Our Stories | St. Michael’s Magazine: Meritus Winners

Meritus Winners

Good Enough to be the Best

It’s dog-eat-dog in the business world. Everyone cheats. If you don’t win, you lose. If you lose, you’re a loser.

But wait a minute. Winners? Losers? When we were growing up we were told that what mattered was how you played the game. The operative word wasn’t “win.” The operative word was “good.” Being “good” mattered.

For a group of Canadian Catholic business leaders who have formed a network called Meritus, such a cultural perspectiveis as old as the Church itself. Their organization takes its name and its operating principles from the Latin word to serve, to show kindness, to be just. If the Enron, WorldCom, and Martha Stewart scandals have shown us “successful people behaving badly,” it is reassuring to learn that there exist individuals who could be singled out as successful people behaving very, very well.

In 2001, Meritus established the Catholic Business Person of the Year Award to demonstrate that indeed such individuals are very much in our midst and should be celebrated. To date five exceptional persons have been honored by Meritus, and all five have connections to St. Michael’s: Frank Buckley 4T2, Bob Chisholm 6T8, and Kathleen O’Neill 7T5 are graduates; John Gennaro attended the College from 1954 to 1955; and Dr Andrew Simone received (along with his wife Joan) the degree Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa from St. Michael’s in 2000.

Meritus winners have demonstrated that, notwithstanding the old adage that “good guys finish last,” virtue sometimes is rewarded. Asked about “goodness” where it is learned and how it is practiced their responses were remarkably similar: “values are embedded at home and in school”; “at my parents’ knee”; “from the nuns in parochial school and later from the priests at St. Mike’s.”

Goodness. Discipline. Knowledge. Frank Buckley remembers the influence of the Basilian Fathers both in high school and later in university as “central to my life.”

“As a day student, enrolled in Commerce and Finance, I took classes at the old music building across campus. I only rarely got to St. Mike’s but the influence of the Basilians in general and Father Sullivan in particular was an important part of my undergraduate life. Going to mass was important. The friendliness of the Basilians is something I always remember.”

That friendliness must have been contagious. Frank’s leadership style as president of the company founded by his father, William Knapp Buckley, (the company that makes the famous “awful”-tasting cough syrup), can best be described as co-operative and collaborative.

“I liked to listen to people,” he said. “If people are treated fairly, things work out well. The leader sets the tone in the company.”

Bob Chisholm would agree on the importance of listening. “I’m not a control- and-command kind of guy,” he said.

“I was always collectively looking for solutions. Banking is complex. One person can’t p.phpbly have all the answers. I needed think they trusted me.”

Bob is Scotiabank’s Vice-Chairman, Domestic Banking, responsible for the bank’s Canadian retail and commercial banking operations. When asked about his success, he replied, somewhat sheepishly, that “over the years I figured I must have a guardian angel, because I was usually in the right place at the right time.

At St. Michael’s, he recalled fondly, “I had Father Belyea and Father Bob Madden and Father John Madden teaching me religion and English and reminding me to shape up.”

On the encouragement of his future wife, Andrea, Bob took advantage of oncampus interview opportunities with some of the big accounting firms. “My marks were not my greatest asset. But I was fortunate. When I said I was pretty good with numbers, Price Waterhouse let me take an aptitude test right on the spot. I must have done pretty well because they offered me a job marks and all.”

It is probably safe to say that “exaggerating” his marks to get a job simply would have occurred to Bob.

The words “fortunate” and “blessed” recurred frequently in conversation with these distinguished Catholic businesspersons. Kathleen O’Neill, formerly Executive Vice-President with BMO Financial, and a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers, sits on the Boards of several not-for-profits and companies. She contributes her experience and leadership skills to organizations driven by values extending beyond shareholder value to include respect, trust, and integrity.

“I’m proud that I have been able with reasonable success to combine career and family,” she said. “My husband and I have four children. My family has always been the focus of my life it comes first but I have tried to balance my prof.phponal life and my family life and I have been lucky to have mentors who believed in me and who helped make possible that balancing act because they too appreciated the importance of family commitments.”

In his new book, aptly titled Magnificence at Work, John Dalla Costa reports through interviews with some 20 CEO’s a shared belief that public confidence and organizational credibility hinge on personal integrity. By its etymology, as Dalla Costa points out, integrity connotes “wholeness.” “From the root ‘integer,’ a full and functioning unit, ‘integrity’ means the bringing together of the whole person: mind, body and soul.”

Once again: goodness, discipline, knowledge. The integration of values, hard work, intelligence and education enables the formation of those who can succeed by transcending the limitations of a “dog-eatdog” culture.

Perhaps the capitalized word “Magnificence” could be another name for God. It is God at work when we succeed and are the instruments of God’s hands. And certainly faith has been a key factor in the integrity exemplified by the Meritus award winners.

Dr Andrew Simone MD and his wife Joan have 13 children. Involvement in their parish prayer group led the Simones to greater service to the poor. Working at first with the M.phponaries of Charity, on Mother Teresa’s suggestion they branched out. Eventually they founded Canadian Food for Children, a charity which now sends food and other supplies to 22 developing countries.

John Gennaro, a grocery wholesaler who volunteers his time to many community causes, considers himself “lucky,” but believes his good fortune has a divine source.

“I made a promise to the Lord to get involved in a lot of social work,” he said. “I never said no when someone asked meto serve. And my business never suffered it always did well.”

In accepting her Meritus award, Kathleen O’Neill referred to the Prayer of St. Francis as being the one that “says it all.” “We all have talents, all given to us by God”, she said.

“We all use the talents that God gave us to the best of our ability. Some can do one thing, some another. I’m very good with numbers, so I try to use that gift to be the best I can be in business in accounting, on boards of companies, in leadership roles.”

As Christians, we have known for over 2,000 years that one good person can make a difference. St. Michael’s has for over 150 years helped to form good people. Meritus has honored five of the best.