Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak
The evening and morning prayers, the study of the Bible, vows of silence and poverty, all these things are generally associated with the looming figures known as monks. Yet, what is not so apparent is the business outfits these monks take on to serve their community and continue their ministry. In August Turak’s new book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, he takes a hard look at the monks of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. What he eventually finds outs is that these hardworking monks have much to teach businesses around the world about values, selflessness, and mission. The book is divided into twelve chapters that inculcate the economic miracle of Mepkin Abbey, selflessness, mission and the aim of the monastery as a whole. The amazing thing that August soon understood was that these monks achieved dizzying success while working part-time and maintaining high standards along with unwavering values.
Part of the success of the Trappist monks at Mepkin Abbey is their tenacious desire to be selfless and have the heart of a servant in every area of their lives. Turak writes, “The short answer is that the monks have discovered an amazing secret: it is in our own self-interest to forget our self-interest…..Business success for the monks is merely the by-product of a life well lived” (5). From processing eggs and delivering them to local stores to growing exquisite kinds of mushroom, these Trappist monks exhibit an uncanny sense of both the seriousness of prayer and work (for their driving principle is Orare est laborare – to pray is to work). August fleshes this concept of selflessness out by speaking to the complementarity force of capitalism and high principles. He writes, “Serve and selflessness is not about sacrificing growth and profitability for some abstract and elusive “common good.” It is just damn good business” (9). There is often a contrast between doing good business and producing high quality products with the driving force between high values. Yet, as Turak indicates, the monks at Mepkin Abbey produce an extremely high quality product while inhabiting the highest level of character.
August tells the story of his entrepreneurial spirit taking root after bringing six guys together, including his brother in a business venture. His first principle, much like the Mepkin Abbey monks, was that “It meant that personal growth, honesty, integrity, and selflessly putting people first were more important than making money. It also meant that our company would be “spiritually friendly” (73). The goal wasn’t to become some kind of spiritual meditation center but a place where philosophies and ethics weren’t off the table but a part of the work conversation. Even more, getting the people involved to see their own integrity at stake makes a person want to work harder and invest in the company at a higher rate. Even more, August was committed to keeping his promises even if it wasn’t convenient for him or his other employees. This kind of high level of principled business says much to those operate within your business field including your vendors.
Overall, the selflessness of the monks, the high principles put in practice that were rewarded with quality business is a huge point of the book. Taking these principles at Mepkin Abbey, August was able to see how high quality individuals with the right level of desire and drive can flourish in businesses that often are known for cutting corners. I hope this book will be an encouragement to many who read it, business leaders and those wanting to place high principles at the forefront of their lives.
Thanks to SpeakEasy and Columbia Business School Publishing for the complimentary copy of this book in exchange for review.