01-01-2006 - Traces, n.1

An Extra
Factor in Work

Stories from Italy, the United States, and Spain from professionals, career people whose encounters with the Movement and the Church have touched all aspects of their lives, including work

by Luigi Amicone

They’re more or less the same age, a bit under fifty, with a lot of children. They certainly don’t look like Three Musketeers from some flight of fancy; rather, they all have the air of three well-off men, firmly planted in the here and now–successful professionals who haven’t come to the Movement and the Church with ulterior motives. The first is Stefano Sala, a manager in a multinational firm that has no god other than the “three-month crystal ball,” short-term profit, the law of gains over the previous month’s profits. The second is Graziano Tarantini, a lawyer and banker, expert in financial law, the member of half a dozen hefty Board of Governors, someone who is not ashamed to admit, “I’m here by chance. They couldn’t agree and so they chose the youngest. They offered me the job at night by phone. I said, ‘All right. I’ll never have this chance again.’ I was sure that in the morning they would tell me, ‘Thanks for your willingness but we came to an agreement. Keep on dreaming.’ But instead, I’ve been bank president for ten years.” The third is Stefano Morri, head of a firm with fifty lawyers and accountants, the ex-managing partner of the Italian branch of an American financial and legal consulting multinational, with 250 collaborators, an administrator and Board of Auditors member of important national and international societies. “I began to understand the hundredfold here below only a couple of years ago, when I was 45, in exile from my beloved Romagna Region,” says Morri. “When I was a young trainee with a salary that didn’t get me to the end of the month, I would look at myself in the mirror in the morning as I shaved and ask myself if it was worth it, staying in a city like Milan, instead of returning to Romagna. In order to tell myself yes, I invested myself body and soul in my work. Who knows why I always thought deep down that the Church was against this desire of mine for success? My adherence was always with the reservation that if I gave everything, I would lose the gusto that ultimately constituted me and made me live in the way best suited to me.”

STEFANO SALA Three-month gains
You have to begin from the here and now, the here below, from the Church as “obstacle” and from the hundredfold that is asked of Stefano Sala by contract. “Because, you see, if I manage to increase profits for two consecutive quarters, then everything is okay, and I’m free to hire people and come up with whatever I want, absolutely anything. But if I don’t succeed–and this doesn’t mean if I go below last quarter’s profits; it means for example if I move from +20% to +17%–then I have to cut costs, and often that means people.” These are the paradoxes of turbocapitalism. “If you lose three points out of twenty, to use the soccer terminology, you’re relegated. But if you earn, starting out from a lower level of profit, if you go from +4% to let’s say +7%, then you move ahead.” This is the model for the multinationals traded on the stock exchange, with General Electric the global point of reference for the manufacturing industry, and Unilever as the prototype for consumer goods. “If you’re doing well, any explanation will do. If you’re doing poorly, no explanation will suffice.” The logic of short-term profit is strictly correlated to the process of progressive financialization of the global economy. A firm’s worth lies not in what it produces, but in its stock exchange listing. “Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of good in this model; above all, the freedom. Ten years ago, there were only four of us representing the company in Italy, and now, thanks to the good results we’ve achieved, there are about twenty of us and I’ve been able to choose and hire everyone I wanted. This really is the original spirit of the American Dream: if you’re good, you can become President. At least the criterion for judgment is clear. Not good intentions, but facts. Not generosity, but reality. Evidently, all this is not without its contradictions. Peter Drucker himself, the inventor of stock options who died last November, spent the past ten years in the nonprofit sector because he lost all his consulting clients after he wrote that managers exploited this kind of incentive to pillage companies. As Fr. Giussani taught us, if a factor is entirely torn out of context and made into an absolute, then error is inevitable.” We’re considering the case of someone whose salary is partly tied to his company’s stock performance. Sala, too, has his stock options, and can’t say that it isn’t a worthwhile invention. So wherein lies the error? “It’s in mistaking the instrument for the goal. Clearly, the goal of everything isn’t the stock option; the goal of everything is the general interest, your good, that of your company, its workers, and its clients.” Granted, but you need a good reason not to make the instrument into the absolute value, especially when you can manipulate everything for your own personal enrichment. Granted, but what happens to someone like you, who belongs to something else? “The more intelligent firms understand, as Vittadini once told me, that it’s not necessarily true that your belonging to something different from the firm means you’re not a good worker. It depends.” On what? “Look at my case. I belong to our companionship, to the Church, and yet I’m a career professional, at the top of a company worth four billion euros, present in one hundred countries, with eight thousand employees throughout the world.” So how does this belonging influence your professional life? “The first way is judgment. This belonging stimulates me to judge everything. Second, reality is positive. This belonging teaches me that reality is always positive. When they tell me, ‘Let’s set profits at three months,’ I don’t waste time arguing. I do it. Then I say, ‘Well, now that we’ve done it, where should we direct the company?’ The three-month profit is a work method. It’s okay with me; I wouldn’t be here, I’d be doing another job, if I didn’t accept this outlook. However, I learn from the Movement–and the firm follows me in this because evidently it works on the economic level as well–that reality is highly unpredictable. Therefore, there are situations in which it is worthwhile to eschew short-term profits and invest mid-and long-range.” Quite a challenge. “Yes, because it isn’t easy to live with constant anxiety about profits. But this is my condition; this is my job.” So where is the freedom in this? “In staying before reality. It’s not that the Movement is something beautiful and loving that helps you live in this ugly world void of affection. It’s not that the effort to correct yourself is mistaken, because in any case Jesus would forgive you. It’s not that it isn’t right that work is the place where they measure you by the results you achieve. I belong to the Movement, that is, I try to be truly engaged with all the conditions dictated by reality and by my profession.”

