Tag Archives: Lance Richey

Lenten thoughts on management and mortality

Leo Tolstoy’s classic short story, The Death of Ivan Ilych, opens with a group of lawyers debating the legal niceties of a lawsuit when they learn their friend and colleague, Ivan Ilych, has died. While they’re shocked and saddened by the news, each one secretly feels relief that it is Ivan Ilych and not himself who is dead, and they quickly turn their conversation back to their business affairs.

As the story unfolds and the full circle of Ilych’s family and friends is encountered, we learn that for all of them life goes on and their daily mundane tasks and petty ambitions recapture their attention. After all, it is Ivan Ilych who is dead, not them.

The reader’s first response to their attitude is one of shock at their selfishness, though as the story unfolds it becomes clear that these characters are not, in fact, selfish or heartless by any reasonable standard. Rather, the story’s greatest shock is that of self-recognition when we look into the mirror which Tolstoy holds up. Each of the characters is us, frightened of and seeking to deny our own inevitable deaths. He confronts us with the plainest, yet most difficult truth of all: Death comes for us all, and the world continues on without us. Like any absolute truth, the fact of our own mortality can be depressing. However, it can also be a moment of insight and grace, when we come to a deeper understanding of who we are and how we should live in light of that.

If we are to die and leave this life — and make no mistake, we all will — what do we want to leave behind? Financial security for our families? Perhaps, though inherited wealth can be as much a curse as a blessing. A reputation for shrewdness in business and a keen eye for opportunity? Naturally, though success breeds envy, which in turn produces as many criticisms as it does compliments (and usually many more). A dominant position in the market which guarantees future business growth? For every Apple there is a Kodak, and for every Walmart a Montgomery Ward. In the words of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity! … A bad business God has given to human beings to be busied with” (1:2, 13).

Despite all our authority in a company, our ability to shape the world in which it operates is vanishingly small. As countless entrepreneurs have been reminded since 2008, often we cannot control or even anticipate events that will bring our best-laid plans to naught. Were it permitted, we should bring our articles of incorporation with us on Ash Wednesday so that the priest might say to them as well, “Remember, O Corporation, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return.” And when that inevitably happens, others will mourn publicly, while thinking privately, “It is Lehman Brothers (or Enron or Bethlehem Steel or …) and not me who is dead.”

Given this unpleasant reality, what should we do? If a wise person is one who knows the truth and lives in accordance with it, there is much wisdom to be had in accepting our mortality and managing our businesses in light of it. While we cannot choose our fates, we can choose our principles and adhere to them through good times and bad. And while we cannot control the global marketplace, we can create a corporate culture that reflects our values and an organizational chart to achieve them. A sincere respect for the dignity of our employees, a commitment to serving our customers faithfully, an unflinching demand for financial integrity are not just “best business practices”; they are (or should be) living expressions of our deepest principles.

By living out these principles and requiring others to do so as well, we shape our coworkers for the better and, in a very real sense, live on through them and continue to serve the Lord even after we die. By creating a work environment grounded in dignity, respect, and honesty, we do not guarantee that our individual businesses will flourish or even survive us. In fact, adherence to these principles may even disadvantage us against less scrupulous competitors. Indeed, at times such failure may even be required of us. But as Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).

Death comes to every man, woman and business eventually, but for those who believe — and ground their companies in that faith — it is not death but life that has the final word.

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

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

A tale of two “Francises”

The choice of papal names often communicates something important about the man just elected pope. In 1903, Pope St. Pius X signaled his desire to continue the confrontation with modernity begun by Blessed Pius IX during the 19th century.

Lance Richey

Lance Richey

Similarly, Pope St. John Paul II (following John Paul I) indicated his embrace of the reforms initiated by St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI in the Second Vatican Council.

When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio chose the name Francis, he too was sending a message to the world. Like St. Francis of Assisi some 800 years earlier, Pope Francis was saying that his leadership style would be based on personal humility and his agenda built around solidarity with the poor. The near-universal love expressed for both the Pope and the saint shows the perennial appeal of this message. These two “Francises” have valuable lessons for leaders.

First, they show the immense power that comes from rejecting the trappings of power. Saint Francis famously stripped naked publicly to renounce all claims to his father’s wealth and social status, becoming a beggar in the process. When Pope Francis first stepped out onto the balcony after his election, he wore only a simple white cassock and black leather shoes, rejecting the fur cape and red slippers traditionally worn by new popes. These were decisive moments in establishing their leadership style and moral authority.

In both instances, the message was clear: True authority comes not from ceremonies, titles and fine clothing, but from humility and authenticity. Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with expensive suits and spacious offices; they have a legitimate place in most corporate cultures. Nevertheless, both Francises remind us that these things are only symbols of leadership, not substitutes for it. The greatest courage we can show as leaders is to step out from behind the perks and titles that come with our offices. When they are surrendered (if only temporarily), the leader behind the title is revealed, for better or for worse.

