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Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity

August Turak
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  • Book Info
    Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks
    Book Description:

    August Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, and award-winning author who attributes much of his success to living and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey for seventeen years. As a frequent monastic guest, he learned firsthand from the monks as they grew an incredibly successful portfolio of businesses.

    Service and selflessness are at the heart of the 1,500-year-old monastic tradition's remarkable business success. It is an ancient though immensely relevant economic model that preserves what is positive and productive about capitalism while transcending its ethical limitations and internal contradictions. Combining vivid case studies from his thirty-year business career with intimate portraits of the monks at work, Turak shows how Trappist principles can be successfully applied to a variety of secular business settings and to our personal lives as well. He demonstrates that monks and people like Warren Buffett are wildly successful not despite their high principles but because of them. Turak also introduces other "transformational organizations" that share the crucial monastic business strategies so critical for success.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53522-9
    Subjects: Business, Management & Organizational Behavior, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Located just outside Charleston, South Carolina, the 3,132 oak-studded acres that make up Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey roll gently toward the Atlantic Ocean. Early each morning except Sunday, right after the fourth daily monastic service, Terce, I’d borrow a bicycle from the monastery’s pool and, surrounded by four or five Trappist monks and their wind-whipped habits, I’d pedal off for Mepkin Abbey’s “eggery,” or grading house. With the rising sun shimmering off the Cooper River, my mile-long bike ride through fragrant gardens, moss-strewn live oaks, and cool salt air would just about lift the last vestige of drowsiness left...

    (pp. 15-32)

    Employee engagement is one of those buzz terms that keeps business pundits busy. And for good reason: the more engaged people are, the more productive they are, and the entire organization benefits. Employee engagement is actually just a newfangled term for what used to be called “corporate loyalty,” and, unfortunately for productivity, employees are reporting decreasing levels of this intangible but critically important asset.

    Since 1985 the Kenexa High Performance Institute has been compiling its WorkTrends report on employee engagement by asking employees how closely they agree with the following statements:

    1. I am proud to tell people I work for...

    (pp. 33-44)

    I was a sophomore in college in 1972, and through some hustle and sheer luck, I landed four front-row seats to a Rolling Stones concert. We threw a marathon party the night before the sacred event with nothing but Stones music, and when my three friends and I arrived at the concert, we were adorned with body paint and homemade “Sticky Fingers” T-shirts. I was also sporting a red, white, and blue Uncle Sam top hat, recalling the Stones’s previous tour, when Mick Jagger had worn a similar hat.

    Just before the concert, a roadie strolled to the front of...

    (pp. 45-56)

    In the mid-1990s I spent a lot of time wandering around Microsoft’s corporate campus in Redmond, Washington, developing the strategic alliance that played such a critical role in my own company’s success. I always looked forward to these forays—and not merely for the Cherry Coke, which was still unavailable back east, in the break rooms. It was because every Microsoftie I met was breathing fire for Microsoft and its mission. Ten minutes on campus made me feel ten years younger. It reminded me of an even earlier time when I was breathing a similar collective fire for a brash...

  8. 5 MISSION
    (pp. 57-76)

    My goal in the previous chapter was to introduce a transformational model of human motivation that defines the what of service and selflessness, and to show why this management philosophy is critical to the business success of the monastic tradition. Assuming that I accomplished these goals, what remains is to provide a detailed road map describing how we can apply service and selflessness to our secular organizations and even our personal lives with equally explosive results. The balance of this book is designed to do just that. The first step toward building a consciously transformational organization based on service and...

    (pp. 77-90)

    On my first visit to Mepkin Abbey, I found myself in the lunch line behind a frail monk clearly well into his eighties. While he slowly and painfully stooped for one of the trays stacked knee-high beneath the counter, I was busily trying to stifle my impatience. But when he finally retrieved it, he didn’t move forward. Instead, to my surprise, he suddenly turned and presented me with his hard-earned tray with a look of childlike delight.

    Over the next several days, I witnessed so many similar acts of kindness that I began to find it contagious. It wasn’t the...

    (pp. 91-114)

    Brother joseph is Mepkin’s version of St. Francis of Assisi. After meals you will unfailingly find him rummaging through the kitchen, collecting bread crusts and empty peanut butter jars for all the squirrels, deer, birds, opossums, and raccoons that converge on the magnificent oak tree that lives on the bluff overlooking the Cooper River, just outside his cloister door. Brother Joseph and his variegated congregation seem to have already anticipated that prophetic time, heralded by Isaiah, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and the lion will peacefully lie down with the lamb.

    Joseph’s ministry to the animal kingdom takes...

    (pp. 115-126)

    I confess that when I am living at Mepkin Abbey, I take pride in thinking of myself as something of a “go-to guy” for the monks. It gives me great satisfaction when Brother John asks me to help Father Guerric put up Christmas trees or to aid Brother Hugh as he feeds huge oak logs into the oversized wood-burning furnace that heats the church. I also try to pitch in unasked by wiping out a refrigerator once in a while, and I think I won Brother Edward’s heart by occasionally surprising him with a freshly mopped floor when he returned...

  12. 9 FAITH
    (pp. 127-138)

    One day i asked Mepkin’s abbot, Father Francis, how he and his brothers managed to get so much accomplished with so few resources. He smiled and said, “We just trust the process. This is a 1,500-year-old tradition. We just trust the process.”

    Mepkin’s success relies on faith. But this is not just the kind of faith we usually associate with a laundry list of theological beliefs. Instead it is the kind of faith that is implicit in the word faithful. Belief in a religious proposition, like the virginity of Mary, is a static model, but it is the dynamic model...

    (pp. 139-152)

    The problem with life is that it must be lived forward and only understood backward. My journey to Mepkin Abbey started with an accident: an event that only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight became what I now consider the happiest accident of my life.

    During the winter of 1996, the Duke SKS students decided to go skydiving as a team-building exercise and begged me to go along. As soon as I reluctantly agreed, I was struck for the first time in my life with a profound sense of foreboding. I ignored it—apparently I had enough courage to jump...

    (pp. 153-168)

    To this day I know virtually nothing about Brother William. I don’t know where he was born, how he was raised, or when and why he decided to become a Trappist monk. And since he passed away a few years ago, it is unlikely I’ll learn much more. Yet Brother William and I were very close, and this ability to become very close to someone you know nothing about is something I’ve only experienced at Mepkin.

    Brother William was a warm and affable monk, slightly stooped with a full head of closely cropped gray hair and a singing voice worthy...

    (pp. 169-182)

    One day i got a call from Father Stan. Every year the monks of Mepkin undergo a physical, and a routine blood test had revealed that Father Francis, Mepkin’s youthful and vibrant abbot, was suffering from an incurable and ultimately fatal form of lymphoma. Chemotherapy could delay the inevitable, but at best Dom Francis had three to five years to live. I felt like the bottom had just dropped out of my life.

    A few days later I arrived at Mepkin and made an appointment to meet with Francis. He greeted me affably, and when I asked him how he...