March 01, 2005

An Excellent Book

A friend recommended Marc Gunther's Faith and Fortune, and (after learning I was quoted in it) I dashed to the bookstore to have a look. It's excellent. Gunther is a senior writer at Fortune (he wrote the article on SRI funds mentioned below), and he writes well. This matters because many authors have trouble with this topic. Some fall into a dry academic style, others let the diversity of the topic muddle their thinking, and still others get up on the soapbox and preach. Gunther avoids all of these and his clear prose and storytelling skill set Faith and Fortune apart. He focuses for the most part on CEOs, delivering chapters on Southwest Airlines, Timberland, and Tom's of Maine. These stories have been told, but not as thoroughly or as well as Gunther tells them. The same is true of his chapter on Amy Domini. But he also honors Barbara Waugh at Hewlett-Packard, noting that "more than anyone I know, Waugh has found a way to change corporate America from within." And he introduces us to Ricardo Levy, a man I'd never heard of, but whom everyone interested in this topic should know about. Gunther also investigates the spiritual aspect of corporate social responsibility, and notes a broad revival of religious interest in this country:
The spiritual revival in the workplace reflects, in part, a broader religious reawakening in America, which remains one of the world's most observant nations. (Depending on how the question is asked, as many as 95% of Americans say they believe in God; in much of Western Europe, the figure is closer to 50%.) The Princeton Religious Research Index, which has tracked the strength of organized religion in America since World War II, reports a sharp increase in religious beliefs and practices since the mid-1990s. When the Gallup Poll asked Americans in 1999 if they felt a need to experience spiritual growth, 78% said yes, up from 20% in 1994; nearly half said they'd had occasion to talk about their faith in the workplace in the past 24 hours.
He might be onto something here. Jim Collins found in his acclaimed Good to Great project that the best leaders were quite humble. He reported on the success of Kenneth Mockler of Gillette, a deeply committed Christian who sought to bring his values to the workplace. Gunther interviews Collins for the book and finds that several of the Good to Great CEOs were deeply religious. Still, I have wonder: despite this religious revival, the last ten years will go down in history as among the most scandalous in the history of American business - what were all these people doing at the office? Refreshingly, Gunther saves the question of whether social responsibility pays for the last chapter. And he concludes that the question is unanswered and perhaps doesn't even need to be answered. This intellectual honesty is so refreshing - I wish other books had more of it. Faith and Fortune is carefully researched, clearly written, never boring, and often instructive. Highly recommended.

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