Faith and business are powerful forces for peace

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Bruce McEver | President & Co-Founder Berkshire Capital Securities LLC, USA & UK

Case Study Outline

  1. → Bruce McEver Video (above)
  2. → Learning Objectives
  3. → Main Category of Action
  4. → Bruce’s Story
  5. → Summary of Case
  6. → Interview with Bruce McEver
  7. → Introduction to the United States
  8.      – Demographics and Economy
  9.      – Religious Demographics
  10.      – Conflict and Violence related to Religion
  11. → More About Bruce McEver
  12. → Discussion Questions
  13. → Media and Added Resources

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Learning Objectives

Bruce McEver, co-founder and president of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC in New York and London, set up a foundation which works to cultivate inter-religious understanding through the promotion of religious literacy especially among business leaders.

The learning objectives for this case study include:

  1. 1. Business and ethics can be and are enriched by spirituality and religious ethics.
  2. 2. Business people, like many people, draw on inner spiritual resources in their work.
  3. 3. Business can benefit from religious literacy.
  4. 4. Philanthropy usually follows a business leader’s passions.

Main Category of Action

Social investment and philanthropy

Financial and in-kind contributions, and strategic social investment support for NGOs, UN and/or multilateral agencies or directly to affected communities and/or contribution of functional expertise through volunteering efforts.


Bruce’s Story

Divinity school is not the most likely place to find a venture capitalist, an investment banker or a published poet. Well, maybe a poet.

Yet H. Bruce McEver, 72, is all of those things, and more. The man who founded Berkshire Capital Securities LLC, a global merger and acquisitions investment firm, in 1983 went on to complete a master’s in theology at Harvard Divinity School in 2011.

At Harvard, McEver noticed a lack of religion and culture courses for students at its prominent business school. With his friend Ron Thiemann, a theologian at Harvard, McEver founded a program called Business Across Religious Traditions — BART, for short — that brought the foundational ethics of the world’s religious traditions to the business school classroom.

“Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, these were religious entrepreneurs,” McEver said recently from his New York City office. “Almost all of our ethics spring from the religious traditions these entrepreneurs founded. If you understand the religious background of these ethics it makes them much more full-fleshed, more powerful for businesspeople.”

McEver and Thiemann went on to start the Foundation for Religious Literacy, which oversees the BART program and several others. The foundation’s Faith, Ethics and Leadership seminars bring together business leaders with religious thinkers, and its Religious Liberty Roundtable promotes tolerance and religious understanding as good global business practices.

The foundation also funds a free online Harvard course dedicated to promoting religious literacy, and it recently launched a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, expected to reach 50,000 people globally. The foundation sponsors a curatorship at the Smithsonian dedicated to religious literacy and fosters a relationship between Georgia Tech University — McEver’s alma mater — and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology with its Leadership and Multifaith Program. The program, known by its acronym LAMP, offers a series of religious literacy courses now reaching thousands of students.

“Business leaders don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Ben Marcus, a Harvard Divinity master’s candidate and an adviser to the foundation. “They need to understand why we create wealth and to what end. They need to know how religion motivates their employees and clients. Religion affects their business calculus on any number of issues, so to be literate in it is smart.”

McEver was raised in the United Methodist Church and is now a member of a Congregationalist church. He had a kind of spiritual awakening after the death of his wife, something he describes in his poem “Many Paths,” published in 2012 by The Cortland Review. Its final lines might be a foundational statement about the Foundation for Religious Literacy:

  •   I look up
  •   into a blinding, cold sun and feel a release —
  •   an energy courses
  •   the length of my body,
  •   and says again, then again:
  •   There are many paths.
  •   Nothing has ever been so clear.

Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute, knows McEver through a program the Foundation for Religious Literacy is funding at the Newseum for journalists.

“Bruce has worked hard to put religious literacy on the national agenda because he recognizes that ignorance is a root cause of division, hate and intolerance,” Haynes said. “By investing in religious literacy education at Harvard Divinity School and elsewhere, Bruce is helping to ensure that educators, thought leaders and others have access to resources that are academically and constitutionally sound. This will be his legacy.”

Today, McEver is turning his energy toward ensuring the Foundation for Religious Literacy survives its founders.

“I am always asking how do we have a broader reach,” he said. “I am still searching. But I think, given our political climate, there has never been a bigger need than now for people to have an understanding of other people’s religious traditions.”


Summary of Case

Business leaders often underestimate the positive influence of faith in the workplace and society in general, especially in the way that religious freedom promotes peace and stability.

