The Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

About 15 years ago, I wrote a profile about August “Augie” Turak, a successful sales executive who had a proclivity for soaking in wisdom from anyone with anything perceptive to share, from his mentor, IBM’s legendary Lou Mobley, to a New York cab driver. Since then, Augie has drawn much wisdom from regular treks to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Moncks Corner, S.C. And along the way, he has found that the monastery's business model can be universally applied with impressive results. 

Forbes has adapted a white paper Turak wrote about his experiences with the monks -- “Service and Selflessness: A 1,500 Year-old Management Paradigm” -- into a four-part series that has been running on its website this week. 

That paper followed an essay, "Brother John," that Augie wrote several years ago. It won the $100,000 Grand Prize in the John Templeton Foundation's worldwide Power of Purpose Essay Contest, which attracted nearly 8,000 entries from 97 countries. I believe it was his first published work. He has been expanding it into a book, parts of which are on his website.

Augie has a clear, straightforward style — austere, one might say, in the tradition of the monks themselves. He makes some great points. Some people — hell, most — might say he's a tad idealistic. But I'm with him on that score (just ask my wife). Along those same lines, Jim Lehrer made an interesting comment to Charlie Rose last night about himself in particular and journalists in general. He was, he said, a great optimist. Why would someone talk to others about the world's most pressing problems unless he thought there were solutions to be had?

The profile I wrote about Augie was one of about a dozen I did for the too-short-lived Selling magazine in a a section called "Heroes." I really enjoyed talking to people about the mentors who had been the strongest influences on their careers — and sometimes, on their lives. When possible, I also talked to the mentors themselves to get their take on the relationship. There was an intimacy in the process that you don't get with a lot of other reporting. In a few cases, I was reuniting people who hadn't talked to each other in many years. In a few, the mentor had no idea that he or she had been such an abiding influence. In all cases, I was tapping into my subject's deepest aspirations — at least as far a their sales careers went. With Augie, and some others, clearly more was on the line than how to make a sale.

I'm still in touch with a few of the subjects, both mentors and mentees. That, in itself, is unusual and I guess it has something to do with their having shared some of their most intimate feelings. Just as journalists are typecast as cynical, salespeople are often portrayed as glib and superficial. I did not find that to be the case. When I have time, I'll dig up, re-read and post a few more of those "Heroes" profiles, which I always found uplifting.

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