Morality is possible in business and does not necessarily conflict with profit-making, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said Tuesday in a talk at Saint Thomas More.
As head of the group’s Supreme Council, Anderson holds the highest position in the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization with headquarters in New Haven.
The title of the talk, “The Art of the Impossible: Business as Morality in Practice,” was derived from a series of speeches that former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel delivered while serving as leader of a Communist country he perceived as riddled with economic and social injustices, Anderson said.
The Order, as the organization refers to itself, sees business as a function of the group’s guiding principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
“Not only is it possible to conduct business in a moral standpoint, but also in a way that is successful, even very successful,” Anderson said. “A moral purpose can account for the existence of the company itself as well as the goals of the company.”
The Order offers members and their families discounted insurance policies, but the group also coordinates a vast network of philanthropic projects. At present, the Order has sold $5.2 billion in insurance to its members and their families, but, at the same time, donated more than $130 million and contributed 161 million volunteer hours, Anderson said. It is this combination of service and business to which Anderson attributed the success of the organization.
“Such values and not solely the search for profits has made possible our extraordinary success,” Anderson said.
Anderson described the relationship that should ideally exist between a corporation and its employees, citing his own organization as an example. The Order employs 650 individuals through its main office in addition to 14,000 insurance agents. It is simply not in the company’s best interest, according to Anderson, to overlook its employees.
“The moment a company loses sight of the reality that its employees, its people, are its most important resource, that is the moment a company loses both its moral foundation and capacity for success,” he said.
Anderson said charity is “an obligation.”
“It’s not just a matter of discretion,” he said.
Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in the basement of St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven in the early 1880s. The society’s membership has grown to 1.6 million spanning the globe to include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Virgin Islands, Guam and other locations. The Order now represents the world’s largest Catholic fraternal society.
In celebration of its 100th anniversary in 1982, the Knights of Columbus established a museum in its headquarters building on Columbus Plaza near Union Avenue.
The Director of Development at Saint Thomas More, Kerry Robinson, said she felt that the message Anderson delivered was genuine.
“He seemed like a very gentle person,” she said.
Jacqueline Costrini ’06 said she found the ethical principles that the Order holds in the realms of business and beyond admirable.
“I am impressed by the Knights of Columbus’ commitment to hold onto moral values while still maintaining business practices that are responsible, profitable, and ethical,” Costrini said. “They also stand up for values in the business world that stand against abortion, contraception and euthanasia.”
The Rev. Robert Beloin introduced the speaker as someone who saw corporate greed as unnecessary to a successful business and one who holds ethics in tandem with profitability.