Leo D'Angelo Fisher Columnist

Leo covers management and leadership issues, business trends and corporate strategy. He is a former senior business writer at The Bulletin and a former host of The Business Hour on 3AW.

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Faith and wealth: a holy alliance

Published 23 May 2013 00:45, Updated 24 May 2013 08:50

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Faith and wealth: a holy alliance

Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest . . . guided by the New Testament. Tony McDonough

In February, mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola joined Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge movement and made a commitment to donate at least $2.5 billion to charity.

Once complete, the donation will be one of the biggest in history, but perhaps more intriguing than its quantum are the reasons it is being made.

In an open letter explaining their pledge the Forrests wrote: “Guided by the same principles of the book which inspired the successful leadership of our companies, the New Testament, we chose to help those least fortunate.”

The rich are typically reluctant to discuss their wealth; most are even more reluctant to discuss their religious beliefs. Regardless, many are deeply religious and, like the Forrests, call on their faith to help build and distribute vast fortunes.

Craig Winkler is a key supporter of the Crossways Christian church in Melbourne. Michael Hintze donates heavily to Catholic charities, and was made a Papal Knight in 2005. Robert Whyte has a degree in comparative theology from Oxford University. Solomon Lew is a prominent member of the Malvern Chabad House in Melbourne.

In his book The Seven Motivations of Life: Taking Your Leadership to a Higher Level, author Mark Oliver says business success and religious observance are not irreconcilable.

“Accepting a spiritual presence in one’s life can be a sign of increased maturity,” he writes. “This spiritual presence is not necessarily religious . . . We can evaluate our own spirituality by the extent [to] which we are motivated by . . . compassion, courage, wisdom and meaning.”

Trucking billionaire Lindsay Fox knows where to look for his spiritual uplift: family – with heavenly insurance just in case.

Fox, a “rebellious Protestant”, and his wife Paula, a “good Catholic girl”, have met two popes. Fox has the photos on his office wall to prove it.

“Kids need mum and dad to set the example and the kids follow that example,” he says. “When I went to state school I still recall clearly the Monday morning address: ‘I love God and my country. I honour the flag, I’ll serve the King and cheerfully obey my teachers and parents and the law.’ We don’t have that today. We need it. And that’s where respect of the laws and your family starts, from a very early age, and that will carry you all the way through your life.”

Tradition for wealthy Christians

A director of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney, Simon Smart , says there is a “great tradition of wealthy Christian people who do a lot of good with their wealth”. Although there can be a “necessary and inherent tension” between faith and Mammon, Smart says there are many examples of successful businesspeople “integrating their faith into their business activities”.

“I’d like to see people of faith bring their faith into every area of their life, including their business activities; if you’re a serious believer you can’t separate the two so that your faith is a separate thing.”

“An authentic faith informs every aspect of life, including business activity and the way business is conducted. I’d like to see successful business people talk about their faith and think about how their faith interacts with their business activities.”

Peter Kaldor , a former investment banker who later trained for a Christian ministry, says many successful businesspeople find it difficult to be open about “spiritual matters”.

Scratch below the surface, says Kaldor, a director of the Sydney-based City Bible Forum, “and there’s a lot of insecurity” among high-flyers. “Those whose identity is secure outside of their work and who don’t have as much invested in how they’re perceived find that they are much better able to navigate those tensions [between faith and business success].”

“It’s not a very common experience in the workplace environment to have that opportunity because it could be seen as weakness,” Kaldor says.

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