Second, both men not only declared their solidarity with the poor but actually demonstrated it. The Holy Father chose the name Francis when, during the final ballot his election had become inevitable, a fellow cardinal whispered to him, “Don’t forget the poor!” Spending his first Holy Thursday washing the feet of prisoners and non-Catholics rather than dignitaries, Pope Francis made good his promise. Likewise, after his conversion, St. Francis sought out the poor and sick, ministering to those who had nothing to offer in return. In effect, the new CEO made his first stop not in the boardroom but in the mailroom.

By doing so, these men — in modern language — transformed and humanized the “corporate culture” of the Church. Their example challenges every leader to ask, “Who are the poor in my company?” and “How am I serving and honoring them?” Every company, even the most successful, has its “poor” — those without organizational power, social status or economic security. Of course, hard decisions will always have to be made about hiring, firing and compensation. Not even popes and saints can avoid making them. However, a faithful Catholic leader will always remember that these decisions are always about human beings deserving of our love and concern.

Finally, both men recognize the absolute necessity of integrity for any leader. Toward the end of his life, St. Francis met a peasant who offered him a ride. During the trip, the man asked, “Are you the Francis about whom everyone is talking?” When he replied that he was, the peasant told him, “Well, make sure you are as good as people say you are, because they have put their trust in you. Don’t do anything to destroy their faith and hope!” Saint Francis responded by kissing the man’s feet.

Every leader — from Supreme Pontiff to shift manager — needs to hear the same warning on a regular basis. Hypocrisy is a great threat to any leader’s authority. But such behavior is usually the result of deceiving ourselves rather than seeking to deceive others; we simply don’t know our own weaknesses and limitations and confuse our true selves with the image we present to others.

However, once I summon the courage to see myself as I truly am, flaws and all, I am then able to see my coworkers as God sees them, flaws and all. Then, and only then, can I recognize their unique value and equal dignity as individuals. Humility leads to authenticity, which in turn leads to solidarity. Only when we possess all three can we call ourselves leaders in the spirit of Francis. Not a bad goal for any leader.

LANCE RICHEY, PH.D., is an associate professor of theology and director of the John Duns Scotus Honors Program at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Cultivating the virtues of subsidiarity

LANCE BYRON RICHEY writes that it’s easy to criticize power-hungry politicians, but if we want leaders who support limited government, they must come from our own ranks. Cultivating leaders demands cultivating virtues. This means modeling humility and patience in our own careers, sharing responsibilities, and seeking out employees who do likewise . . .

Lance Richey

Lance Richey

ObamaCare. The Patriot Act. Common Core. Increasingly in America, power and policy have been centralized in the hands of the federal government at the expense not only of state and local authorities, but of individual freedom as well.

As a result — from insurance to illegal immigration to light bulbs — decisions affecting every aspect of our lives are being made by an ever-shrinking circle of politicians and bureaucrats. The concentration of too much power in too few hands poses serious threats to our economic and political freedoms. Worst of all, we as a people risk losing those Christian virtues necessary for a free and democratic society when we ignore the principle of subsidiarity.

This principle, first stated in Pope Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching. In 1931, when fascist and communist dictatorships across Europe were threatening the freedom of individuals and the Church (sound familiar?), this encyclical forcefully rejected the belief that the government alone can or should organize our lives.

Against those who would identify the interests of the State with those of society as a whole, the Church insists that the common good is not only distinct from, but often incompatible with, the growth of centralized government power. A free and healthy society requires a strong network of voluntary associations — churches, social clubs, youth sports leagues, chambers of commerce, etc. — to respond to the community’s needs precisely because they are closest to them.

Pius acknowledged that government is a necessary part of any well-ordered society. However, he insisted, it’s only one part, and should therefore limit its role to doing “those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them.” We may legitimately disagree about what the government “alone” is capable of doing: Is a single-payer system the only way to provide health insurance for all? Who should decide the nutritional content of school lunches? Nevertheless, the principle of subsidiarity tells us that, when passing laws and setting policies to address a problem, we should always err on the side of those who are closest to and most affected by it.

But this principle extends beyond the voting booth, and into every boardroom where Catholic business leaders daily make decisions which shape not only their corporate cultures but also their own personalities, and those of the people who serve under them. Too often, the vices we decry in government are the ones which beset our own businesses. Therefore, before complaining too loudly about the corruption in Washington, we should examine our own org charts (and consciences). Do we, as individuals and companies, possess the two great virtues of subsidiarity: humility and patience?

