The current edition of Fortune is carrying This Pope Means Business. This in-depth look at the administrative skills of the Pope Francis reveals a series of challenges that would make any CEO sweat. Unlike the modern CEO, Pope Francis keeps the goal of serving constituents on top of the priority list.
Francis declared that sound financial management was a pillar of his greatest mission: aiding the poor and underprivileged. That mission was endangered by volatile, unpredictable budgets that careened from modest surpluses to steep deficits. The Vatican’s inept practices had inhibited giving, he explained, and had to stop. “When the administration is fat, it’s unhealthy,” he said. Francis wanted a leaner, more efficient Vatican administration that would be solidly “self-sustaining.” That, he said, would free up more money for his charities. “You are the experts,” the pope said, “and I trust you. Now I want solutions to these problems, and I want them as soon as possible.” With that, Francis left the group to figure out the details.
There was no ambiguity about the job ahead. “The Holy Father’s message was crystal clear: ‘Let us make money to go to the poor,’” recalls Joseph Zahra, chief of the panel, a pontifical commission known by its acronym, COSEA. Zahra, a former chairman of the Bank of Valletta, Malta’s largest bank, says of Francis: “In finances, he’s not a micromanager but an inspirational leader.
Does he practice, preach, or practice what he preaches?
Pope Francis has a complex but pragmatic view of money. “Money is useful to carry out many things, for works to support humanity,” he has said. “But when your heart is attached to it, it destroys you.” His humble lifestyle follows those precepts. He resides in a one-bedroom, second-floor suite in Casa Santa Marta overlooking the entrance. (Benedict, the former pope, lives nearby in a converted monastery called Mater Ecclesiae and occasionally sends Francis notes with feedback on his interviews.) Visitors say the pope’s lights go on at 4:30 a.m. He’s frequently spotted in the buffet line, tray in hand, at the Santa Marta dining room, where the cuisine isn’t fancy—it offers a choice of two main courses for lunch and dinner, and features Italian specialties such as pasta con pomodoro and pollo arrosto. He takes no holidays, explaining that if the poor can’t take vacations, why should he?
In the next segment which describes his business practices, the starkness of the contrast with our supposedly bible thumping leaders in the Missouri legislature is hard to miss…
One of his rules is that big donors and companies that do business with the church should get no special treatment. Before he took charge in Buenos Aires, the archdiocese was a large shareholder in Argentine banks, and the banks regularly granted their ecclesiastical investor loans on easy terms. As cardinal, Francis denounced the arrangement as a blatant conflict of interest and sold all the archdiocese’s bank holdings. He also refused to attend fundraising dinners, usually regarded as one of a cardinal’s top jobs. His aversion to catering to the wealthy didn’t stop with his ascension to the papacy. It’s a Vatican tradition that the Secretariat of State, which receives donations from the rich on the pontiff’s behalf, would reward big donors by arranging special audiences and masses with the pope. Pope Francis ended the practice.
Pope Francis is a strong believer in workers’ rights. But that view is highly nuanced. He has famously denounced the excesses of capitalism and firmly believes that the rich get too much from the market economy while regular workers often don’t receive enough. In contrast to his readiness to ax high-ranking officials who block his agenda, he doesn’t believe in firing rank-and-file employees.
Stay tuned, the next session of the legislature will reveal if Tim Jones, Paul Curtman, and Dining Doug Funderburk can emulate the lessons of Pope Francis.