H. Bruce McEver, Chairman and Founder of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC, created with the late Prof. Ron Thiemann of Harvard Divinity School, The Foundation for Religious Literacy. The foundation promotes religious understanding by bringing together business professionals along with outstanding academics and practitioners. The Foundation cultivates inter-religious understanding and practical skills through collaboration with partners such as the regional Harvard Business School Clubs via its Business Across Religious Traditions seminars.

Through its Faith Ethics and Leadership seminars, leaders in business and other professions, the foundation also advocates values and ethics derived from religious and secular traditions, fostering a healthy pluralist and peaceful democracy through respect for differences.


Interview with Bruce McEver

The following interview by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation was done during the inaugural Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, which were held in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

The awards recognize business leaders – current or past CEOs – who have demonstrated leadership in championing interfaith understanding and peace. The Awards are a partnership initiative of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF), and the United Nations Global Compact Business for Peace (B4P) platform, with collaboration from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. The next awards will be given in Seoul, Korea, ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics.

Note: Interview begins at 0:14 marker.


Introduction to the United States

Demographics and Economy*

A 2015 estimate puts the U.S. population at 321,368,864. Of this, nearly 80% of the population is white, approximately 13% are African American, the Asian population is at 4%, and Amerindian and Alaskan natives represent close to 1%.

The US has the most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $54,800. US firms are at or near the forefront in technological advances, especially in computers, pharmaceuticals, and medical, aerospace, and military equipment; however, their advantage has narrowed since the end of World War II. Based on a comparison of GDP measured at Purchasing Power Parity conversion rates, the US economy in 2014, having stood as the largest in the world for more than a century, slipped into second place behind China, which has more than tripled the US growth rate for each year of the past four decades.

In the US, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products. At the same time, businesses face higher barriers to enter their rivals’ home markets than foreign firms face entering US markets.

Long-term problems for the US include stagnation of wages for lower-income families, inadequate investment in deteriorating infrastructure, rapidly rising medical and pension costs of an aging population, energy shortages, and sizable current account and budget deficits.

The onrush of technology has been a driving factor in the gradual development of a “two-tier” labor market in which those at the bottom lack the education and the professional/technical skills of those at the top and, more and more, fail to get comparable pay raises, health insurance coverage, and other benefits. But the globalization of trade, and especially the rise of low-wage producers such as China, has put additional downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on the return to capital. Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households. Since 1996, dividends and capital gains have grown faster than wages or any other category of after-tax income.

Imported oil accounts for nearly 55% of US consumption and oil has a major impact on the overall health of the economy. Crude oil prices doubled between 2001 and 2006, the year home prices peaked; higher gasoline prices ate into consumers’ budgets and many individuals fell behind in their mortgage payments. Oil prices climbed another 50% between 2006 and 2008, and bank foreclosures more than doubled in the same period. Besides dampening the housing market, soaring oil prices caused a drop in the value of the dollar and a deterioration in the US merchandise trade deficit, which peaked at $840 billion in 2008. Because the US economy is energy-intensive, falling oil prices since 2013 have alleviated many of the problems the earlier increases had created.

In March 2010, President OBAMA signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health insurance reform that was designed to extend coverage to an additional 32 million Americans by 2016, through private health insurance for the general population and Medicaid for the impoverished. Total spending on healthcare – public plus private – rose from 9.0% of GDP in 1980 to 17.9% in 2010.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan required major shifts in national resources from civilian to military purposes and contributed to the growth of the budget deficit and public debt. Through 2014, the direct costs of the wars totaled more than $1.5 trillion, according to US Government figures.

* CIA Factbook

Religious Demographics

As shown in the Pew Research chart below, 78.3% of the U.S. population identify as Christian, while 16.4% identify as unaffiliated. Jews represent 1.8% of the population and Buddhists represent 1.2%. Muslims, Hindus and folk religions each respectively represent less than 1% of the population.

 

In 2010, according to Pew Research, out of a population of 310,380,000, Christians had 243,060,000 adherents, with an expected growth to 258,410,00 in 2030. Unaffiliated U.S. citizens had 50,980,000 numbers in 2010, and are expected to expand to 75,740,000 in 2030. The median age for all religions is 37, with the Jewish population representing the oldest at 41, and Muslims representing the youngest at 24. The Muslim U.S. population has the highest fertility rate at 2.8, followed by Christians at 2.1, with the unaffiliated fertility rate at 1.6.

