The Catholic University of America’s Business School Integrates Virtue, Vocation and Work
With three years under its belt — and $47 million in new gifts — CUA’s Busch School is impressing both CEOs and Church leaders with its excellence and commitment to the university’s Catholic mission.
WASHINGTON — As a Catholic businessman, Tim Busch knows the U.S. free-market economy — battered by a parade of business leaders that pursued profit over the common good and human dignity — is facing a crisis of confidence. What society and private enterprise need more than ever is a new generation of men and women who see business first and foremost as a vocation of service and their personal path to holiness.
What Busch wants to see is a business culture where “freedom” in the market means “virtue.” That’s why he and others have recently invested $47 million into The Catholic University of America’s business school, a powerful endorsement of its Catholic vision for business and its mission to evangelize the free market.
“Business is a noble vocation,” the founder and CEO of Pacific Hospitality Group and the Busch Firm, based in Irvine, Calif., told the Register. Busch said he and a number of like-minded CEOs believe socialism will make the poor poorer, while the super-wealthy will get richer by gaming the system.
“We all share a common interest in principled entrepreneurship,” he said, noting that the donors were motivated by either Catholic teaching or the principles of America’s Founding Fathers, which were ultimately rooted in Catholic social teaching. “We realized that if we don’t do something about this, the American system of free markets will be no more.”
CUA’s business school — now renamed the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics, or the Busch School for short, thanks to the Busch Foundation’s $15-million naming gift — has already made significant contributions since its founding in 2013. It has produced the Catechism for Business (a handy resource for Catholics in business), hosted two major conferences in collaboration with Busch’s Napa Institute that brought together CEOs and Church leaders to discuss how business can serve the Church’s vision of a just society, and is engaging in research that responds to Pope Francis’ invitation for business to be a moral partner in solving the challenges of globalization and poverty.
CUA President John Garvey thanked the Busches in a statement, noting that they were CUA’s “largest benefactors to date.”
“Tim and Steph Busch have demonstrated unparalleled support for the unique approach of our business school,” said Garvey. “Beyond this, they have attracted other major supporters whose gifts have nourished the school’s success. We are immensely grateful for their partnership and all that they have done to advance the university.”
“It’s a great endorsement of the success of our business school to date,” Andrew Abela, CUA provost and the Busch School’s founding dean, told the Register. The success the school has seen so far, he said, is rooted in an uncompromising commitment to CUA’s Catholic mission and academic excellence.
The $47-million gift will go to renovating the business school’s Maloney Hall, fund its academic programs and also go to support CUA’s new Institute for Human Ecology, which will respond to Pope Francis’ call in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home), to research the relationship of human beings to each other and their environment.
Abela told the Register that the growth of the business school has been “phenomenal.” In addition to its undergraduate program, the school also has a graduate program: an intensive one-year master of science in business analysis; the program is run by Stewart McHie, a former Exxon marketing vice president.
The business school now draws a quarter of the total number of applicants to CUA, and the high placement rates of business graduates in jobs shows, according to Abela, “they seem to be in demand.”
The decision to create a business school, Abela added, sprang from President Garvey’s vision that intellectual development and formation in virtue must go hand in hand. Students and business leaders have taken such a strong interest in the Busch School, Abela said, because they really want to know how to live their faith in the business world.
“It became very clear that this was a huge opportunity and a huge need,” he said, “because too much of business education is treated as purely an intellectual exercise, where in many cases business ethics is treated as an add-on, rather than something that should be infused throughout the curriculum.”
The Busch School’s new dean, Bill Bowman, comes to the role as Abela’s successor with 25 years of business executive experience. He is the current CEO of the Core Values Group LLC and was the former CEO of U.S. Inspect. He told the Register that he has discovered the Church’s social teaching is best for business, “proposing wonderful criteria on which to base our decisions.”
“We have a big requirement to get the Church’s message out to the business community, probably more than any other business school, because of our special relationship with the Vatican,” he said, pointing out CUA’s status as both a pontifical university and the national university of the Catholic Church founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops.
