Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Business Plan for the Catholic Church

A Business Plan for the Catholic Church

Three years ago, Geoffrey Boisi set out to improve the way the Roman Catholic Church was being run in America. The former vice-chairman of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Boisi had become increasingly dismayed with how the church was losing members, squandering talent, and managing the $105 billion it annually spends. Its reputation was declining quickly amid screaming headlines about sex-abuse scandals—especially in Boston, where Boisi was chairing the board of trustees at the Jesuit-run Boston College. Swamped with pleas for help from figures in the church hierarchy, Boisi reached into the business community to form the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management.

Boisi has since brought together influential Catholic executives to design a business plan for the country's largest religious organization. Among the members of the volunteer group: Adobe Systems (ADBE) Chairman Charles Geschke, Korn/Ferry (KFY) Chief Executive Paul Reilly, former Freddie Mac (FRE) CEO Richard Syron, Gerard R. Roche of Heidrick & Struggles (HSII), and former McKinsey Managing Director Fred Gluck. Lawrence A. Bossidy, the much celebrated former chief of Honeywell (HON), has also lent his expertise to the group as a pro bono consultant.

Along with issuing guidelines for a financial audit of all 195 dioceses (the territory under the authority of a bishop), the group has created best-practice guides for church leaders in such areas as human resources and accounting and has won kudos within the Catholic community for helping restore the Catholic school system in Katrina-battered New Orleans. "All we're doing is applying those skills and experiences that we've had," says Boisi.

Skeptical of Lay Efforts

Of course, the group faces daunting challenges. While Vatican Cardinal William Joseph Levada, a native Californian, and about 50 U.S. bishops are working with Boisi, much of the church leadership remains skeptical about lay efforts to reform their business.

Still, Boisi's initiative is gaining traction at a time when the Catholic Church is under increasing attack. The number of Americans studying for the priesthood is down to 3,286, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, with fewer than 500 expected ordinations this year. Even with foreign recruitment, the ratio of priests to parishioners in the U.S. is 1 to 1,600, compared with 1 to 650 in the 1950s.

While revenues from collections are inching up, expenses are rising faster because of aging facilities, mounting labor costs, and continued settlements from litigation over abuse charges. Also troubling to church leaders: 7.5% of Americans born into the faith no longer even identify themselves as Catholic, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Enter the Leadership Roundtable. Veteran recruiter Roche says he was skeptical when Boisi asked him a few years ago to join the group although, like all the members, he felt a desire to help it thrive. "I told him the church is thousands of years old; it doesn't change a lot," says Roche, who now sits on the human resources committee, which meets several times a year.

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