The Pope as a ‘Turnaround CEO’ – The Francis effect

Go Lean Commentary

Every Caribbean country elevates and respects the Christian celebration of Easter. On this occasion, we consider a review of the Roman Catholic leader, Pope Francis, and his management style in relation to a ‘Turnaround CEO’. (Technically, the Pope is a CEO, and a King; see VIDEO in the Appendix).

Pope Francis

The subject of religion is very important to the SFE Foundation, publishers of the book Go Lean … Caribbean. While the foundation is apolitical and religiously neutral, it does draw insight from the underlying guide that Pope Francis embraces, the Holy Bible. In fact, Go Lean features an advocacy applying the insight from the Bible on economic and governing matters:

10 Lessons from the Bible – Page 144.

As for this ‘Turnaround CEO’, Jorge Bergoglio of RC Global (RC = Roman Catholic), assumes this position at a time of crisis (of faith) for his organization, the Church. There are lessons and application here for the object of devotion for the SFE Foundation, turn-around for the Caribbean, since this region is also in crisis! (Also, a crisis of faith, in which people are quick to flee their beloved homelands for distant shores).

***About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Turn to this Roman case study***
Business schools regularly teach their students about great “turnaround CEOs” who breathe new life into dying organisations: figures such as IBM’s Lou Gerstner, Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne and Apple’s Steve Jobs. Now Harvard Business School needs to add another case study: Jorge Bergoglio, the man who has rebranded RC Global in barely a year.

When Pope Francis celebrated his first Easter as CEO, just after being appointed, the world’s oldest multinational was in crisis. Pentecostal competitors were stealing market share in the emerging world, including in Latin America, where Francis ran the Argentine office. In its traditional markets, scandals were scaring off customers and demoralising the salesforce. Recruitment was difficult, despite the offer of lifetime employment in a tough economy. The firm’s finances were also a mess. Leaked documents revealed the Vatican bank as a vortex 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.

Operating Prophet
In just a year, the business has recovered a lot of its self-confidence. The CEO is popular: 85% of American Catholics—a tough audience—approve of him. Footfall in RC Global’s retail outlets is rising again. The salesforce now talks about a “Francis effect”. How has a [70 year old] Argentinian succeeded in galvanising one of the world’s stodgiest outfits? Essentially by grasping three management principles.

The first is a classic lesson in core competences. 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. He took the name of a saint who is famous for looking after the poor and animals. He washed and kissed the feet of 12 inmates of a juvenile-detention centre. He got rid of the fur-trimmed velvet capes that Popes have worn since the Renaissance, swapped Benedict’s red shoes for plain black ones and ignored his fully loaded Mercedes in favour of a battered Ford.

This new focus has allowed the company to spend fewer resources on ancillary businesses, such as engaging in doctrinal disputes or staging elaborate ceremonies. The “poor-first strategy” is also aimed squarely at emerging markets, where the potential for growth is greatest but competition fiercest.

Along with the new strategic focus, the Pope is employing two management tools to good effect. One is a brand repositioning. He clearly continues to support traditional teaching on abortion and gay marriage, but in a less censorious way than his predecessors (“Who am I to judge?” he asked of homosexuals). The other is a restructuring. He has appointed a group of eight cardinals (“the C8”) to review the church’s organisation and brought in McKinsey and KPMG (“God’s consultants”) to look at the church’s administrative machinery and overhaul the Vatican bank.

Will it work? Established critics, notably the corporate raider Lou Siffer, maintain it is all incense-smoke and mirrors. Others insist that more sweeping change, including a bigger role for women, is needed. The chairman’s attitude is unknown. Some analysts interpret the absence of plagues of boils and frogs as approbation; others point out that He moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.

The Economist Magazine – Retrieved Apr 19th 2014 from:

The foregoing article identified the Pope’s 3 management principles:

  1. Re-focusing on Core Competence
  2. Brand Re-positioning
  3. Restructuring

The book Go Lean … Caribbean serves as a roadmap for change in the Caribbean, with the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). It identifies the same 3 management principles (and then more), for contending with the crises that befalls the Caribbean member-states. Specifically the above 3 principles are identified, qualified and proposed with these detailed pages from the book:

  1. Strategy – What are we best at doing? (Page 58)
  2. Ways to Better Manage Image (Page 133)
  3. Ways to Impact Turn-arounds (Page 33); Re-boot Freeport (Page 112); Re-boot Cuba (Page 236); Re-boot Haiti (Page 238); Re-boot Jamaica (Page 239)

What are the management training and influences of Pope Francis? Is he influenced by his successful accomplishment of other crisis?

In an earlier article on the accomplishments of Pope Francis, the same Economist magazine (March 8, 2014 edition) associated Pope Francis management style with Peronist philosophies:

The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “[Francis] only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”

The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.

The Pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement.

“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”


Conversely, consider the management influences of the architects of the Go Lean roadmap. Are they influenced by successful management of other crises?

The answer is a resounding Yes! At the outset of the book (Page 8), the publishers are identified and qualified with these statements:

The peak day of the recent global financial crisis was September 15, 2008. On this day, Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, and eventual dissolution, after succumbing to the weight of over-leverage in mortgage-backed securities. There is an old observation/expression that states that “there are 3 kinds of people in the world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder ‘what happened?’“ Principals of SFE Foundation were there in 2008 … engaged with Lehman Brothers (and subsequently BearStearns and JPMorganChase); on the inside looking out, not the outside looking in. Understanding the anatomy of the modern macro economy, allows the dissection of the processes and the creation of viable solutions.

The Pope wants errant members of his flock, the Catholic Church, to return to worship in the pews and at the altars of local parishes. The same as he assumes an oversight position to turn-around “the fortunes” of RC Global – the Catholic Church, so too the CU, following the Go Lean roadmap, has to assume oversight of much of the Caribbean economic, security and governing functionality.

In summary, this plan’s execution will make the Caribbean, a better place to live, work and play.

Change has come to the Caribbean. There is a new vehicle for turning-around the region’s economic, security and governmental drivers. The people and institutions are urged to “lean-in” for this change. The benefits: emergence of an $800 Billion regional economy, 2.2 million new jobs and the lure for millions of Diaspora members to set their sights on a return to their homelands. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix – VIDEO: Vatican City Explained –


Share this post:
, , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *