Michael Pirson is a busy man.
In September, the Fordham University schools of business professor delivered a lecture at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in France. In October, he was in Germany at another conference. And on Nov. 7, he will be back in France at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, ringing the bell once again for a better approach to business management.
“What I’m working on is called a humanistic paradigm for management,” Pirson said during an interview in his Lincoln Center office. “It fits very well with the Jesuit principles of … care for the other and being a steward of the world.”
Simply put, humanistic management is a people-centered approach to leadership. For Pirson, it’s going back to the roots of why a business is established and run; it’s about providing better goods and services for a customer base and being a part of a community, instead of a draw on it.
“The two pillars for this humanistic management are people-centered … valuing or protecting the notion of human dignity and promoting well-being, not wealth only,” Pirson said. “And wealth is part of well-being, but it’s much more encompassing. It includes spiritual … psychological well-being, environmental well-being, all these kinds of things that are currently cut out of the economic narrative.”
Through his organization, the Humanistic Management Network, Pirson and others are seeking to push an idea whose time they believe has come. With the Ecole Nationale, where the elite among French leaders are educated (“Harvard on steroids,” Pirson calls it) and the OECD paying attention, there is reason for optimism.
At OECD, Pirson will be talking with academics, policy makers and business practitioners “about changing the system in some way.”
“The Wall Street people … anticipate another collapse very soon, so everybody knows that something is not working,” Pirson said. “But there needs to be a change, and the question is: what kind of change?”
What of those who say the system is working just fine and that there will always be highs and alarming lows? What of those that say what is good for shareholders is good for business?
“If anybody studies what good business practice is, they never come to the conclusion that shareholder value optimization is the best model,” Pirson argues. “It’s always about pleasing customers, figuring out what the needs are and being aware that actually, yeah, you cater to people and not just some anonymous entities. That you understand them better and that you care about your employees, because when you care about them, you actually get more productivity out of them.”
Instilling Fordham schools of business students with “strong values, self-awareness, concern for others,” as schools Dean Donna Rapaccioli has said, is a key part of the university’s education. Pirson is acutely aware of that. He is seeking to put together a conference at the university on the intersection of Catholic values and business.
But first, there is France and another chance to push a business model that focuses on the well-being of its customers and its employees and to counter the myth “where basically business is supposed to be mean, business is supposed to be tough, it’s about the dollar and that’s all people care about.”
The professor maintains that people care about more than money. Well-being, he believes, matters. And business has a role to play in establishing that well-being. A new, humanistic approach could also help mitigate the effects of economic downturns, a point green entrepreneur Hunter Lovins also made during a presentation at Fordham on Oct. 21.
Pirson said that Wall Street anticipates another devastating crash, “soon, maybe next year but definitely in the next 10 years.”
“Hey, you know what? That makes no sense. … That can’t be good business practice,” Pirson said. “That’s not good for business, that’s not good for society. It’s not good for anybody.”