Ex-Swiss Guard recounts business lesson learned from pope
By Daniel S. Mulhall
The story is an unusual one. A young man leaves his home in a small village in Switzerland and becomes a member of the elite Swiss Guard that protects the pope and the Vatican. During his few years in the Swiss Guard the young man learns life lessons from the pope, which he then uses to become a successful businessman. Wishing to give back, the man shares what he learned and how it applies to running a successful business.
That paragraph describes the book, “The Pope & the CEO.” The young man, Andreas Widmer, served as a member of Pope John Paul II’s protection detail with the Swiss Guard for a few years in the late 1980s. The book presents a series of principles that Widmer learned from John Paul, and then his application of those principles to business success. Both the principles and the business advice are of interest and worth the consideration of anyone engaged in running a business.
The book is enjoyable to read, and the stories are quite appealing. The idea of gleaning wisdom from the teachings of a pope and applying them to business is novel, although there have been other books written along this line that use the principles from religious life—Jesuits in particular—and show how they translate into successful business management.
What makes this book different is that much of Widmer’s learning comes from observation: Widmer would see the pope act in various, substantial ways and from the pope’s behavior, Widmer draws forth a life/business lesson.
While this personal connection to the Holy Father makes the book of greater interest to religious readers than a book just about business might be, there are times when this personal connection seems a bit too much to believe. That John Paul II would know his protection detail well and treat them with dignity and respect is quite acceptable. That he would become a companion and friend stretches credulity. Fortunately, such claims are rare.
The business principles that Widmer presents here are not that much different than one expects to find in a typical book written for business leaders, although because they are often stated in religious language, it approaches business somewhat differently.
Widmer encourages business leaders to know who they are and why they do what they do; what he calls being true to their vocation. Widmer argues that to succeed, the leader must find and maintain a proper sense of balance. He also encourages business leaders to make prayer a part of their regular routine and to develop a sense of humility, recognizing their own limitations and abilities. Leaders are also encouraged to develop a moral vision and then to follow it, doing what is right rather than what is expeditious.
Other key ideas presented are training our wills to make good decisions; having a clear mission and vision with goals that can help us to accomplish our objectives; recognizing and honoring the value of others on our team; leading by example; and living a balanced life. Each chapter concludes with a summary statement and reflection questions that business leaders can use to apply the lessons from the book to the decisions they have to make and the way they make them.
The book is published by a division of Catholics United for the Faith and contains a foreword by George Weigel, a prominent biographer of Pope John Paul. The book also contains a selection of photos of Widmer as a member of the Guard along with more recent photos showing him with his nephews, who are now members of the Guard.
Daniel S. Mulhall is a speaker and writer on topics related to evangelization, catechesis and pastoral planning. He currently serves as director of professional development and Hispanic catechesis for RCL Benziger.