GRAZIANO TARANTINI Belonging, and social redemption
For Tarantini, “belonging” is synonymous with a social redemption that happened in his past. “If I hadn’t encountered the Movement, I would have been a street kid, a pauper. But it wasn’t just a social redemption; the Movement educated me to work well, that is, with freedom. If you’re with CL, you’re branded by normal prejudice. Then, when they get to know you, they understand that there’s nothing to fear. I’ve learned two things from the way I was reached by Christ. First, you don’t put ideas into play, but your person. When I want to propose something, I don’t say, ‘This is my idea.’ I say, ‘Trust me, follow me, and then you can object on the basis of the facts.’ Second, everyone is looking for a perfect world where you don’t need to be good anymore. Until five years ago, the content of Boards of Directors was work, business, things to do. Now there’s overregulation, so in a four-hour meeting, you spend three talking about rules, oversight procedures, monitoring and monitors–finding ways to sterilize the person. Have our savings been compromised? Then you have to control the people; you need new rules. Of course, yes, they’re needed. But if there’s no hope for human change, then no rule will suffice. For a bank, the problem of reputation is crucial. If there’s no trust, then there’s no business, either. But you build trust by building people, not by multiplying precautions. An example: There was a Communist on one of the boards I serve on, who hated the Companionship of Works. The feeling was mutual, but in addition, I had the power to exclude him from certain decisions. One day, I took a chance; I tried to take a first step toward my enemy, choosing him, notwithstanding my prejudice.” What happened? “My change was his change. Now, neither of us moves ahead on any business without first asking the other’s advice.” It reminds me of the famous verse, “Now it is true, but it was so false that it continues to be impossible.” “Yes. In fact, some people say, ‘You’ve got some self-interest going. Gratuity is impossible.’ Or, ‘This belonging of yours serves for making money, or else it means you’re an idiot. In any case, it doesn’t add up. Where’s the catch?’ But instead, there really isn’t any catch. It’s really so; come and see.”

STEFANO MORRI Discovery of the hundredfold
Morri is the fellow who discovered late in life the hundredfold. “That parable is a hymn to possession. The only caveat–and what a caveat!–is that there is no joy without suffering, no achievement without mortification, no power without limitations. Thence the discovery–that’s right, the discovery, even though I’d been in the Movement for twenty years–that the Church was not against my aspiration for self-fulfilment through my work, that the Church was not against the drive I employed every day to move ahead and make things work, but, on the contrary, the Church fostered and blessed it, with the only condition that I recognize its source. Looking back on my life, I see that I owe everything to the Church’s education, which for so long exalted, and still exalts, my natural bent, even though I was unconscious of it. Finally, now, at the age of 47, when many are already pulling in their oars and dreaming of Caribbean islands, I owe to the Church my gusto in starting again from scratch, counting as nothing all that I’ve done until now, and getting back into the game.” Thus, Morri returned to school, taking the bar exam last month. In addition, “A year and a half ago, I began doing School of Community in my office, overcoming my suspicion that people would come just because I was the boss, and that their choice wouldn’t be a free one. I did it for myself, because I wanted to understand, through Why the Church?, how the mystery of the world becomes something I can encounter today, but I also did it for my collaborators and clients, so the meaning I have encountered might become a new thing for them, too. With time, the group has grown to about twenty people. We read the book, not much else, just a few comments, but this gesture has begun to illuminate the deep motivations of the law firm, and to reveal a different way of using work time to edify ourselves and to share a personal human journey. A different kind of relationship has arisen, not detracting from the social norms of working together, not at all, but a different way of looking at each other, with more awareness, more intensity.”