The CEO and the MONK
One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose
By Robert B. Catell and Kenny Moore with Glenn Rifkin
In these days of corporate greed, unethical, if not dishonest behavior, and a seemingly blatant disregard for the well-being of most corporate constituents other than shareholders and senior management, this book refreshingly reminds us that you can do well by doing well. This is not a how-to book in the sense of there being some magic number of steps, which if followed will guarantee some particular result. Catell, the CEO, and Moore, the monk, with the help of professional journalist Rifkin, thoughtfully and patiently recreate the evolution of Brooklyn Union Gas Co. from a relatively small, local utility into what is today KeySpan Energy, the fifth largest energy provider in the United States.
In addition to being the story of “One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose,” it also captures the interesting rhythm of the developing relationship between two seemingly disparate individuals. The CEO and the monk form a bond based on trust, ethical behavior and concern for their employees, and a commitment to community service that should serve as a model for corporations across many industry lines.
Catell is shown to be a pragmatic engineer, who after 30 years with the company is elected to the position of CEO in 1991. How and why he created such an unusual bond with a monk who happened to be working in his human resource area remains a serendipitous mystery to him to this day. In the early days of their relationship Bob Catell was struggling with the huge issue of impending deregulation in his industry, and the competitive threat that created for a business that had pretty much reached its saturation point in its local markets with 80 percent of the residential business and more than 50 percent of the commercial.
Kenny Moore, calling on his experience within the monastery, realized that in many instances of profound loss, a period of grieving is required before being able to move on with life. Transferring this idea into Brooklyn Union’s situation, he proposed celebrating a corporate funeral as a cathartic means of moving the company into a new era. Catell, sensing that the situation might call for something he described as “outlandish,” took a deep breath and plunged forward with Moore’s idea. Honoring the old values of Brooklyn Union, lamenting the changes that were going to be required to cope with the new deregulated environment, and seeking the insights and concerns of the “mourners,” gave voice to the strengths that were to be built on as KeySpan emerged. As Rifkin observes in hearing these two men relate this experience at the beginning of their long relationship, “Corporate America, it turned out, was a haven for lost souls, and his (Moore’s) resume suddenly seemed more relevant than ever.”
As their story unfolds, Moore has the role of corporate ombudsman settled on him. His style and background present him as the player with the more thoughtful and memorable insights. “When I was behind the cloistered walls, 50 percent of the people thought they were divinely inspirited. In business, the number was up to 80 percent.” It is, however, ultimately Bob Catell’s story, and the story of his integrity and strength of character that allow him to take this less-traveled path to corporate success, deeply ingrained in high principle, which makes this a compelling story. The extremely troubling times of their merger with Long Island Lighting Co. – first, dealing ethically with the need to dispose of a failed nuclear power plant, and then confronting the self-serving agenda of the LILCO management – present the defining moments for forging the unique relationship between Catell and Moore.
The tough-minded businessman, working with the tempering influence of a man focused on the spiritual well-being of the individual as well as the corporate soul, provides a terrific model for the balance that can be struck in most businesses. For service organizations, particularly those with strong local community identities, KeySpan creates a useful template for wedding corporate goals with the ethical treatment of employees. Good corporate citizenship and an unwavering recognition of the importance of doing the right thing, even if at times it is not the cheapest or most expedient way of behaving, are shown to be their formula for success.
Kenny Moore may have the inside track on memorable insights and quotable lines, as when he recalls his spiritual advisor’s encouragement to him when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges: “If you think you’re too small to be effective, then you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.” In the end, when we hear Bob Catell summing up some of the lessons he has learned over 45 years with this remarkable company, we get to the core value of the story. “Doing the right thing, being socially responsible, and holding tightly to a core set of values about how to do business and how to treat people, will never go out of fashion.”
If you’re looking for 12 steps to success or 13 ways to improve your bottom line then this is not your book. If you’re looking for an inspirational look on how one company, and two unlikely allies within a very traditional corporate structure can collaborate to create an enviable environment, with great financial success and a clear conscience to sleep at night, this is your book.
The authors state, “Without fanfare, KeySpan has embraced a management philosophy that somehow balances bottom-line demands with a sense of caring and family. There is the palpable belief in the proposition that what is good for the soul is also good for business.” Certainly a legacy any of us would be proud to have follow us out the door of our corporate lives.
The CEO and the MONK
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Wiley (Jan. 9, 2004)
William G. Gothorpe is president of Dedham Institution for Savings.