Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtuous Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch (New York: Encounter Books, 2008. 300 pp)
Theodore Roosevelt Malloch is Chairman and CEO of Global Fiduciary Governance LLC, a leading strategy and thought leadership company. Ted founded Spiritual Enterprise Institute in 2005 and serves as a research professor at Yale University.
The Rabbit Trail
It endlessly frustrates me when an individual soils a valid argument by injecting needless rabbit trails. For example, someone could contend that they dislike country music as a whole because they don’t favor the drums. Yes, drums exist in country music, but it doesn’t mean that quality of country music is defined by the drummer. In a similar manner, Ted Malloch ruins an interesting argument in Spiritual Enterprise by continually framing his statements in a conservative versus liberal, capitalist versus communist approach.
Virtuous Business and Spiritual Capital
In essence, Malloch argues that businesses should shift from a strictly profit-oriented approach to a virtue-oriented approach. Granting the detrimental effect of profit maximization philosophies, Malloch believes that virtue provides a long-term framework for business success.
“The bold idea that the creation of wealth by virtuous means is the most important thing we can do for ourselves and others, for our society and for the world at large” (xix).
Typically, the modern business analyzes itself in terms of economic capital. It utilizes metrics to understand growth and success. Malloch, on the other hand, recognizes that business establish many forms of capital. For instance, the humans that comprise a firm create social capital and even more, the religious values of employees construct a spiritual capital. Malloch defines spiritual capital
“as the fund of beliefs, examples and commitments that are transformed from generation to generation through a religious tradition, and which attach people to the transcendental source of human happiness” (11-12).
Using less “Christian” terms (Malloch believes that spiritual capital assists a firm whether or not an employee aligns with a specific religious tradition), Malloch suggests that a business ought to act virtuously. Defined as a set of principles constituting proper character, virtue functions as the glue that keeps business functioning.
Support Your Thesis! Forget the Rabbit Trail!
Truthfully, I appreciate Malloch’s insights on virtue. As an ethical position, virtue seems to flourish as a middle ground between hard-lined deontology and utilitarianism. While one side seeks principle-based living and the other urges outcome-based living, virtue requests character building.
Despite the positive claims of virtue on business, Spiritual Enterprise becomes bogged down in Malloch’s acrid view of liberalism and communism. Too often, Malloch’s thesis drowns in the vitriol of politics. As an example,
“Only the discredited caricature of business—as a zero-sum game in which every person’s profit is someone else’s loss, and in which the ruthless pursuit of profit is the sole purpose of the game—persuades people to overlook what surely ought to be obvious: that in business you expose yourself to criticism, take risks, acquire heavy debts of responsibility and accountability, and are thrust into moral relation with others, in ways that demand a far more robust and serious morality than is needed to survive in some cushioned state bureaucracy or in a comfortable academic chair” (16-17).
At its core, Malloch argues that wealth creation helps everyone. Yet by belittling the positions of people in “cushioned” and “comfortable” places, Malloch’s argument feels slightly trollish. If I want to learn about the way to manage a business virtuously, I don’t need to know why liberalism and communism exist as grave evils to society. Of course, connections exist between politics and the marketplace but virtue deals with character and thus, liberalism and communism are not in the scope of this book.
Spiritual Enterprise carries an intriguing premise, but Malloch’s venom deters from the overall aim. For views on business management, take your eyes somewhere else.
Verdict: 1 out of 5