PROFITING WITH HELP FROM ABOVE Flocks of businessmen are born-again Christians, and many run their companies according to biblical principles. Putting service to the Lord in first place gives them peace of mind but doesn't stop them from racking up some glorious earnings.
By Edward C. Baig REPORTER ASSOCIATE Susan Caminiti

(FORTUNE Magazine) – TO THE STRAINS of a recorded gospel song, top managers and their staffs intently watch slides of an evangelical mission to Poland. The music stops and the lights come up. Several of the 75 or so members of the audience take turns praying aloud. One woman asks God to watch over a friend's hernia operation, another prays that a co-worker's eye surgery will succeed. A third thanks the Lord for her parents' safe return from a trip to China. A religious retreat? No, it's just a typical Monday morning meeting at the Atlanta headquarters of Chick-fil-A, a thriving chain of fast-food outlets. ''Glorifying God is one of our corporate goals,'' declares Truett Cathy, a born-again Christian who is Chick-fil-A's founder and president. Cathy isn't unique. A surprising number of fervent Christians run corporations. Some of these executives, like John Teets, chairman of Greyhound, and Thomas Phillips, Raytheon's C.E.O., prefer not to discuss their faith in print. Others, like Sanford McDonnell, chairman and chief executive of McDonnell Douglas, and Kenneth Olsen, founder and president of Digital Equipment, talk freely about their spiritual convictions yet would be appalled at the idea of using their corporate power to impose religion on employees. Hundreds of executives, however, run their companies according to their interpretations of God's laws. Having experienced spiritual rebirth, sometimes during a traumatic conversion, these born-again bosses feel compelled to spread the Gospel to employees, customers, and suppliers. As fundamentalists, they claim the Bible is literally true and applies directly to management, like a divine policy manual. The most zealous prefer to do business only with the saved, since they believe that unregenerate souls are doomed to hell. In the pluralist, largely secular world of business, religious management comes as a shock. It smacks of intolerance and threatens to sacrifice a company's temporal interests to the faith of its managers. In 1984 Sports & Health Club Inc., a chain of exercise salons in the Minneapolis area, was found guilty of violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act because founder Arthur Owens insisted that all his managers be born-again Christians. Unwilling to obey the laws of man and strapped by mounting legal fees, Owens sold the club last October. But born-again management seems to be on the rise. Between 1973 and 1983, according to the most recent report by the National Council on Churches in Christ, evangelical sects saw their adult membership soar 23%, to about 35 million. The CCC Yellow Pages, published by the three-year-old Christian Chamber of Commerce, now lists some 1,000 born-again companies. Part of the credit for bringing evangelical Christianity out of the closet goes to Jimmy Carter; he may have a successor in Pat Robertson, the popular preacher who is thinking of running for President. ''We have become fashionable,'' says William Banowsky, the evangelical president of Gaylord Broadcasting, a privately held Dallas company. Alliances of God and Mammon are hardly new. Eighty years ago German sociologist Max Weber linked the rise of capitalism to the Protestant ethic. According to that ethic, worldly success is a sign of salvation and each person is responsible for husbanding the resources God grants him, which requires ascetic discipline and self-denial. Secularized, those beliefs became the work ethic, which still drives many businessmen regardless of their religion. ! Most born-again managers, especially at large publicly held companies, are moderates whose behavior wouldn't perplex Weber. They refuse to preach at the office, drawing clear lines between their religious beliefs and their businesses. ''I don't want to go to church and hear about Amway,'' says Richard DeVos, devoutly Christian president of the Ada, Michigan, household products company, whose 1986 sales topped $1 billion. ''And I don't want to go to an Amway meeting and hear about the church.'' J. McDonald Williams, the soft-spoken, self-effacing managing partner of Trammell Crow Co., the nation's largest privately held real estate developer, belongs to the born-again Church of Christ. He teaches Sunday school and hits the streets of Dallas along with other local executives to feed the homeless. But imposing his religious views on the company, Williams says, would be a wrongful use of his authority. ''Besides,'' he adds, ''it's hard enough to manage a real estate business without trying to manage the eternal prospects of my friends.'' Williams and other moderates generally decline to sponsor company prayer meetings. Spiritual conviction permeates companies run by the moderates, but it surfaces more as morality than as religion. Trammell Crow refuses to operate in communities where local officials accept payoffs and bribes, though the refusal may cost the company some business. Born-again executives give generously to charity and often urge their companies to do the same. They tend to view liquor as taboo, particularly in the South, a stronghold of fundamentalism. Randall's Food Markets Inc., a 35-store chain in the Houston area, will not sell beer or wine, that being the gospel according to Robert Onstead, the chain's born-again chairman. ALTHOUGH THEY segregate their spiritual and corporate interests, the moderates say that old-time religion helps them manage. Sanford McDonnell of McDonnell Douglas (1986 revenues: $12.6 billion) used to be a plain-vanilla Presbyterian. In 1968 a born-again executive at McDonnell Douglas's St. Louis headquarters persuaded the boss and his wife to come to Jesus. ''There was no big flash of light,'' McDonnell says