Acton Commentary

A Decent Man of Business


This past week I received a phone call from an old friend seeking my advice. He and I are from two different worlds–he’s a businessman and I’m a pastor. He deals with questions of profit and loss, bids, equipment purchases, and hiring practices. I am someone who deals with matters of the heart and questions of the soul. Our bond, however, is more than the sum total of our life-long friendship. Ultimately, it is our Christian faith that unites us in a significant way.

The question he brought to me was aserious one. It had to do with ayoung man who is a great worker for his company, but who has a serioussubstance abuse problem. My friendhad given the employee several opportunities to correct his behavior and, likemany dealing with addiction, the young man would succeed for short periods oftime and then relapse. Despitemany promises and an abbreviated attempt at a rehabilitation program, hecontinued to fall back into the grip of his addiction. What’s a decent boss to do?

Upon first examination, the question is easily answered. One caricature of business would simply dictatethat the employee should be fired and someone else should be hired in hisstead. Business is business, right? The personal lives of the employees areof no concern or interest to employers, as long as they don’t interferewith work. Once this interferencewas documented and a pattern of misconduct established, a dismissal was inorder and that would neatly and efficiently conclude this troublesome matter.

My friend’s interest in hisemployee, however, goes far deeper than the above and oft-quoted caricatureoffers. This employer sees people as more than production. The young employee in question has awife and children. He hasresponsibilities and obligations.As he described the situation, my friend spoke of his employee as aperson at the crossroads of his life.Before him lay a choice of two paths, one leading to life and the otherto personal destruction and, possibly even death.

After talking things over, we, thebusinessman and the pastor, came up with a plan. My friend would make treatment available to the young man,the support of his family would be guaranteed, and the employee would be heldto account for his decisions actions.My friend would even take time away from his own family to accompany hisemployee to a substance abuse program as a way of demonstrating his commitmentto this young man and his family.

At the end of our conversation, I asked my friend why he would be willing to go to such great lengths for thisstruggling employee. Certainly,this would not increase his profits.It would be a real distraction to his work of running the business andit would take him away from his own busy and growing family.

The answer he gave was worthy of any theologian. He said, inessence, that his employee was worth it, not because of what he could do forthe business but because of who he is.In a theological analysis of this answer, we would say that thisbusinessman and employer recognized in his employee the dignity intrinsic to aperson made in the image and likeness of God. This troubled and strugglingyoung man was not someone who could or should be easily dismissed in the nameof “efficient management” without considering all the implicationsfor his life and the life of his family.Having read so much in the papers recently about corruption in thebusiness world, this incident reminded me that these types of personalcommitments of employers to the greater good of employees are made by countlessbusiness leaders every single day.This should not be forgotten.

The business scandals of recent days are a reminder that evil, deception, andcorruption are part of the business world. No one can or should deny this sad reality. What must also be remembered is thatsuch things are not representative of the whole or even a large part of thoseworking in the business world.Business people like my friend are a welcome reminder of the great goodthat business leaders who are committed to decency, goodness, and honesty canaccomplish, even when the pursuit of that good comes at a substantial personalsacrifice.