Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtuous Business
by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch
reviewed by Richard J. Goossen
Ted Malloch is chairman and CEO of the Roosevelt Group and founder of the Spiritual Enterprise Institute. His recent book is a valuable reflection on ethics in business and the pursuit of meaning and significance at work.
Malloch does this by presenting the uncommon notions of a ‘spiritual enterprise’ and doing ‘virtuous business.’ He writes his book as ‘a committed Christian’ but what he says ‘does not reflect a narrow or specifically sectarian Christian theology’ (p.xx). Malloch recognises the centrality of faith in business dealings and explains how business can, despite recent notorious examples to the contrary, be conducted in a virtuous manner by individuals; an organisation itself can be a spiritual enterprise. The bookshelf is relatively bare with respect to books dealing with the intersection of faith and business in terms of the philosophical underpinnings, so this is a welcome contribution.
Malloch approaches his topic in an ideologically balanced fashion. He advances arguments with careful Encounter Books, New York, 2008, 168 pp. US$21.95 ISBN 978-159403222-6 deliberation, taking into account the most frequent rebuttals to his position. Refreshingly, he does not engage in knocking down feeble straw men; instead he fairly summarises opposing perspectives and offers his own contrasting view. This contributes to, rather than detracts from, the overall credibility of his argument. Spiritual Enterprise, by its very structure, distinguishes itself from much overtly biased fare that is clearly preaching to the choir and misrepresenting opposing viewpoints.
Malloch, to his credit, has one foot in the world of mainstream business and the other in the world of mainstream academia and thus does not fall into the common disposition of caricaturing either perspective. He builds his arguments carefully, drawing on a depth of knowledge in economics and philosophy, citing thinkers from Adam Smith to Aristotle. The book has numerous (mainly American) examples to buttress his points, from oft-cited companies such as Chick-fil-A to lesser-known ones such as Providence Healthcare. In a primer such as this, his examples serve as practical evidence for each argument, rather than being a conclusive position. Malloch also includes an appendix titled a ‘gallery of virtuous companies’ which will be helpful to readers.
Malloch adds to his credibility through developing his position by anticipating arguments. The book is written in the style of advancing an argument and offering responses to anticipated objections. In some instances, Malloch offers arguments in response to what he calls ‘a Leftist view’ of business which is very negative. In other cases he cites sceptics who require a response. Throughout the book Malloch’s tone of discourse reflects the sensitivities of being a Christian who is an academic. The environments of the world’s leading universities are at best arrogantly dismissive or patronisingly sceptical of any religiously-based claims; in their mind science decimated the value of faith long ago. As a result, Malloch is quite aware that he must argue for the relevance of his inquiry, which some readers would dismiss out of hand by virtue of the title of the book alone.
Spiritual Enterprise begins with a discussion of ‘spiritual capital’, which…