs support themselves and their families, and often provide jobs for others. All benefit from the dignity of work. Business owners must operate with concern for the common good of the community.

It takes a certain “flair” to run a business. Entrepreneurship requires particular gifts and talents. If a person has the God-given gifts to succeed in business, he or she must use those gifts for the greater glory of God, in keeping with sound moral and ethical values.

Spiritual goods take precedence. The Jesuits of his time were not businessmen because they were focused primarily on addressing the spiritual needs of the people, helping them navigate the path to eternal life. That points to a greater good: businesspersons must conduct their affairs in such a way as to recognize both the earthly needs and the spiritual well being of their employees, their customers, and the communities they serve. We need charitable outreach, but we also need a strong business economy in order to provide longterm solutions.

He may have been an outsider to the business world, but St. Peter Faber certainly makes an appropriate “other companion” to help guide the principles of business leaders today. The Australian Catholic University certainly thinks so: in 2016, administrators renamed their School of Business after him.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

…With a ‘Grit’ for Business

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is a saying expressing the power of family influence. For three Legate families, both intentional formation and the osmosis of shared lives brought forth a new generation looking very familiar indeed.

Home-court advantage

Matthew Pinto and his wife, Maryanne, parents of six children, are members of the Philadelphia Chapter. Matt is president and founder of Ascension Press, a Catholic media and faith formation company specializing in small group studies for Catholic adults and teens. And two of their sons own and operate a young company—Home Court Advantage®. It is 15-year-old James who started it two years ago, to paint lines for basketball courts in local area.

James, a sophomore at Archmere Academy High School, thought it would be cool to paint court lines under the family’s basketball hoop. “I have five brothers and we love playing basketball,” he said. “I found a stencil kit and painted it myself.”

The results so impressed a neighbor that he asked James to do the same for his court. When other neighbors started calling, James thought of making it a business. He went to his dad who offered advice and helped to create a single business model as well as one for a franchise.

“Even if it never becomes a franchise, I explained it is smart to have standard operating procedures, and to run a single location with the efficiencies of a franchise,” Matt said. “The boys are keen on the idea of a national franchise and hope to present their ideas to the producers of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Talking about business was something he began with his sons when they were all as young as seven or eight. “I heard that if you introduce your kids more intimately to your work—where fathers are often at their best from 9-5—the respect they give you will increase,” Matt said.

Michael, the oldest, is a junior finance major at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida and is president and co-owner of Home Court Advantage®. “When James painted our family court, it made playing basketball at home more fun,” he said.

Requests for painted courts began to pour in. “James and my dad called to see if I could help,” Michael said. “I was a freshman at Ave at the time. I had interned before at my Dad’s company and was looking for another internship, but the chance to run our own company was too big an opportunity to pass up. Plus, I wanted to help my brother.”

Their younger brother Andrew was brought in as a manager and painter along with other friends as painters. Working with their uncle, who specialized in the tradeshow fabricating business, they built a “puzzle-like” stencil, that folds into small pieces and allows for quick assembly at the job site and reduced painting time from five to two hours.

“My dad’s example made the idea of running a business plausible,” James said. He explained that owning his own business has given him a lot of confidence, while he has also learned to juggle sports and academics, not “letting other important things suffer.”

One of those important things, according to Matt, is God. “I have talked to them about tithing and giving back to God,” he said. “Ultimately this is God’s money and resources to use for good.”

Penchant for planning

Wayne Kandas and his wife Kay, parents of four children, are members of the Phoenix, Arizona Chapter. Wayne is the managing director and certified financial planner of Kandas Financial Group, which is a practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., a financial advisory company. Their son Christopher came on board while the firm was at MetLife and helped transition it to Ameriprise in June 2016. He graduated in 2015 with a business degree and minor in Catholic theology and immediately started working for the firm full time.

Wayne has always had an aptitude for finances. In grade school, he sold Grit magazine door to door in Plentywood, Montana, and saved $1,000 to help his parents buy a house.

Wayne became a baker from seventh grade through high school. “I made donuts before school so everyone smelled me coming down the hall,” he said. After high school, he attended DeVry University in Phoenix, Arizona for engineering and worked at a donut shop. Wayne had admired the tie pin of a customer who worked for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and struck up a conversation.

Later that day, Wayne got a call and was offered a job with the company. He worked there for 29 years and was the top producing financial planner for nine years straight and is number one in their Hall of Fame. In 1991, Wayne started the financial talk radio show Your Financial Plan and became known across the country.

