Servant of God Enrique Shaw was a young Argentinian who experienced a deep conversion to his own faith when he read a book on Catholic social doctrine. After prayer and consultation with his wife, he decided to become an entrepreneur and put what he learned into action. Shaw became known and revered for modeling how a Christian employer should behave. He knew that behind every worker was a family, and he took an interest in their flourishing at work and at home – all while overseeing an honest and flourishing business.
Leon Harmel, an industrial entrepreneur in the late 19th century, was so beloved by his employees they called him “le bon pere” (the good father). His vision of a Christian company, as he called it, in part inspired Pope Leo XIII to write the Church’s first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
Though you’d never know it from headlines about corruption, good men and women in business have an enormous capacity to serve the common good and a more person-centered economy. If today our corporate culture is marked more by the quest for short-term profit over the good of employees and customers, perhaps more committed Christians should enter the field.
Why not allow your children to explore a calling to entrepreneurship?
In a career spanning more than thirty years, I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs on every continent; I know them. Each person is unrepeatable of course, but entrepreneurs have some common characteristics, such as: the ability to see things slightly differently from everyone else – and not at all minding being different; being life-long learners, driven by curiosity and delight in understanding how things work; and a sincere desire to make things better for others at some level.
I’m often asked if entrepreneurs are born or taught. The answer: both! Being an entrepreneur is a bit like being a musician, I’m convinced. If you don’t have an ear for music and a sense of rhythm, you won’t ever be a great musician, no matter how many lessons you take, however gifted your teacher. If you have talent, however, a good teacher can help you perfect your art and overcome deficiencies. Occasionally a great musician appears who is self-taught, but there are no great musicians who don’t work hard to perfect their technique and artistry. Probably many potential musicians have latent talent but have never even tried to play an instrument. Their excellence lies hidden. Entrepreneurship is similar.
“Entrepreneurship” is a popular topic these days, but the truth is that most of us are not entrepreneurs. In my classes at The Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business, I teach what it takes to be an entrepreneur to over 200 freshmen each year. Most of my students don’t turn out to be entrepreneurs. But for those who do, it is delightful and rewarding to watch them discover their God-given talent –a talent some would not have uncovered but for the class.
My course is called “The Vocation of Business,” because the purpose of the class is not only to provide specific instruction about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, but also to help students seek and discover their God-given talents. We teach that business can be part of the path to holiness for those who are called to it. Through human work, as St. John Paul II frequently taught, we are called to participate in the very creativity of God. That’s an awesome reality, and it’s no less true for an entrepreneur than for an architect or stay-at-home mom.
There is so much good to be done in the world by talented business people who are also holy and committed to incarnating Christian principles in the way they do business, it would be a shame for Christian kids – recalling the analogy of the musician — never to uncover a talent for entrepreneurship if they have it.
Here are some ideas I like to share whenever I talk to parents about how to uncover and shape entrepreneurial skills and talent in their kids.
- Let your high-schoolers live as entrepreneurs for a week. Obviously I have an interest in this first recommendation, but we at The Busch School run a wonderful week in Washington, DC for high school Juniors & Seniors each summer. Check out our Summer Business Institute for your student in Summer 2019.
- Offer great role models to spark imagination about possibilities. Hollywood tends to make businessmen into bogeymen, and biographies of great entrepreneurs and inventors tend to get overlooked. Be sure your kids’ reading lists are well-rounded, and watch some episodes of Undercover Boss (the episode on the Dwyer group is a personal favorite), or a documentary I helped bring to fruition, Poverty, Inc.
- Teach delayed gratification through special chores. I am someone who thinks ordinary chores should be unpaid; they are just part of being in a family. But I think it’s good for kids to have opportunities to earn money for special or extra jobs, so they learn the value of money and how to save and invest for things that are important to them.
- Give them an early taste of what business entails. For this, there’s nothing like a lemonade or hot cocoa or bake sale stand. But be sure they pay you for ingredients, and have them think through the pricing so that they earn a profit.
- Encourage them early to start their own or a family business. This could be a simple marketing affiliate blog, or a craft or service or product of some kind they make alone or with you. (Think: babysitting, lawn care, jewelry, jarred salsa). It could be a good family project to think of a product or service that would serve others that you could sell. As with the lemonade stand, have your kids think through the value proposition and the pricing.
- Run a children’s business fair. This would take some coordination with other families, but learn more about it here.
I hope you choose a few of these activities for educational and family fun purposes. Most of all, I hope if your child shows an aptitude for entrepreneurship, you encourage it!
Copyright 2019 Andreas Widmer
Andreas Widmer is Director of the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business. A seasoned business executive, he is author of The Pope & The CEO: Pope Saint John Paul II’s Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, which explores what he learned while serving as bodyguard to the late pope.