Humility, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “tempers and restrains the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately.” Humility enables us to recognize both personal and organizational limits, set realistic goals, and empower others who possess the necessary expertise to accomplish those tasks. Humility is not the same as fear or timidity. But a humble leader doesn’t confuse I can’t with we can’t — or I wish for I can.

Subsidiarity also demands and cultivates the virtue of patience, since sharing planning and delegating authority demand collaboration rather than mere obedience. Tyrants may dictate, but leaders (and especially Catholic leaders) must inspire, motivate and guide. Of course, eventually decisions must be made and action taken, but it’s what happens before that moment which most determines corporate success. Any business executive will tell you collaborative leadership requires almost superhuman patience. But having such patience when building a team around a common vision can call forth superhuman efforts by your employees, who will view themselves not as mere workers but as co-workers towards a shared goal.

It’s easy to criticize power-hungry politicians, but if we really want leaders who understand and support limited government, they must come from our own ranks. Cultivating leaders demands we also cultivate virtues. This means modeling humility and patience in our own careers, sharing responsibilities and recognition with others, and seeking out employees who do likewise. Long before the era of consultants and management gurus, Pius XI clearly saw what makes any organization (public or private) prosper. The principle of subsidiarity can help us decide whether we are growing a new generation of leaders with the virtues of humility and patience, or just adding more fertilizer to the existing crop.

DR. LANCE BYRON RICHEY is an associate professor of theology and director of the John Duns Scotus Honors Program at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Lawrence Welk and Catholic business ethics

LANCE RICHEY writes that Lawrence Welk was not only a musical and financial success, but he was a man of profound faith who never missed a chance to go to daily Mass. Long after his death, Welk’s business and faith legacy continue through the many enterprises he founded. Lawrence Welk embodied the essence of a true Catholic businessperson . . . 

Lance Richey

Lance Richey

Television legend. Chart-topping recording artist. Best-selling author. Real estate tycoon. From self-taught musician to self-made millionaire, Lawrence Welk’s career spanned seven decades and would be the envy of anyone in business or entertainment today.

A generation after his death in 1992, The Lawrence Welk Show remains a staple on public television, the family-owned Welk Music Group is one of the largest independent record companies in the world, and Welk Resorts manages properties stretching from Palm Springs to Branson, Mo.

Welk’s private life was even more successful. Happily married for 61 years to his wife Fern, he was the beloved father of three children and grandfather (or great-grandfather) to many more. And his family did not end there. He called his employees the “Welk musical family” and treated them as such, encouraging their personal and spiritual growth as much as their professional advancement. To them, he became not only an employer but a mentor and role model as well, a father-figure in the fullest sense of the word.

Maestro, CEO, husband, father and friend. Lawrence Welk was known by many titles throughout his life. Less well known, though, is the title which meant the most to him and made everything else in his life possible: Catholic. Born into a devout farm family in 1903, faith and music were inseparably linked in Welk’s childhood. His earliest musical memories were of the parish choir at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Strasburg, N.D. Welk admitted the music was “part of the reason I loved to go to church, but even if there had been no music, nothing could have kept any of us from attending Mass every Sunday.”


Lawrence Welk, circa 1965

Indeed, his father’s faith was the main reason he objected to Lawrence leaving the farm to pursue a career in music, telling him, “I don’t want you to lose your faith and fall into a life of sin.”

These concerns were quickly proven baseless. Welk’s early career, a seemingly endless string of one-night stands across the Midwest, frequently found his band members sleeping in the automobile while Lawrence attended early morning Mass in some small church along the route to his next gig. When his professional life became more stable, he was a daily communicant who could often be found in prayer before the tabernacle. At every point in his career, Welk looked to God for comfort and guidance with his personal and professional difficulties.

Perhaps the lowest point was when his band quit in 1931, telling him bluntly that he would never be a success in music. Searching out a nearby church, he recalled, “I had a sudden flash of insight. I realized that we are all vulnerable human beings, and whenever we put our love and faith into another human being, we are open to hurts and disappointments.” Given this, “the only one to trust completely is God, and once you can understand that, and learn not to bear any malice or bitterness in your heart, your life will be much happier.”


Lawrence Welk, circa 1935

The next 40 years certainly proved his doubters wrong, as he rose from small-time bandleader to television star. By the early 1970s, he was not only a national icon but also a business executive upon whom dozens of employees relied for their livelihood. In building his entertainment empire, though, he had always placed people first, pioneering a profit-sharing system and incentive plan which encouraged employees to work together to realize their fullest potential. The continued success of his many businesses shows how sound his system is.

But for Lawrence Welk, it was never only about money: It was about people and the God in whose image they are made. Looking back on his career, he reflected: “Our system had given us material advantages and extra benefits certainly, but more than that, it had given us those intangibles of good will and mutual helpfulness.” In the balance sheet of eternity, he saw the true measure of success in his business, namely, “that feeling of love, the feeling that we truly cared for each other. Our system was an extension of the Christian philosophy of love-in-action.”