When his oldest son Chris was a high school junior, he came to watch his dad at work one day. “I was the VP of my school’s debate club and a member of the National Forensics League,” Chris said. “As I sat in on my dad’s appointments, I noticed he presented tailored recommendations and defended investment decisions. It was a lot like speech and debate. I knew it was something that I could be good at as well as enjoy.”

The following summer, Chris came into the office every day. “He never asked for pay and did whatever I asked—all the grunt work,” Wayne said. “He was a natural.” Chris got married last year and now runs his dad’s practice. “I love being around him,” Wayne said. “I love the fact that my clients love him, too.”

Outside of work, Wayne leads music at his parish and Chris sings harmony with him. “We’re about more than money,” Wayne said. “I know Chris will carry the Catholic baton in a big way. Catholicism is a deep way of life for us.”

“I’m blessed beyond words to have so knowledgeable a mentor,” Chris said of his dad. As for work, Chris likens it to the parable of the talents. “We are entrusted with much and will be held accountable for how we exercise our dominion over others’ resources.”

At home in housing

William “Bill” Orosz and his wife, Jody, have three sons and are members of the Orlando, Florida Chapter. In 2007, Bill formed Hanover Capital Partners and its subsidiary, Hanover Land Company, as private real estate investment and development companies. His sons Stephen, Andrew, and Matthew work as vice presidents and also formed Hanover Family Builders.

“Currently, the family manages the development of 3,000 residential lots and have completed more than 2,500 homes over the past five years, with plans to continue that pace for years to come,” Bill explained. His own dad worked in real estate and they also occasionally worked together on fixer-uppers.

“It was always a great time with my dad, so housing became a family tradition,” Bill said. “By the time the boys were in college, I had built a significant home-building company (1,000+ homes per year) and they all worked summers doing manual labor and learning about the construction process.”

Andrew: “Although we all started down different paths after college — all with a tangential link to real estate — we were ultimately drawn to the family business. The three of us have very complementary skill sets that allow us to work well together. The positives are getting to work with people you trust and care for and who have your best interests at heart also.”

Steve: “Coming out of school with an accounting degree, I started in public accounting performing audits for all different industries. To me, real estate development and construction was an exciting field. But in general, buying land, completing site work and infrastructure improvements, monitoring home construction, and seeing a happy homeowner is a rewarding career.”

Matt: “Obviously the family experience in real estate made my career path more logical, but the real driver was the tangible and scalable ability to create value.”

Bill said he enjoys being “mentor-in-chief” and has complete confidence in his sons. “They run a top-notch company that is well respected,” he said. “It’s very rewarding for a dad to be able to work together with his children.”

PATTI MAGUIRE ARMSTRONG, who wrote the newly published book, Legatus @ 30, is an award-winning author and Catholic journalist, TV and radio commentator, and mother of 10.

Entrepreneurship as a spiritual vocation

Implicitly, and at times explicitly, faithful parishioners assume that the only real “calling” is to some kind of full-time work in the Church. In this view, lay people don’t really have a vocation. In 1891, canon law offered a simple but devastating definition of the lay person: “Lay: not clerical.” Since then, especially under the influence of the Second Vatican Council, a far more positive view has emerged — one that plumbs the depths of God’s missionary objectives both inside and outside the Church.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico

Looking at the gift of business acumen in an alternative way, however, enables us to grasp its spiritual and moral potential. An entrepreneur is someone who connects capital, labor and material factors in order to produce a good or service. In The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak argued that the entrepreneur’s creativity is akin to God’s creative activity in the first chapter of Genesis. In this sense, the entrepreneur participates in the original cultural mandate, given to God by Adam and Eve, to subdue the earth. The entrepreneurial vocation is a sacred call similar to that of being a parent, even if it’s not as sublime.

For several years, I have participated in programs designed to teach seminarians the importance of the free economy and the responsibilities of the entrepreneur. For many of these students, the ideas presented have led to eye-opening experiences. Students discover that the freemarket system is about creating wealth, about finding more efficient ways of serving others, and about providing people with jobs and investment opportunities. They discover that the chasm separating prosperity and morality is no longer insuperable.

In these seminars, I often mention George Gilder’s extraordinary book Wealth and Poverty. It can even be argued, I think, that Gilder is something of an intellectual entrepreneur. His book has been credited with being the intellectual force behind the 1980s’ supply-side revolution, which forced economists and policymakers to consider for the first time how government policy, especially in the area of taxation, affects human choices. The book’s popularity illustrates well how someone outside academia can exert tremendous influence on American economic life. In my view, however, Gilder accomplished something much more important by insisting that entrepreneurship is a morally legitimate profession.

