The Accidental Executive: Lessons on Business, Faith, and Calling from the Life of Joseph by Albert M. Erisman (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2015. 202 pp)

Albert M. Erisman is executive in residence and past director for the Center for Integrity in Business in the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University. Since 2011, he has been co-teaching classes on workplace theology and ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is cofounder and executive editors of Ethix magazine, coauthor of several books in technology and mathematics, and co-chair of the Theology of Work Project. He was Director of Technology at the Boeing Company when he retired in 2001 after a career of thirty-two years.

My Reading Policy

As a policy, I tend not to reread anything. Given the amount of literature in existence, my desires lean toward maximum consumption. Unfortunately, this position causes me to miss the depth that emerges from multiple readings.

As an example, consider the second watch of a favorite film. Did you notice the themes and structure you missed the first time around? All the carefully placed clues stand out on second viewing and you can see how the director and writers left a trails of crumbs to the desired destination.

Many book lovers suggest that the true meaning of a work is never understood on first reading. If you’re lucky, you might catch 75% of it.

So I suffer somewhat from my decision, espousing quantity over quality.

As such, Albert Erisman’s The Accidental Executive provides an intriguing re-read of a classic bible story through the lens of business and ethics.

The Story of Joseph

For most Christians, the story of Joseph is one of the first Sunday school stories. What it means and how it might be applied to our modern life may or might not have much connection.

And yet, Erisman unfolds each aspect of the story, observing its many ways in which the life of Joseph informs how a Christian in the marketplace ought to live.

Erisman considers the early stages of Joseph’s life and how his youthful braggadocio pushes him to an early fall.

“The day had started full of promise for Joseph. He was trusted by his father, deputized to provide leadership for the business, responsible for those older and more experienced than he, and asked to report back, almost as the associate director of the family business—and all of this at age seventeen. No doubt Joseph had every reason to be optimistic, so he would have been completely unprepared for what was to follow” (25).

Erisman touches on Joseph’s rebound as a slave in Egypt, his approach to ethics and the courage to face pharaoh and to tell the truth even when it might not want to be heard.

“As Joseph stood before Pharaoh and his advisors, Joseph was in the same position as a modern-day business consultant. He was there to help his client’s business—the Egyptian realm—develop a strategy to meet the coming agriculture situation. His proposal was to set up a new business” (76).

Where the Professional Career Intersects

As an aside, it’s cool to see Erisman mention personal work, of which my professional life intersects.

“In addressing these concerns, we have put together guidelines for establishing ‘rooted relationships,’ built around getting to know the other person and caring about that person first. It is not about what we can get from them, but who they are. Yes, business deals may come out of this relationship, but that should by the byproduct, not the focus” (53).

It’s pretty cool to have been a part of this branding process and to have been included in the meetings where these decisions were made, now immortalized in a book!

There’s value in a reread and Erisman’s approach to the story of Joseph reinforces this idea. If you are interested in a new view of a classic bible story, especially for marketplace professionals, check out The Accidental Executive.

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