How can a profitable business be a force for good? That was the question at the heart of Good Profit, a three-day conference that drew more than 300 business leaders from across the country Oct. 4-6 at The Catholic University of America.
The conference, organized by Catholic University’s Busch School of Business and Economics and the Napa Institute, was inspired by the 2015 book, Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies, by Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, Inc. The event featured high-profile keynote speakers including Koch himself, as well as Cardinal Peter Turkson, who serves as prefect for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
Andreas Widmer, co-founder and director of the University’s Art and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship, kickstarted the conference Wednesday morning with remarks that questioned whether profit should be the primary goal of a company.
For many Christians and Catholics, Widmer said, work is “a participation in God’s creative power” and “one of the key ways through which we can fully realize our humanity.”
“God intends for our work to be fruitful and to create abundance — or in another word — profit in its fullest meaning,” Widmer said. “Good profit is more than money, but includes many dimensions of human flourishing.”
That evening, Dina-Dwyer Owens, the co-chair of the Dwyer Group who is also known for her participation in the CBS reality show Undercover Boss, was interviewed about how values can lead to profit by Busch School professor Harvey Seegers.
The following day began with an address on how leadership can create good profit by Claire Huang, who has held executive-level positions at Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan, and American Express.
After sharing stories from her own career, Huang explained that excellent leadership comes down to five qualities: a constant desire to improve, a willingness to admit and fix mistakes, an openness to facing challenges, humility to trust in others, and a determination to make a mark on the world.
Cardinal Turkson addressed whether faith can help a business person achieve good profit. The cardinal referenced Pope Francis’s statement that for those in business, “idolatrous worship of money” can become “a surrogate for eternal life,” and said the only way to avoid worship of money is by “sharing money, sharing profit with others, above all the poor.”
In order to make profit that can be considered good, Cardinal Turkson said, a company must be comprised of good and ethical leaders who are producing worthwhile products or services, while also contributing to the common good. He noted that one important factor in that is caring for our natural environment and keeping it healthy for future generations.
“The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor go hand in hand,” he said. “The way we treat the environment reflects the way we treat humanity and vice versa.”
Companies seeking good profit must also work to “create value for others,” said Charles Koch.
“If the majority of business people really started doing that, it would transform society because it would transform the employees.”
Koch also stressed the importance of hiring ethical employees, pointing out that at his company the policy is to hire based on principles first, and talent second.
“We don’t care what a person’s credentials are, we’re looking for the potential of the person,” he said. “Just like really good coaches look at those who are going to put the team first, we hire first on values … and we reward on them.”
Additional speakers during the conference included José Maria Simone, who presented information about the canonization cause of the Argentine businessman Enrique Ernesto Shaw; professor and author James Tooley, who spoke on what good profit looks like in education; and an interview between Wall Street Journal editor James Freeman and Robert Nardelli, who has worked as the CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler and is now founder and chairman of XLR-8, an investment and advisory company.
For more information on the Good Profit conference, including a complete list of speakers, visit goodprofitconference.com.