Gilder regards entrepreneurs as among the most misunderstood and underappreciated groups in society. As visionaries with practical instincts, entrepreneurs combine classical and Christian virtues to advance their own interests and those of society. Gilder thinks it’s a mistake to associate capitalism with greed — an association with altruism would be far more accurate. When people accept the challenge of an entrepreneurial vocation, they have implicitly decided to meet the needs of others through the goods or services they produce. If the entrepreneur’s investments are to return a profit, the entrepreneur must be “other-directed.” Ultimately, business persons in a market economy simply cannot be both self-centered and successful.

Wealth and Poverty’s final chapter is perhaps the least read but most crucial. Here Gilder presents the theory that entrepreneurship is an act of faith, an inescapably religious act. Fusing traditional Christian morality with a celebration of growth and change helps us discern how knowledge and discovery are essential elements of enterprise.

Long before Wealth and Poverty was published, an entire school of economics had grown up around Joseph Schumpeter’s insight into entrepreneurship. According to Schumpeter, it was entrepreneurship — more than any other economic institution — that prevented economic and technological lethargy from retarding economic growth. He thought that the function of entrepreneurs is “to reform or revolutionize the pattern of production by exploiting an invention … for producing a new commodity or producing an old one in a new way, by opening up a new source of supply of materials or a new outlet for products, by reorganizing an industry.”

Entrepreneurs, as agents of change, encourage the economy to adjust to population increases, resource shifts, and changes in consumer needs and desires. Without entrepreneurs, we would face a static economic world not unlike the stagnant economic swamps that socialism brought about in central Europe.

The economic analysis that has its roots in Schumpeter’s work taught that entrepreneurs are impresarios, visionaries who organize numerous factors, take risks, and combine resources to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Entrepreneurs drive the economy forward by anticipating the wishes of the public and creating new ways of organizing resources. In short, they are men and women who create jobs, discover and apply new cures, bring food to those in need, and help dreams become realities.

FR. ROBERT A. SIRICO is the founder of The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. This article is reprinted with permission from his 2001 essay The Entrepreneurial Vocation.

Of sharks and saints

My family is hooked on Shark Tank. On this show, self-made millionaires (“sharks”) meet aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs, analyze their products and business models, and decide whether or not to invest in their companies.

Lance Richey

Lance Richey

As the father of several teenagers, I hope the program teaches them about how new businesses are created — as well as the necessity of hard work and risk-taking for success in life. (Added bonus: It’s also addictively fun to watch.)

Some of the products featured are truly impressive and deserving of success: A radically improved sippy cup, a smartphone-operated lock that could revolutionize home and business security, a long-lasting and hygienic household sponge that cleans effectively without scratching surfaces. Products like these provide value and improve the quality of life for customers, showing the dynamic creativity of the free market at its best.

Shark-Tank2Other products? Well … not so much. A bacon-cooking alarm clock? Wooden bowties? A bicycle-powered smoothie blender? An automated sunscreen application booth? Edible tableware? Sadly, all these products were pitched on the show. I’m amazed that anyone thought these were good ideas. Even more amazing is that there seems to be little or no correlation between the usefulness of the products being pitched and their appeal to the sharks. No one asks whether these products will actually improve people’s lives. Instead, the only question asked is whether or not there is a market for them.

Some ideas seem to thrive off customers’ gullibility and impulsiveness, such as the Internet business offering customized (and poorly done) drawings of cats for anyone willing to pay $9.95. Yet one investor paid $25,000 for part-ownership of the company. Eventually, thanks to the publicity generated by the show, almost 19,000 customers made orders. Other than the owners and investors, who could have benefitted from this service?

Examples of such worthless products are legion. Plastic cups with built-in shot glasses on the bottom? (The perfect gift for the fledgling college dropout in your life.) Energy bars made from crickets? No thanks. Beer-flavored ice cream? I’d rather eat the cricket bars. But investors’ willingness to fund them seems almost limitless. Almost. (The beer-flavored ice cream failed to find any takers.)

shark-tankDesigner dog apparel? All-natural organic dog treats? Colored hairspray to brighten your pets? The closet capitalist in me feels a grudging respect for people clever enough to sell such ridiculous items. But the theologian in me has to ask: Are any of these things really necessary? Do they improve the quality of our lives (or, for that matter, those of our pets)? Jesus tells us that even dogs get the scraps from the master’s table, but he never said anything about a line of cake mixes for your pooch. In a world where untold millions go hungry, are such items even morally defensible?

Notably missing from Shark Tank and from our consumeristic culture in general, is the Catholic understanding of “the common good” — that is, the idea that ultimately products and services exist for the good of people, not the other way around. Instead, the show treats customers not as persons to be served but as consumers to be exploited, and the show considers the best product to be one that maximizes the seller’s profit rather than improving a customer’s life.