Business as Christian love in action? Not what one usually hears today, either from the Church or society. But in a corporate world overflowing with mission statements, motivational speakers, organizational experts, and human resource specialists, Lawrence Welk embodied (both in word and deed) the essence of a true Catholic businessperson. No mean feat for a North Dakota farm boy — or, one might add, for a saint.

DR. LANCE RICHEY is an associate professor of theology and director of the John Duns Scotus Honors Program at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Elias of Cortona: St. Francis’ CEO

LANCE RICHEY writes that had it not been for St. Francis’ astute CEO — Elias of Cortona — the Franciscan order would likely have floundered in the saint’s own lifetime. Elias gave form and structure to Francis’ endeavors and ensured its stability and longevity. Elias weathered a sizable setback, but his legacy continues . . . .

Lance Richey

Lance Richey12

For over 800 years, St. Francis of Assisi’s embrace of radical poverty and all-consuming love for Christ has inspired people of every faith and no faith. Even during his lifetime, Francis’ reputation for holiness attracted thousands of followers who looked to him for guidance.

One quality which he utterly lacked, however, was administrative ability. Recognizing this even before his death, Francis surrendered the administration of his fast-growing order to one of his first followers, Elias of Cortona (1180-1253). Stepping into Francis’ shoes while he still lived, and performing those duties which Francis himself could or would not, Brother Elias almost single-handedly turned an unruly (and potentially heretical) spiritual movement into a disciplined religious order whose work continues to this day. If Francis eventually merited the title of “saint” (and no one ever deserved it more), Brother Elias equally deserves the title of St. Francis’ CEO.

As any manager knows, the difficult task of making the various branches of a complex organization work harmoniously on a daily basis is rarely the stuff from which legends are made. But no legend ever takes place without it. For instance, Francis’ visit to the sultan during the Crusades, and his attempt to substitute dialogue for armed conflict, has become a symbol of hope for peace between religions. Less well known but no less important is the fact that Elias had already been in the Holy Land leading the work of the order for two years before Francis’ arrival — like any good branch manager would!

Later, as Francis’ health declined and he withdrew from leadership, the order desperately needed a structure and rule of life to hold it together. At this critical moment in its history, it was Elias who oversaw the order’s organization and in 1223 obtained papal approval of the rule which would carry it beyond Francis’ lifetime. Without approval, the Franciscan movement might well have died before its founder, but Elias’ organizational genius kept it alive.

After Francis’ death in 1226, the order once again looked to Elias to design, raise funds for, and supervise construction of a basilica in Assisi for the newly canonized saint. This remarkable church was completed barely a dozen years after Francis’ death, while Elias also served as minister general of the Franciscan order! The Basilica of St. Francis’ existence is due almost entirely to Elias, whose name and image appear nowhere in the beautiful carvings and frescoes of Francis which decorate it.

What was Elias’ reward for his immense labors on behalf of Francis and his order? As is common for strong leaders in any large organization, it was more often opposition than gratitude. The explosive growth of the order and its new duties on behalf of the Church required both property and education, which Francis had always rejected. Elias’ acceptance of them, and the wealth and prestige which they brought, seemed a betrayal of Francis’ vision to his earliest followers. Elias’ refusal to defer to the more educated and ambitious priests who flocked to the order after Francis’ death drew the ire of this powerful group.

A victim of his own success in expanding the Franciscan movement’s size and work, an increasingly isolated Elias was not only forced from leadership but from the order itself. Finding himself on the wrong side of the political struggles between pope and emperor, Elias was excommunicated, reconciling with the Church only on his deathbed in 1253. With this sad history as a pretext, his opponents quickly buried his accomplishments along with him, hidden in the shadow of the saint whom he loved and served throughout his life.

Sadly, Brother Elias remains largely forgotten today. Few outside of the Franciscan order have ever heard of him, and within the Franciscan family his death is not even observed on the liturgical calendar. This is the cruelest irony of all, since without him, there would likely be no Franciscan calendar — or an order to celebrate it.

If others have forgotten Brother Elias, though, I would suggest that business leaders in the 21st century should not. In him, they can find a valuable reminder that the ultimate value and meaning of our work must be measured, not by quarterly reports and annual reviews, but by the families we sustain and countless lives we touch through our work.

Likewise, we can recognize that the judgments of history and of God are often more merciful than those of our more short-sighted contemporaries. For those seeking spiritual meaning and comfort in a workplace that offers little of either, recalling the struggles and the accomplishments of Brother Elias is an appropriate place to start.

DR. LANCE RICHEY is an associate professor of theology and director of the John Duns Scotus Honors Program at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind.