Rev. Robert A. Sirico at the 2019 Acton Annual Dinner
Acton Institute Powerblog

Rev. Robert Sirico: The spiritual secrets of business success

What are the keys to properly analyzing business opportunities, discovering new markets, and troubleshooting barriers to growth? Business degrees, books, and seminars may equip leaders with a technical knowledge of these problems – but in a new podcast, Acton Institute President and Co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico identifies two core mental and spiritual traits that incline entrepreneurs toward success.

Rev. Sirico joined best-selling author and top-rated Forbes leadership speaker Brad Formsma in episode 64 of “The Wow Factor,” a podcast that promises “Words Of Wisdom from extraordinary leaders to help you grow in business and beyond.”

Despite their deep subject matter, they speak with the familiarity of two people whose families have been intertwined for decades. They recall how Rev. Sirico preached at the funeral of Brad’s grandfather, Don, at Lagrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church – “the cathedral of the Christian Reformed Church, if they had cathedrals,” as Rev. Sirico called it.

This podcast, which introduces the life and philosophy of Acton’s co-founder to the audience, contains his familiar story of how a childhood encounter with a neighbor who survived the Holocaust opened his eyes to offenses against human dignity.

“This sense of the injustice that I had seen done to Mrs. Schneider … was prompting me” to be involved in the left-wing activism of Los Angeles and the West Coast’s counterculture, he said.

“I was lost in those years,” Rev. Sirico said. “When you’re lost, it doesn’t mean you’re not opinionated.”

In time, “a whole paradigm switch” led him to see the goodness of business – and that goodness makes good business.

A pivotal moment, he said, came from meeting French tire magnate François Michelin. Michelin modeled servant leadership by personally serving others rather than exclusively writing checks to charitable causes (commendable as that would be). His concern ignited his personal need to assure the safety and quality of his products – and their resultant reputation for excellence drove sales.

Another revelation came when Michelin took the time to speak to a low-seniority employee who interrupted his discussion with Rev. Sirico, treating the man in a humble and respectful manner. The ability to deal with interruptions, Rev. Sirico told Formsma, is “evidence of … a person’s flexibility”:

If you do not have flexibility in business, you will not survive. You will not seize market opportunities. You will not be able to be a good servant to other people, to your consumers, because you won’t see the things – you will have already had the blinders on, and you’re going down one path, and nobody can interrupt you.

Flexibility and servant leadership are two common factors of success.

In the course of the 47-minute podcast, the two men also discuss:

  • The spiritual reality behind generosity, philanthropy, and concealing vs. revealing good deeds;
  • “The real flaw of Marx”;
  • The reason “a lot of nonprofits can go a long time and really not do very much” – and how they can avoid this fate;
  • How the arc of Rev. Sirico’s activist career bent from opposing “prejudice against gay people” to fighting “prejudice against business people”;
  • How business can become a mode of transcendence and creativity;
  • The simple economic reality that results in “freeing people up to combine their intelligence”;
  • The inner emotional world of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents; and
  • The proper interpretation of Jesus’ statement, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”

You can listen to Rev. Robert A. Sirico and Brad Formsma on episode 64 of “The Wow Factor” on the podcast’s website or on Apple Podcasts.

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.