In truth, Judaism-the religion of my birth-meant little to me until recently. Both my parents grew up in observant households in Europe, but both left their Jewish roots behind when they immigrated to the United States. I grew up in the 1960s in Croton-on-Hudson, a suburb of New York, and became a bar mitzvah at a Reform synagogue. Judaism played only a minor role in our family life. If anything, my father, who had lost close family members in the Holocaust, played down our Jewishness and provided his three sons with the WASPy trappings-Brooks Brothers suits, sailing camp on Cape Cod, and Ivy League diplomas-that he felt would help us to succeed in business, as he had.
But business had no appeal to me. With my privileged upbringing, I felt none of the financial insecurities that my parents had. As an antiwar protestor at Yale, I saw the military-industrial complex and big business as the enemy. When I graduated in 1973, I worked briefly for an environmental group and then became a newspaper reporter. This was the Watergate era-Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman would play Woodward and Bernstein in All the President's Men-and journalism struck me as a noble and glamorous way to earn a living. I intended to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," and I covered government and politics before becoming a TV columnist at newspapers in Hartford and Detroit. My column gave me a platform to express my opinions, and I tried not to forget why I'd gone into journalism in the first place.
Twenty years later, I found myself working for "Fortune." (At least it wasn't "Forbes," the business magazine whose motto is "Capitalist tool." Even so, my comrades from the 1960s would have been appalled.) I had grown disenchanted with newspapers; under pressure to grow their earnings, most papers were no longer committed to serious journalism or public service.
I'd also found it hard to connect my own values to my writing; as a news reporter, I'd felt shackled by the limits of "objective" journalism, and as a TV columnist, I spent too much time reviewing sitcoms and chatting up Hollywood stars. More than any of that, though, conventional ambition had gradually subsumed my youthful ideals. Like my father, like most of my Yale classmates and like many of us in business, I had come to define myself by my job, my title and my resume. I worked too hard. And while I tried to give my wife and two daughters the love and attention they deserved, I did not set aside time for religious or spiritual pursuits, for social or political activism or even to give back to the communities where we lived.
My return to Judaism took time. When our family moved to Bethesda, Maryland, in 1991, my wife and I joined a synagogue, but we rarely attended services or practiced at home. Nevertheless, our older daughter, Sarah, threw herself with passion into a Jewish youth group. Her bat mitzvah ceremony was a watershed moment for me. To my surprise, I was overcome by emotion as I watched her lead the service in Hebrew. Something was missing from my life, I felt, but I wasn't sure Judaism was the answer.
I began to read spiritual books and became intrigued by Buddhism. Buddhist thinking made sense to me, with its emphasis on living in the present moment, avoiding attachments, learning to absorb life's inevitable setbacks and striving to serve others. I attended Buddhist lectures and tried meditating. But it never stuck. I gained insights from the Buddhists and began to live my life with more awareness and purpose. I slowed down some, too. But I could not get comfortable with the rituals of Buddhism.
Read more >>
To my dismay, I realized that when I wrote about the media conglomerates and their CEOs, men like Michael Eisner and Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone, I judged their success only by the standard measures: how much money they made for their shareholders and for themselves. When Fortune's parent company, Time Warner, announced its merger with America Online in January 2000, I found myself working for the world's most powerful media company. So much for afflicting the comfortable.
Then, for whatever reason-my religious friends would see a higher power at work, although I do not-some exciting things happened. I found the spiritual home I'd been seeking-a Reconstructionist synagogue in Bethesda called Adat Shalom with two wonderful rabbis, a welcoming congregation and services that offered both intellectual stimulation and spiritual succor.
Reconstructionism is a small, twentieth-century American branch of Judaism that, to my mind, retains the best of Judaism's traditions and rituals while "reconstructing" those ideas and practices that seem problematic in the modern world. Reconstructionists, for example, tend to reject the view of God as a supernatural being who punishes evil and rewards good; instead, we see the Divinity as a spiritual and ethical force in the universe, perhaps as the potential for goodness that exists in us all.
As I became involved in Adat Shalom, my editors at "Fortune," who knew about my interest in religion, assigned me to look into the growth of spirituality in the workplace. They had been approached by Keith Ferazzi, a Harvard MBA and former chief marketing officer for the Starwood hotel group, who told them that interest in spirituality and business was exploding, particularly among baby boomers. As I worked on the story that became "God and Business," I began to rethink my entertainment industry coverage as well.
To begin with, I questioned whether the narrow focus on short-term shareholder value that drove both business decision making and financial journalism in the 1990s was a healthy way to think about building companies for the long run. More importantly, I realized that I was under no obligation to frame business "success" solely in financial terms, and that it might be useful to explore the connections among values, character, social responsibility and the bottom line. So when I next wrote about Disney, I argued that Michael Eisner's leadership style-which seemed to me to be arrogant and self-aggrandizing-damaged the company, its employees and its shareholders. In a story about Murdoch and Fox, I raised questions about the effect the network's tawdrier programs had on the broader culture. Venturing outside the world of media, I wrote about an executive training program called the Corporate Athlete that helps businesspeople manage their energy by developing connections between values and what they do. I wrote about shareholder activism and corporate social responsibility, too. Now, I felt, I could bring purpose and significance to my stories.
Still, some big questions loomed over my efforts to take a more spacious view of how business works: What does it mean for a company to be guided by spiritual values? Can people who live their faith at work succeed in business? Can companies do good and do well? Better yet, can companies do well by doing good-that is, can they find a way to profitably solve social problems? I'd raised these questions in "Fortune" but they were complicated and the anecdotal evidence was all over the lot.
Read more >>