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Kimberly Rae Connor

How to Be a CEO: Reading Dorothy Day’s Diaries in a Jesuit School of Management

As an academic trained in the humanities but teaching in a school of management, I was encouraged by the 2019 “Inspirational Paradigm for Jesuit Business Education,” that it is “firmly based upon an ethical framework that emphasizes the fundamental questions of the dignity and the potential of the individual, the centrality of the common good, and the importance of social networks that affirm and support human flourishing.” One step in renewing business curricula involves going backwards, to the humanities on which Jesuit education was based. I have a unique opportunity to take this step because my academic training is in religious and literary studies. Although there can be profound dissonance between what I read and know well and the kinds of resources typically applied to a management education, this apparent desolation also presents an opportunity for consolation. This is where the paradigm shift can happen. For instance, we can substitute Greg Boyle, SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries for Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. We can redirect students’ attention away from networking and towards meditation, focus on value rather than profit, or adapt a method or a format that they are accustomed to but fill it with unfamiliar and potentially transformative content from a source they would not otherwise have consulted. I offer an example of that final technique by reflecting on the wisdom found in the diaries of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker. I have repackaged it for my MBA students by modifying a concept from a New York Times column that imparts advice in the form of brief anecdotes and aphorisms offered by corporate leaders. “How to Be a CEO,” asks managers to share the life advice they wish they had given or received along their career trajectories. Substituting Dorothy Day for someone like Elon Musk, for example makes a certain sense. Dorothy Day, in our current parlance, was a disruptor, an entrepreneurial woman who leaned-in, acquired capital, and successfully started and ran her own franchised, multi-location, multi-service organization while practicing what we now call corporate social responsibility. She was a prodigious fundraiser who considered stockholders and stakeholders equal partners in their enterprise, and she created a recognizable brand that she represented on multiple platforms as a writer, public speaker, and activist on her way to becoming an internationally recognized leader. What follows, therefore, is a list of twelve principles I retrieved from her diaries that I think should be the kind of advice CEOs offer and receive. Dorothy Day’s wisdom applies to not just how students will manage their careers, but how they will manage their lives.