Pope Francis, CEO | Inquirer Business

Pope Francis, CEO

Former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio has been Pope Francis for less than a year, but he has ignited change in the Catholic Church, a 1.2 billion-member organization torn by bureaucracy, infighting and  scandal.

The first Jesuit Pope, Francis has riveted the world. During his first nine months, more than six million attended his Masses and audiences, with crowds so huge that police had to take control. (His predecessor Benedict XVI had a little more than two million visitors during his last 12 months.) A chemical technician, bar bouncer and janitor, Bergoglio never took management courses, yet as CEO of the Catholic Church, he has performed way better than most business leaders.


Walk the talk

Pope Francis exhorts his fellow bishops to embrace “poverty, simplicity and austerity of life,” and he actually practices what he preaches.


He exchanges the red cape, red shoes and golden cross, for a white cape, sensible black shoes and a metal cross.  He takes the bus instead of the papal limo.  He washes the feet not of bishops, but of women juvenile delinquents.

His first official visit was not to a Roman cathedral, but a parish outside the city, because “we understand reality not from the center, but from the outskirts.”

Contrast the Pope with a family business founder I’ll call Carlos. He complains that his people (including his children) are lazy, wasteful and cannot be trusted.

“I invested in workshops, seminars, Six Sigma, Blue Ocean, Seven Habits. I even paid for their MBAs! I tell them to work hard and not to waste things. No go,” he said.

The root problem? Carlos, though a visionary, does not lead by example.

He collects luxury cars; his children sport branded bags, clothes, gadgets. They are entitled to these perks, sure, but who can take the work-ethic message seriously if team building workshops are held not just once a year, but every quarter, and in beach resorts at that?

Once, Carlos told the workers to finish production, which meant working overnight at the plant. The task was not done. Did he supervise them? “I was at home. I have to rest. You can’t expect me to stay up with them!”


According to former JP Morgan managing director and Jesuit seminarian Chris Lowney, when a priest was hospitalized, Bishop Bergoglio cared for him the night after his operation.

Supervisor Bergolio once flew to Japan to check up on seminarians, who knew he had dreamt of becoming a missionary there. They suggested sightseeing, but he said, “I came here to see you,” and after one-on-one meetings, he went straight back home. Certainly more productive than team building by the beach!

Train, inspire

Supervisor Bergoglio worked alongside seminarians, feeding pigs, doing laundry, tending the farm. Popular but demanding, he told seminarians to reach out to children in poor barrios, believing that “someone who can make the catechism simple enough for a child to understand is a wise person,” a nun tells Lowney.

Pope Francis does not shy away from difficult decisions. After urging bishops to live simply, he suspended a German bishop for spending more than $40 million for church renovations.

Carlos tells his kids, “How can you run the family business? You make costly mistakes.” They tell him, “You don’t train us. You just keep getting mad at us.”

The children have a point. But to complicate matters, Carlos does not hold them accountable for anything.

Many family businesses suffer from underperforming second and third generations because the founders cannot bear to truly sanction them.

Know when to let go

In 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio finished second in the papal ballot. He had reportedly asked his supporters to transfer their votes to Pope Benedict, to preserve Church unity.

Afterwards, instead of networking and campaigning in Rome, he immediately returned home to work with the poor.

In 2011, he prepared to retire in an old-priests home in his hometown, gave his resignation letter to Pope Benedict, and stayed clear of the limelight. No one predicted that he would become Pope.

Fortunately, God had other plans.

Now that the Pope is a celebrity, the temptation to cling to global adulation must be strong. He asked the bishops to pray for him, so that “I do not grow proud and always know how to listen to what God wants and not what I want.”

This is a good prayer for everyone in family businesses as well. Next Friday, we discuss why families in business SHOULD talk business over the dinner table.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center.  Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (tel. 4266001 loc 4613, email [email protected])  E-mail the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: Business, CEO, column, Management, pope francis, queena n. lee-chua
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