Many people see being a successful and determined businessperson as contrary to being a person of faith. This is one of the primary reasons that some are skeptical of the entrepreneurial initiatives of megachurches, the subject of our cover story for this issue. It’s difficult for some to reconcile the dual identities of the “CEO pastor.” These people are often just as surprised to meet executives who are serious about their religious beliefs and who see no contradiction between the profit motive and their spiritual faith.
However, for many of the nation’s greatest entrepreneurs and business leaders, the active expression of their faith is an integral part of their business success. For example, the Birmingham, Alabama, business empire of the legendary Arthur G. Gaston Sr. was rooted in his service to, and financial support of, the church. A number of Gaston’s enterprises, including the Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. and the A.G. Gaston Motel, were initially aimed at serving the unmet needs of the black church community. Investment banker Carla Harris, a managing director at Morgan Stanley and one of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” attributes her success to her faith. Harris also happens to be an accomplished vocalist, with two gospel CDs to her credit. And in his book, Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible, World Wide Technology CEO David Steward details how he follows biblical principles to build and run his company, ranked No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with sales of $1.4 billion.
Many of the problems we face as African Americans are partially rooted in the decline of spirituality and moral responsibility in our communities. Our faith historically has carried us through many trials and tribulations. This is why my wife, Barbara, and I felt it important that our son Earl “Butch” Graves’ appointment to CEO of Earl G. Graves Ltd. earlier this year be marked by a special observance during a Sunday morning service at Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson’s Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York. We cannot compete in business or any other aspect of society if we are not spiritually fit.
I believe that when truly successful businesspeople (and entrepreneurs, in particular) routinely see solutions when everyone else sees only problems and remain focused on the goal and not the obstacles, they are tapping into and demonstrating their faith. Not all of us are overt about our spiritual beliefs. And while some of us were spiritually committed early in our business lives, others have come to rely on our faith over time, by virtue of our life experiences-moments of shining victory as well as of dark despair.
Our spiritual beliefs will continue to be an indispensible resource as we face today’s challenges and work to establish a legacy for the future. And while the focus of every businessperson is to build wealth and generate profits, the most successful are ever mindful of the larger mission of serving the needs and bringing value