Economist magazine: Harvard Business School needs Pope as case study

(Image from The Economist)How The Economist of April 19-25 depicts Pope Francis after his first year as pontiff.

In just over a year as head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis has made a huge impact on the faithful and the rest of the world with his special style and refocusing the organization he heads.

Now The Economist newspaper is advocating a new role for the pontiff as a re-branding icon.

The latest edition of the weekly says that business schools regularly have great "turnaround CEOs" such as IBM's Lou Gerstner, Fiat's Sergio Marchionne and Apple's Steve Jobs who resuscitate fading organizations.

"Now Harvard Business School needs to add another case study: Jorge Bergoglio, the man who has rebranded RC Global in barely a year," says The Economist in an editorial in its latest edition.

The piece is headed, "The pope as a turnaround CEO - The Francis effect," with a strap, "About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Turn to a Roman case study."

The Economist says that when Francis "celebrated his first Easter as CEO," shortly after his appointment, "the world's oldest multinational was in crisis."

It notes that in the emerging world and Latin America where Francis ran the Argentine office its losing market share to Pentecostal competitors.

Closer to Rome scandals in its traditional markets, scandals were driving away customers and "demoralising the salesforce."

The church was battling with recruitment and finances were in disarray. Leaked Vatican documents signalled a maelstrom "of corruption and incompetence."

"The board was divided and weak. Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pope to resign for 600 years, amid dark rumours that the founder and chairman, a rarely seen elderly bearded figure whose portrait adorns the Sistine boardroom, had intervened."

But, notes the editorial, in only one year, self-confidence has returned and the business has improved.


"The CEO is popular: 85 percent of American Catholics -a tough audience -approve of him," it says riding on what is dubbed the "Francis effect."

It says Francis has succeeded "in galvanising one of the world's stodgiest outfits" by engaging in important management principles.

"Francis has refocused his organisation on one mission: helping the poor. One of his first decisions was to forsake the papal apartments in favour of a boarding house which he shares with 50 other priests and sundry visitors."

The Economist cites Francis choosing the name of the saint who epitomizes care for the poor along with kissing the feet and washing 12 inmates at a juvenile center.

He did away with grandiose attire used by pontiffs from the time of the Renaissance opting for a battered Ford instead of a Mercedes to get around in.

This new direction has allowed the use of fewer resources on side businesses and helped it avoid doctrinal disputes.

One of two management tools the Pope is using effectively is "brand repositioning" by teaching in a "less censorious" manner than those who preceded him, on abortion and gay marriage without changing the principles on them.

The other tool is a restructuring by the appointment of a group of eight cardinals to review the church's configuration and administration and fixing the Vatican bank.

The Economist asks if these actions of Francis will work, noting  some critics say they lack substance and others saying greater changes are needed, such as a bigger role for women.

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