As a graduate of Harvard Business School, Bowman is keenly aware that a businessman’s moral formation — or lack thereof — guides his economic decisions. Bowman said the financial scandals and crises involving some graduates of Harvard Business School led him to realize that business schools needed to do much more in this area.
His alma mater produced former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O’Neal, who pursued an ethic of profit at the expense of the common good, ruining their companies and shaking the economy.
Bowman admires how the Busch School is forming students in what solidarity, subsidiarity, the dignity of the human person and the common good all mean and how they can put them into practice.
“We’re way ahead of everybody else on this,” Bowman said.
“We also take the social encyclicals and educate the business community around those things,” Bowman added, “because they’re perfectly compatible with running a successful business.”
Frank Hanna III, the CEO of Hanna Capital and an EWTN board member, told the Register that he is thankful that CUA’s business school is immersing its students in Church teaching. The member of the Busch School’s advisory board said the vicious trends that people do not like seeing in business are the same ones running through the culture. But taking a course in “business ethics” is simply not enough, because people who do not practice virtue in their personal lives cannot be expected to make virtuous business decisions.
“You don’t need a course in business ethics — you need an entire curriculum that reflects the truth about humanity and virtue — an entire curriculum — filled with people teaching it who are trying to live that way,” Hanna said. “That’s the only way you learn it.”
CUA’s Busch School is also ideally positioned in Washington to make an impact on discussions taking place among the capital’s intellectual circles and on Capitol Hill. As the only pontifical university in the U.S., Hanna added, CUA’s Busch School is also well positioned to assist the Vatican in discerning how markets can best advance the Church’s vision for a just society and the common good.
Social Teaching and Profit Meet
CUA business professors are also engaged in research, prompted by Pope Francis’ recent remarks on economics, to find practical ways that entrepreneurship and job creation can free people from the curse of unemployment and provide them with wages to live in dignity.
“This Pope has really radically reoriented our thinking toward a much broader responsibility than perhaps we thought we had before,” Bowman said. “That means we’ve got to get involved and see ‘what is a way that business can help?’”
“I think we have some of the best minds to approach this in the business school, and, certainly, we’re all eager to do it,” he said.
Andreas Widmer, a Swiss business executive and director of entrepreneurship programs at the Busch School, told the Register that students at the Busch School meet the poor face-to-face in Brookland, CUA’s own neighborhood in D.C., to realize they have their own stories, hopes and dreams but are “excluded from networks of opportunity and exchange.”
Widmer said these encounters challenge students to find practical ways to “integrate them into my network … [to] take part in my economy.”
“Social justice is something you do,” Widmer said, explaining that Pope Francis has led by example with his own personal outreaches to the homeless and Europe’s migrants. Just providing a proper suit and teaching basic interviewing skills can provide people a ticket into a job and out of poverty — and the students can make that kind of difference both now and as the next generation of business leaders.
“Poor people across the world say the thing they wish they had was not money — it was self-esteem,” Widmer said.
School Like No Other
Widmer, also a former Swiss Guard under St. John Paul II, who wrote a book called The Pope & the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, said he joined the business school because he saw it as the “game changer” the modern market needed.
“Before you teach them the ‘hows’ of business, you must teach them the ‘whys,’” he said. Widmer said students’ first course is “The Vocation of Business,” and in the first semester, they read The Vocation of the Business Leader by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Undergraduates in the business school learn how business, first of all, is a vocation where a person becomes a participant in God’s creativity, and, second of all, it is a path to holiness. The students also get practical experience in running a business, learning that business’ third priority is “to be rewarding.”
Students in the classroom learn from professors in pairs: One instructor has practical business experience, while the other has done research in the field. Widmer explained that this gives students both mentors and examples of “excellence in research and execution” for them to emulate.
As Widmer said, “The ultimate goal is not a job, but a vocation, where you become the best version of yourself.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.
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