The free market can be a wonderful thing, allowing individuals with creativity and initiative to improve their own lives and those of others. But, as the Catholic tradition has always held, true freedom is freedom for the good, not just freedom from external control. Unless we are willing to subordinate the forces of the marketplace to a true vision of human flourishing, we will end up enslaving ourselves.

The failure of communism shows that totalitarian governments are incapable of replacing the marketplace in producing or distributing wealth. However, a mindless consumerism based solely on generating and satisfying material wants without reference to the dignity of individuals and the needs of society is hardly better. Indeed, as Pope Francis reminds us, in God’s eyes the two are not very different.

Shark Tank contestants always end their sales pitches with: “Who wants to make a deal?” As Catholics, we should instead ask: “What does it profit a man to gain the entire world if he loses his soul?” Perhaps there is a reason sharks are never mentioned in the Bible.

LANCE RICHEY is dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind

Nurturing entrepreneurism

John Hunt: The entrepreneurial spirit must be cultivated, practiced, and protected . . .

John Hunt

John Hunt

Prior to joining Legatus as its executive director, I enjoyed a career in banking. Community banking, actually. That career path was not accidental, although at certain times  it was clear that the Holy Spirit was guiding every step.

My years in banking were rewarding in many ways. I chose community banking (or it chose me) because of my proximity to my clients, be they families, civic organizations, governmental units or local businesses. The responsibility for serving a segment of the community’s financial needs was a privilege.

Not surprisingly, my three-decade career was punctuated by learning hard lessons, encountering contradictions and observing the wisdom, virtue, perseverance and integrity of so many good people.

The entrepreneurs I served were particularly inspiring. These are the men and women who risked so much in their desire to achieve, provide for their families and contribute to the quality of life in the community. As defined by Merriam-Webster: “en-tre-pre-neur, noun: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Yes, to one degree or another we all encounter risk — in the work we perform, in our travels to and fro, or in the plans we make to create better lives for our families. But the entrepreneur “risks it all” every day, every month, every year. Many succeed, but many more fail. Yet the passion to “accomplish,” to leave an indelible mark, however insignificant, on the world and on the culture burns within the heart of the entrepreneur.

Nowhere is the entrepreneurial assumption of risk in service to Our Lord and His Church more visible than in the membership of Legatus. The majority of Legates are or were the founders, owners or family successors to a dream — a dream that was then placed before the Lord as a gift, trusting that He would “prosper the work of our hands” (Ps 90:17).

But this entrepreneurial spirit must be cultivated, practiced, and protected if it is to survive. From our nation’s earliest days and under the inspiration of our Founders, the United States has been a land of opportunity, protected by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It’s been carefully nurtured by people of good will, all under the protection of God.

May our prayer be that the spirit of freedom and free enterprise that marked our country’s founding reside in our hearts — and in those who lead us in these challenging times. God Bless America! LM

JOHN HUNT is Legatus’ executive director. He and his wife Kathie are charter members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter.

Entrepreneurs in God’s service

The spirituality of work deepens our understanding of the entrepreneur’s calling . . .

John J. Hunt

As one who has experienced Legatus for almost 20 years, there’s no question that my fellow Legates are honored to participate in the free enterprise system here in the U.S. and abroad.

For all of its deficiencies and apparent abuses, this model of economic progress has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system developed by man. Central to the free enterprise system is the role of the entrepreneur. Having dedicated much of my professional life to serving the financial requirements of entrepreneurs, fostering the growth of their commercial endeavors and sharing in their successes and ever-present challenges, I regard the entrepreneur as an extraordinary individual who, in most instances, is a source of inspiration to his family, to those he serves and to society.

According to Pope Paul VI, this is as it should be. In his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, he writes: “In the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfill himself, for every life is a vocation” (#15). The inherent value of work and the spiritual component attached to it, the Pope says, lead to a deeper understanding of the vocation or calling of the entrepreneur.

Legatus executives, many of them entrepreneurs, are living their faith in the fullness of their work — and in service to society’s development — as a reflection of God’s love and mercy that He desires for us to enjoy on earth as a foretaste of eternity.

The spirit, drive and trust that inspire entrepreneurs to engage the world are ennobled for the Legatus entrepreneur through the surrender of his mind, will and heart to the Lord’s plan.

Of course, we are all called to serve God in the person of those he places before us. May we submit ourselves to his work — even in the most insignificant details of each day, elevating those details to the level of prayer: prayer for those whom we serve and prayer that courageous, prayerful, competent individuals will always view entrepreneurship as an elevated calling in our service to God and our fellow man.