of his conversion. ''I was just lying in bed thinking about it. And that's when I started reading the Bible.'' McDonnell prays regularly about business problems, seeking overall guidance, not specific solutions. ''It gives me a peace that I did not have before,'' he says. Max De Pree, chief executive of Herman Miller, a maker of office furniture based in Zeeland, Michigan, describes himself as an evangelical Christian raised in a devout home. He turns to the New Testament for management advice. ''The Book of Luke teaches me about leadership,'' says De Pree. ''James teaches me about the work ethic, and Paul about relationships.'' The moderates can be tough on their fellow believers. Fred Roach, formerly president of General Development Corp., now heads Centennial Homes Inc., a real estate subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser Corp. He likes ''to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others,'' though never on his employer's time. That distinction, he says, was lost on one of General Development's purchasing agents, who kept violating corporate conflict-of-interest rules by accepting gifts from suppliers, including an automobile. ''When I finally had to fire him,'' Roach recalls, ''he said, 'You can't do this. Jesus tells us to forgive 70 times seven.' '' Roach's answer: ''I'm not Jesus and you're still fired.'' Max De Pree of Herman Miller occasionally gets letters from employees who feel they were unfairly discharged or passed over for promotion. The letters say things like ''I thought I worked for a Christian company . . .'' or ''When push comes to shove, you're just like everyone else.'' Says De Pree: ''Sometimes Christians think loyalty comes before competence. Loyalty is very important. Competence is indispensable.'' Unlike the moderates, a group of managers best described as ''preachers'' assiduously weave religion into the fabric of their businesses. These executives often deny their firms can be classified as Christian companies and point to sizable rosters of non-Christian employees. But organizations run by preachers exude a strong odor of sanctity. Product literature and annual reports trumpet Scripture, and glorifying God usually comes before piling up profits. The preachers are determined to spread the good news however they can. ''We are not a religious company,'' insists Kenneth Wessner, 64, grandfatherly chairman of ServiceMaster of Downers Grove, Illinois. Yet Wessner admits the company's name carries a double meaning: ''service to the Master'' and ''master of service.'' Each year's annual report contains a biblical quotation and a religious essay (My Brother's Keeper was written for the 1985 report by Charles Colson, the Watergate co-conspirator reborn as an evangelical Christian). At ServiceMaster's headquarters, a sign in the cafeteria proclaims, ''Joy cometh in the morning'' (Psalm 30), and racks - throughout the building offer evangelistic pamphlets penned by Wessner and President C. William Pollard. Both executives are born-again Christians and occasional guests on religious talk shows. ServiceMaster, which manages a gaggle of services -- food preparation, housekeeping, equipment maintenance -- for over 1,300 hospitals, schools, and corporations, has as its ultimate goal ''to honor God in all we do.'' Profitable growth, Pollard says, is secondary, simply a means to the end. Even so, ServiceMaster's financial record would convince the deepest-dyed atheist that the Lord looks out for his own. Last year the company earned $32.7 million on revenues of $1.1 billion and boasted a heavenly return on equity of 45.6%. ServiceMaster's stock, trading recently at $27, has blessed shareholders with a total return on their investment of 28.2% a year, on average, over the past decade. The company's financial performance may owe something to the extraordinary care it takes of employees. When they don't perform, they aren't upbraided. Instead Wessner and Pollard try to discover the cause. ''Maybe there are conflicts at home,'' says Pollard. ''We have to look at the whole person.'' Adds Wessner: ''We don't fire people for lack of skill. We fire because of attitude problems.'' At ServiceMaster, having no religious beliefs does not signify a bad attitude. But Pollard admits the company's atmosphere is ''probably not for everyone.'' When handholding fails, the preachers can be as tough as the moderates -- and may reinforce the pink slip with a lesson from the Bible. ''When one of your restaurant operators is sitting on a $500,000 investment and not doing anything with it, he is not being a steward of the Lord,'' says Cathy of Chick-fil-A. Failed stewards are rare at his company. Chick-fil-A takes such pains in hiring that Cathy must replace only 5% of his roughly 350 restaurant managers each year, the lowest turnover rate in the fast-food industry. CATHY GETS particular joy from making peace among quarreling employees. To foster spiritual contemplation, he has laced Chick-fil-A's bucolic 75-acre headquarters site with nature trails that feature plaques bearing quotations from the Bible. Apparently he has not flinched from sacrificing some revenue growth to his beliefs. Cathy insists his restaurants close on Sunday, so a few seven-day-a-week shopping malls won't offer leases to Chick-fil-A. Even on Wall Street, which these days looks like the business world's Sodom and Gomorrah, some can serve God and still make money. Robert Van Kampen cleaned up in 1984 by selling his investment management firm, Van Kampen Merritt, to Xerox for $150 million, plus a later payment of $35 million. A born-again Christian with the effervescence of a television evangelist, Van Kampen says he picked Xerox over other suitors because the copier company had laid off people the year before in a remarkably humane fashion. Van Kampen, who stayed on as chairman until last January, uses a yellow marker to underline scriptural phrases -- his Bible resembles a much-used college textbook. He once refused to buy the