Conflict and Violence Related to Religion

The global war on terrorism and the backlash in the United States against religious minorities, including calls during the 2016 presidential election to limit Muslim immigration, add to social tensions involving religion.

In the 2015 FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the nation’s law enforcement agencies reported that there were 7,173 victims of hate crimes. Of these victims, 1,402 were victims of anti-religious hate crimes:

  • – 52.1 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.
  • – 21.9 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.
  • – 4.3 percent were victims of anti-Catholic bias.
  • – 4.1 percent were victims of bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
  • – 3.6 percent were victims of anti-Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Other) bias.
  • – 3.4 percent were victims of anti-Protestant bias.
  • – 1.3 percent were victims of anti-Other Christian bias.
  • – 0.6 percent were victims of anti-Mormon bias.
  • – 0.4 percent were victims of anti-Hindu bias.
  • – 0.4 percent were victims of anti-Sikh bias.
  • – 0.1 percent were victims of anti-Jehovah’s Witness bias.
  • – 0.1 percent were victims of anti-Buddhist bias.
  • – 0.1 percent were victims of anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
  • -7.6 percent were victims of bias against other religions (anti-other religion).

As shown in the Pew Research chart below, the global median score for social hostilities involving religion is 2.4 on a 10-point scale, where 10 is high. The United States’ rating is 3.1, meaning it has moderate social hostilities involving religion. The global median score for governmental restrictions on religious freedom is 3.1. The U.S. has low moderate restrictions on religious freedom with a score of 3.0.

More About Bruce McEver

Bruce McEver founded Berkshire Capital in 1983, pioneering the concept of providing independent merger, acquisition, and strategic advisory services for investment managers and securities firms. He directs long-term strategy and business development efforts.

Previously, Bruce served as the Assistant to the Chairman of Paine Webber Group Inc. for mergers and acquisitions. He was formerly a Vice President with Blyth Eastman Dillon Inc. and a venture capital analyst at Bessemer Securities, Inc. Bruce earned a BIE from Georgia Institute of Technology, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MTS in Religion and Literature at Harvard Divinity School.

Earlier in life, he studied at the Technische Hochschule in Germany. And as a Lieutenant, USN, he was on the staff of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Systems Analysis).

On the philanthropic and social engagement side, Bruce is President and Co-Founder of the Foundation for Religious Literacy through which he pursues his passion for interfaith understanding becoming the norm for corporate leaders. For instance, Mr. McEver funded Harvard University’s Business Across Religious Traditions (BART) program, through which he and Ron Thiemann (former Dean of Harvard Divinity School) created educational modules on economic ethics in Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Programs have been offered in Boston, London, New York City, and San Francisco, often in collaboration with local Harvard Business School Clubs.

Mr. McEver donated funds to create the Religious Literacy Project, which is housed at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. The project is a collaboration with the Harvard Extension School.

Bruce also created the Foundation for Religious Literacy (TFRL) to promote inter-religious understanding by bringing business leaders and other professionals together with outstanding academics and practitioners. The Foundation cultivates skills for considering values and ethics derived from religious and secular traditions, and acknowledges that a healthy pluralist democracy requires respect for difference.

Through this seminar-style executive education series, business leaders with demonstrated interest in continuing opportunities for learning come together under the auspices of TFRL to learn about and discuss ways their professional work can draw on resources from religion across traditions.

Each seminar hosts a leading academic or practitioner and addresses how the resources of religious traditions can increase professional effectiveness, ethical leadership, and personal conduct. Seminars are organized, not by shared religious affiliation, but by a common interest in how religion can inform action in the workplace. TFRL has also sponsored a Curatorship of American Religion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to highlight religious diversity and the importance of religious freedom in America; the Leadership and Multifaith (LAMP) Program, a collaboration between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School.

Bruce is a member of the Dean’s Council at Harvard Divinity School and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Bruce founded the Business across Religious Traditions (BART) Program between Harvard Business School and Harvard Divinity School and co-founded The Foundation for Religious Literacy. Bruce is a Professor of Practice at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He participates actively in environmental conservation efforts and is a hiker, biker, and author of three books of poetry.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1. How can business and ethics be enriched by spirituality and religious ethics?
  2. 2. In what ways can business people draw on inner spiritual resources in their work?
  3. 3. How can business benefit from religious literacy?
  4. 4. In what ways can philanthropy follow a business leader’s passions?

Media and Added Resources


This case study was prepared by Melissa Grim, J.D., M.T.S., a senior research fellow with the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and Brian Grim, Ph.D., president of the foundation. It is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.