On my first day of school in September 1955, I walked through the doors at Sacred Heart School in Brockton, Massachusetts. My first-grade teacher was an angelic young nun, Sister Theresa, of the order of the Sisters of the Assumption. It was there my parochial education began with lessons each day from the Baltimore Catechism.
My lessons in morals began there too. Sister Theresa always told us, “If you are kind to someone, it isn’t important if anyone knows it. It is important because you did it and God knows it.” That stuck with me. Couple that with my grandmother’s wise advice, dear Antonina Milewski, who said, “Kindness makes you handsome, no matter what you look like.”
Classes at Sacred Heart in reading, writing, history, and math were interwoven with ethics and moral lessons. I thrived in this environment with my faith and Christian values leading to being an altar boy in the Sacred Heart parish. The parish priests were old school—Monsignor Richard and Father Martineau. It was an experience right out of the 1945 movie The Bells of St. Mary’s.
My Catholic education went on to include four years at Cardinal Spellman High School, where I learned as much about life from an economically diverse group of fellow students as I did from the good sisters of Saint Joseph. It was Sister Edwardette who reminded us, “If you can’t do anything right, for pity’s sake, just don’t do anything wrong.”
So it was here where minor battles over conscience and choosing between good and bad decisions began. I was introduced to the realities of the real world by my classmates, as well as given a moral compass by the good sisters.
The final steps in my moral and academic education occurred while attending St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Here I likely learned more from the bad decisions I made than I did from the classes I attended. Given the choice to go back and do it over again, I would have done many things differently.
In hindsight I would have made decisions because they were the right thing to do, rather than succumbing to peer pressure and ego gratification. If you learn from your mistakes, then college is where I truly became well educated.
As my mother, Helen, told me, “Everyone makes mistakes. For God’s sake, just don’t lie about it. You don’t have a good enough memory to be a good liar.”
Other than learning about life from these strong women, early in business I learned that trying to do the right thing is never easy. I also learned that if you try to do the right thing by doing the wrong thing, it usually doesn’t work out. Again, I learned from mistakes and hopefully became a better person and business professional as a result.
Now that I am retired from the work grind of full employment, I have time to look back on life experiences and lessons learned from listening to other professionals, reading books and blogs, attending lectures, and listening to podcasts. I honestly feel that I can share lessons learned throughout my life that are based in the principle of living a good life. I have developed a blueprint not only for living a good life, but also for succeeding in business.
I believe from seven decades of learning from teachers, classmates, coworkers, bosses, and successful people in all fields that the foundation for all personal and professional success is grounded in the principle that you can feel good—and do well—while doing good. Thus, the theme of this book.
Consider for a moment the collapse of the US economy between 2005 and 2015 that was rooted in the financial crisis caused by the meltdown in the mortgage and real estate industries. I worked for a state housing finance agency during that time. I witnessed up close and personal the pain and suffering of families losing their homes and people who were planning on retirement seeing their life savings implode in the stock and bond market crash in 2008.
I can say with conviction that what occurred was the result of avarice, greed, and ego in the mortgage, real estate, and financial markets. Fortunately we have recovered, but there should have been lessons learned. Unfortunately there will always be avarice, greed, and ego driving decisions made by people in power positions in government and finance.
I recall a great line from the movie The Big Short, where the character Mark Baum, played by Steve Carell, said, “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball…What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not nice. Or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than this, I really did.”
While this book discusses a model for business, the message in the preceding quote and its relevance to the scandal that rocked my church is not lost on me. The pedophile priest issues and the ensuing heartache it caused countless young children of Catholic families shook a religious organization to its roots. The self-interest of the church hierarchy created the same issues as the failures of most large businesses. The self-interest of the management prevailed over the welfare of the people they were supposed to serve.
I propose that there is a countervailing offset to the motivations that drive people to make selfish, high-risk decisions at the expense of others. Some people call it “paying it forward.” Others call it the “law of reciprocity.” I prefer to recall the lessons learned in a simpler time in the first grade of Sacred Heart School, when Sister Theresa, reading from the Baltimore Catechism, told us simply, “Love your neighbor, as yourself, for the love of God.”
In business it is a successful business model built on honor, integrity, and the honest commitment to create real value for your customers, and a fair reward for your workers and business partners.