John Hunt is Legatus’ executive director. He and his wife Kathie are members of Legatus’ Chicago Chapter.

The invisible sources of entrepreneurship

Michael J. Miller contends that certain criteria must be in place for entrepreneurs to take a risk and start a new business. They require specific institutional and cultural foundations, without which they don’t emerge. We take these criteria for granted in the West, but in developing countries the foundation for business to flourish is weak .  . . . 

Dr. Michael Miller

There is great enthusiasm for entrepreneurship these days. There are social entrepreneurs, intellectual entrepreneurs, educational entrepreneurs and even intra-preneurs (entrepreneurs within their own companies).

Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are held up as model citizens. Magazines like Entrepreneur and Fast Company highlight a culture of entrepreneurship. President Obama even has an initiative dedicated to promoting it. In short, entrepreneurs are cool.

This is a generally a good development, yet I fear a superficial one. While there are dangers to some current images of the entrepreneur as a radical individual beyond good and evil like those portrayed in the film The Social Network, entrepreneurs do play an essential role in society and it’s good that we celebrate them. What is often lacking, however, is a requisite appreciation of the moral and institutional foundations that allow for a culture of entrepreneurship to develop.

Entrepreneurs don’t just pop out of nowhere. Nor are they a type of superman that transcends the culture around them. Rather they require specific institutional and cultural foundations, without which they don’t emerge. Look for example at the poor countries throughout the developing world. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has noted, the developing world “is teeming with entrepreneurs.” So why do these countries remain so poor? It’s not as if the people lack an entrepreneurial spirit. What they lack are the foundations that allow them to develop their entrepreneurial capacity and convert them into successful, wealth-creating businesses.

Entrepreneurs take risks, they see opportunities that others do not, and they turn those opportunities into businesses. It’s perhaps counterintuitive, but this risk-taking actually requires stable social foundations. Entrepreneurs need to know that ground is solid before they risk a jump. These foundations include rule of law, clear private property rights, freedom of association, free exchange, and strong families and communities that encourage a culture of trust. In the West, we take these foundations for granted, like fish do water. But without them entrepreneurship would dry up. Let’s look at a couple of them.

Private property. Clear private property rights are essential for entrepreneurship. In some parts of the developing world over 50% of the land has no clear title. Without title people are reticent to make any improvements because their work could be taken from them. Without title they cannot use their land as collateral for a loan to start a business. Imagine how much entrepreneurship we would see in the U.S. if we weren’t sure who owned the land our business was on. Do you think we’d invest a lot of money into developing it? The Catholic Church has always stressed the importance of private property rights — and for more than economic reasons. In his defense of private property in Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII stressed the important role property plays in allowing families the space to live out their freedom and responsibilities.

Rule of law. Rule of law is the opposite of the rule of men. It means that there are clear, transparent rules under which everyone operates. How many entrepreneurs would take the risk to start a new venture if they couldn’t be sure that the contracts would be enforced in a fair manner? Again, predictability and justice are prerequisites for risk-taking.

Free association. In his defense of the new mendicant orders, St. Thomas Aquinas argued in 1256 that freedom of association was a natural right. Leo XIII relied on this for his defense of unions in Rerum Novarum, and it applies to businesses, universities and other voluntary associations that make up civil society. When the rules and regulations make it difficult to start or maintain a business, it undermines both freedom and entrepreneurship. There is a high correlation between economic freedom and prosperity.

Free exchange. When people have the freedom to buy and sell in a market (assuming it is not something morally evil of course), it creates incentives for entrepreneurs to build businesses. When markets are restricted, it’s usually the largest companies with the biggest influence that lobby the government to protect their industries and keep out competition. This not only stifles small- and medium-sized businesses, it hurts the poor who lack political and economic influence.

Culture of trust. Market economies that enable entrepreneurs to take risks and flourish do not long succeed if built upon the radical individualist type of entrepreneur portrayed in The Social Network. Sustainable market economies require deep levels of trust and honesty, otherwise transaction costs increase and entrepreneurship decreases. This culture of trust and human virtues that underlie it are not created by the market economy itself. They are developed in strong families, a rich religious and moral culture, and a vibrant civil society.

These are the foundations of entrepreneurship. Business people need to lead by understanding, explaining and defending them. Entrepreneurship is part of the American spirit — it’s in our blood, but it won’t last without the institutional and spiritual capital that gives it life.

Michael Matheson Miller is a research fellow and director of media at the Acton Institute. He is currently leading PovertyCure, an international network of organizations which promotes enterprise solutions to poverty rooted in a Christian understanding of the human person.