Here’s the forward that I wrote to Spiritual Capitalism, by Peter Ressler and Monika Mitchell Ressler:
Where were you on September 11, 2001? I bet you remember. I was in Los
Angeles, on assignment for Fortune magazine, where I’ve worked as a
writer since 1996. I rented a car and drove to Yahoo, the big Internet
portal which immediately became a place where people congregated,
virtually, to connect with friends and family, to share emotions and
to donate money. The people who work at Yahoo were really excited.
They felt like they were making a difference, albeit from a distance.
To Peter Ressler and his wife of fourteen years. Monika Mitchell Ressler,
the terrorist attack was much more personal. Peter and Monika had
worked on Wall Street, as partners in their own executive search firm
for ten years, on assignment for big investment banks like Goldman
Sachs and Lehman Bros. Peter and their older son were in Manhattan
when the planes hit. Monica and their younger son were in suburban Long Island. They had friends in the investment world who died. They also
had friends among the New York City fire fighters who responded to the
emergency. Monica had hired fire fighters, on their days off, to
renovate commercial and investment properties, a business she ran on the side. Peter had been friends for more than 20 years with Father Mychal Judge, the
fire department chaplain, who was the first official casualty of the
attack. Peter and Monica were intimately familiar with the two groups
of people collided that dayâ€”the privileged Wall Street executives and
the working-class fire fighters who poured into the Twin Towers in an
effort to save them.
We all admired the fire fighters, of course. They were brave. They
were modest. They suffered without complaining. They became the heroes
of the city, celebrated at a rock concert in Madison Square Garden,
cheered every night at Yankee Stadium.
Yes, we admired them. But some of us, I dare say, were a little
jealous as well–not of the risks they take, or of the rigors of the
job, or of its occasional tedium. No, we were jealous because the fire
fighters believed so strongly in what they were doing. Their work had
value. It had meaning. It had purpose. It had nobility. They inspired
the rest of us, at least for a while.
Remarkable things happened after September 11. Americans reached out
across class and racial divides to help one another. A
multi-millionaire financial advisor sat down with the widows of the
waiters and busboys who died in Windows on the World, a posh
restaurant atop one of the towers, to ask, “How can I help?” As Peter
and Monika write: “People by the millions were so moved by the
suffering of strangers that for a brief period of time, they put aside
their own needs and thought only of others. Surely in this we saw
Sadly, too many people went back to business as usual after a while.
Old habits die hard. The months and years that followed brought
corporate scandals: Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and the rest. Wall Street
was implicated, too. Conventional thinking reasserted itself. As Peter
puts it: “We have been taught to separate our hearts from what we do
in business. Business is a supposed to be a cold, calculating numbers
game.” The lessons of September 11 â€“ the hope and the bonds that it
sparked, that feeling that we were all connected to one another — had
Fortunately, Peter and Monika have not forgotten. They have given us
the wonderful gift of this book, which is about what the New York City
fire department has to teach Wall Street, and the rest of us, about
money and business and work.
To be sure, Peter and Monika are idealists. They believe that there’s
a better way to do businessâ€”a way that is caring, generous and loving.
They believe that business, done right, can be a noble pursuit. They
believe that nice guys can finish first. And rememberâ€”these are people
who have worked on Wall Street for years.
I happen to believe they are right. As a reporter who has covered
corporate America for a decade, I am encouraged by the changes I’ve
seen. Better leaders. Companies that are more caring and
compassionate, more diverse, more green, more transparent. Not all of
them, of course, but many.
Spiritual Capitalism is a rare book that delivers both good news and
good advice: All of us can bring the same passion and purpose to our
work that the rescue workers did to theirs on September 11. Indeed, we
owe ourselves–and each other–nothing less.