- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832
This quotation reprinted in August Turak’s “Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity” (Columbia Business School Publishing, 200 pages, $29.95, available from Amazon.com at a reduced price, and also available from Amazon as a Kindle edition at $14.99) could serve as a summary of the monastic way of life and the secret to the monks’ business success, writes Turak on page 175 of a book that is both a memoir and a repository of information that can transform your life. It’s also a moving account of his friendship with the Trappist monks at Mepkin Abbey.
In 1987, Wess Roberts published “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,” an unlikely source of business strategies that intrigued many people. I’m pretty sure that Jack Welch of G.E. was a big fan of this book.
Today you can even get an iPhone app: “The Art of Business” by Sun Tzu, the Chinese sage more famous for writing about the Art of War:
I’m putting my literary money on Turak’s book, based on his experiences since the late 1990s working with the monks of Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. The former estate of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce (Henry Luce was the co-founder of Time magazine and the founder of Life and Fortune magazines; his wife was a playwright, congresswoman and ambassador), the 3,132 acre property has been a second home to Turak for the past 17 years.
As a frequent monastic guest, he learned firsthand from the Trappist monks as they grew an incredibly successful portfolio of businesses. Combining prayer and work, including sorting the eggs from the thousands of hens on the site, Turak learned the principles of authenticity and customer service that made the abbey self-sustaining.
The part of Turak’s book about gathering and sorting eggs resonated with the present reviewer, a son of the soil. Born in 1938 in Van Buren County, Mich., I spent my first 10 years on a farm where we had dairy cattle and thousands of hens that were very productive in egg-laying. We also grew produce that we sold at a roadside stand to tourists and locals.
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 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.
Along with the business insights revealed by Turak are personal experiences from his own life, including the death of one of his brothers in a snowmobile accident and his own scary experience skydiving. I was particularly moved by his account of his friendship with Mepkin’s youthful abbot Father Francis Kline and Father Francis’ fight against a form of cancer called lymphoma. Finally sickened physically and mentally by the chemotherapy he was undergoing at Sloan-Kettering in New York City, Francis told the doctors he was going home.
Francis had been recruited from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, made famous by author Thomas Merton in “The Seven Storey Mountain” and other books. Merton (1915-1968) was an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion.
I noticed right away that Turak’s book didn’t have an index. Usually, I rant and rave when an index-less book is sent to me; in this case, I have the sneaky feeling that Turak left off the index because he wanted people to read his book, not scan the index. A good choice, Augie! In a world of unread (and often unreadable) business books, August Turak’s “Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks” stands out as a book that will be read and re-read.
More quotes from Goethe:
About the Author
After a corporate career with companies like MTV, August Turak founded two highly successful software businesses, Raleigh Group International (RGI) and Elsinore Technologies. He received a B.A. in history from the University of Pittsburgh and is pursuing a Masters in theology at St. John’s University, Minnesota. Turak’s essay “Brother John” received the grand prize in the John Templeton Foundation’s Power of Purpose essay contest. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York Times, and Business Week, and is a popular leadership contributor at Forbes.com.
His website is www.augustturak.com