Specialized in relationships

Studying EoC management practices worldwide

By John Gallagher and Jeanne Buckeye

from Living City, November 2011

Three years ago, we began working with a small group of Economy of Communion companies in the U.S. and Canada to explore how these companies actually conducted their day-to-day business.

Our interest was fueled by a recognition that the EoC was important, not only because it was “a new style of economic action,” but also because it involved the formation of companies and their management practice.

We knew from our own business experience, from our work with individual companies and from management studies, that entrepreneurship is challenging. It appeared to us that the EoC and the leaders of EoC companies were possessed of an inner strength, faith and conviction that had much to teach other entrepreneurs. So we set out to learn as much as we could about how EoC entrepreneurs manage their businesses: how they approach marketing and promotion, how they approach hiring and employment practices, employee orientation, relationships with employees and customers, how they make difficult decisions and so forth.

At the EoC Assembly we had the great privilege of presenting some research results on marketing and human resource practices for critical review and feedback from our academic colleagues. In the process we had the extraordinary experience designed for “seeing things together,” as we sat literally in a circle, engaged in respectful conversation about the content, meaning, strengths, weaknesses and potential of the work we had each presented — academics, students and business people together, in a true meeting of minds.

Our research continues. We are convinced that EoC companies are different — they are managed differently; they are different kinds of companies. But we are still reflecting on exactly what those differences are.

Perhaps they are not so much rooted in business practices, as in the way in which owners understand the purpose of their businesses. Whatever else it does, an EoC business is first and foremost about relationships among persons. They specialize in relationships. This way of living and being in the world makes them different even as they undertake the most routine business decisions.

Whatever the competitive, technological, marketing, operational, human resource or economic justifications for its business decisions might be, the EoC company is factoring in a more basic and consistent variable: a desire for unity created through loving attention to persons.

The assembly in Brazil was a perfect setting in which to visit with friends from the EoC companies that have been part of our research and new friends from Africa, Ireland, Brazil, Korea, Chile, France and other parts of the world.

In academic circles, at least in the business disciplines, the EoC has for too long been a best-kept secret. So it was particularly gratifying to participate in an academic congress with international colleagues — fellow academics, some executives, and many students — who share an interest in the EoC.

There were many young people at the congress, most of them students, very astute and interested in future possibilities for the EoC and for themselves. There was a real intuition on display that the EoC is a precious idea and a powerful one.

It was also good to see how many management scholars participated on the conference. John recognized this as an important development for the EoC and it was personally gratifying. To become involved with fellow management scholars with a high level of interest, concern and focus on EoC and its companies, who are curious about its entrepreneurial and managerial challenges, was an important affirmation of Chiara Lubich’s hope: EoC really does represent something new and hopeful and significant.

For Jeanne the meetings with management scholars also validated the importance of introducing students to the EoC idea as an alternative view of business. For students in U.S. schools, profit and wealth maximization remain the pervasive answer to the purpose of business and the measure of its contribution to the common good.

While recognizing competitive and economic success as necessary, EoC expands the potential purpose of business to that of serving the common good in concrete ways and being, simultaneously, a source of personal spiritual growth and expression.

John Gallagher is professor of management at Maryville College in Tennessee, Jeanne Buckeye is associate professor in Ethics and Business Law Dept. at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.

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