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Businesses that build foundations on faith

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 24, 2000

American business people are getting religion. And this time, it has nothing to do with a management fad. It's the real thing.

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The Bible and prayer are making a comeback in the workplace. Deeply religious executives, once quiet about their faith, are speaking up about where they stand.

"Ten years ago, if I would have brought out any of these topics, certainly in the Northeast, I would have been laughed at," says David Miller, a former investment banker and now president of the Avodah Institute, aPrinceton, N.J., organization helping people integrate faith and work. "But now it's not at all embarrassing to talk about God questions."

"No one knows whether there are more Christian executives in the late 1990s than there were 10 years ago or 20 years ago," writes Perry Pascarella, former editor in chief of Industry Week magazine, "but more and more leaders are openly expressing their beliefs and striving to follow biblical principles as they lead their companies.... I believe that the next Reformation will be led, in large part, by the business community."

The signs are telling. In the past three years, high-profile executives including Amway President Dick DeVos and ServiceMaster chairman William Pollard have published books on the subject. Mr. Pascarella's own book, "Christ Centered Leadership: Thriving in Business by Putting God in Charge," has just appeared. Groups like the Christian Businessmen's Committee and the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International report growing memberships.

These individuals and groups offer a remarkably similar message: Faith and business are not separate. They're inextricably linked.

"Christianity is not a faith where you drop out and the world looks like a Hallmark card and you can find God in the sunset," says Michael Prewitt, chairman of a marketing-communications firm in Hopewell, N.J., and a 1999 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. "There's a lot about business that's sticky and messy and not easy. And Christianity calls us to be right back in the center of all that."

The principles of Christian behavior are not sectarian, these executives argue. Employees can buy into them no matter what their religion. "It's actually quite easy to institute and promote biblical principles without having to be religious," says Mirko Vukovich, president of a Littleton, Colo., company, that owns and runs 35 mobile-home parks around the country. "We can't function as a society without some rules of cooperation."

Within the next three months, he plans to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in the offices and club houses of all his mobile-home parks.

"I go around and pray with employees," says George Seaberg, chairman and chief executive of Seaberg Industries, a metalworking company in Rock Island, Ill. "It works. It really works!"

Soon after launching his company in 1973, Mr. Seaberg was driving to Peoria when he noticed a hitchhiker by the side of the road. "He just gave me the most forlorn look. I almost pulled over at the next exit and went back for him," he recalls. Instead, he promised God he would pick up the next hitchhiker he saw. There was none during the rest of that trip. But the next day, less than two blocks from his office, he saw a young man trying to catch a ride, sporting a ponytail, dirty Levi's, a dingy T-shirt, and a cynical look on his face.

"I automatically pulled over because that's what I told the Lord I would do." The man turned out to be a college dropout but mathematical whiz, whom Seaberg soon hired. Today, he's the company's vice president.

"The key is to be willing to follow God's nudging," he explains. "And the blessings flow."

Promoting 'good'

Christian business people try to walk a careful line between being open about their faith and banging people over the head with it.