Dallas Cowboys because the team's scantily clad cheerleaders struck him as immoral, and he has turned down real estate deals with hotel companies that own casinos. Van Kampen set the tone at his company by interacting with employees like a minister rather than a boss. He hired people who had a healthy respect for religion, retrained underperformers instead of firing them, and cut back on travel assignments when employees complained of spending too much time away from home. Van Kampen's leadership seems to have minimized the day-to-day stress of portfolio management -- and perhaps the temptation to overstep regulations about insider trading. Gary DeMoss, a former Procter & Gamble salesman and now a senior vice president at Van Kampen Merritt, says: ''At P& G the company was No. 1 and your family was No. 2. Here your relationship with God is No. 1, your family is No. 2, and your job is No. 3. That doesn't mean we take our jobs any less seriously. But that whole fast-track attitude isn't as prevalent. We don't have to go to the bar across the street and throw down a few drinks before we can go home at night.'' Placing God first doesn't seem to have hurt Van Kampen Merritt's track record. Having put together some $5 billion of bond funds and trusts, the company ranks among the top ten packagers of such investments. The most evangelical of the preachers probably is Charles ''Chuck'' Buck, who runs privately held Buck Knives Inc. out of an ersatz hunting lodge in the suburbs of San Diego. Proselytizing is a corporate tradition. Buck's grandfather, H. H. Buck, the company's founder, proclaimed the Gospel in a makeshift tabernacle set up in the basement of an abandoned church. Chuck Buck turned to Christ in 1975 out of guilt for cheating on his wife. Buck Knives, with sales of some $30 million, tucks a brief screed into each % of the two million or so boxes of pocketknives, hunting knives, and kitchen cutlery that it ships annually. ''The fantastic growth of Buck Knives Inc. was no accident,'' reads the missive. ''From the beginning management determined to make God the Senior Partner. Each knife must reflect the integrity of management, including our Senior Partner. If sometimes we fail on our end, because we are human, we find it imperative to do our utmost to make it right. If any of you are troubled or perplexed and looking for answers, may we invite you to look to Him, for God loves you.'' Chuck Buck regrets that everyone he deals with isn't Christian. ''I believe that Jews are lost unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior,'' he says. ''I don't want to sound like I've got it all together, but I don't think any of us have it together until we've accepted Christ. Obviously we'd like to hire Christians, but there's a law against not hiring someone because they're not.'' Buck claims his employees have equal chances of getting promoted, whether or not they have accepted Christ. But he is disappointed that only five of his 15 top managers have been born again. True zealots, in contrast to the moderates and most of the preachers, flaunt the Christian identities of their companies and feel no qualms about discriminating in favor of the saved. They know in their hearts that all but the born-again are damned. Such fervor and dogmatism place the zealots on the fringes of business life and offend other managers who are equally devout. ''Don't you disdain or at least have a minimum sense of skepticism for someone who believes he has all the answers?'' asks J. McDonald Williams of Trammell Crow.

The CCC Yellow Pages and its ten local editions are treasure troves of companies run by zealots. Your fingers can walk from Heavenly Touch Hair Design in Houston to God's Handy Work, a Conroe, Texas, carpentry shop, to the New Christian Dating Service of Baton Rouge. The directories aim to encourage born-again Christians to deal only with each other, explains the Reverend John Hansen, a former casino dealer who came up with the idea and promoted it through his organization, the Christian Chamber of Commerce. ZEALOTS SEE nothing wrong in trading on their Christianity. For example, Pie in the Sky, a year-old restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, serves up Scripture along with its tasty pizzas. A pink neon sign flashes a verse from Exodus: ''I will rain down bread from heaven for you.'' Pizza-to-go comes in % boxes bedecked with other biblical tags. Principal backer George Sieber (see box) says the restaurant is attracting so much attention that he wants to open clones of his pious pizza parlor. Religion was more than a marketing gimmick for zealot Arthur Owens, founder of Sports & Health Club Inc. Owens, who turned to Jesus in 1957, after his daughter died in a car crash, ran his Minneapolis chain of exercise salons as a discipleship for Christ. The Bible was his manual for hiring and promoting managers. Job candidates had to disclose whether they attended church, engaged in sex outside of marriage, and believed in heaven and hell. In Owens's theocracy, even the born-again had to give evidence of a ''teachable spirit'' and a ''disciplined lifestyle'' in order to win promotion. Found guilty of violating state laws against discriminatory hiring, Owens sold the chain after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case. Enthusiasts like Sieber and Owens seem likely to remain a minor, exotic presence in American business. But don't be surprised if the manager next to you at lunch turns out to have been, as he would put it, born again. He has got back in touch with values that pre-date modern capitalism but have always enriched and strengthened it. The successful blending of personal and spiritual goals isn't novel either. As the famed Talmudic scholar Hillel put it way back in the first century B.C., ''If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?'' Christ said much the same thing in an analogous way: ''Love thy neighbor as thyself.'' That's not a bad way to make a sale -- or run a business.