Featured case: Long-term Orientation
in the Benedictine Monastery of Admont

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Helmuth Neuner, Business Director at the Benedictine Monastery of Admont, in Austria – the modern and secular equivalent of the ‘cellarer’ who was responsible for a monastery's provisions and catering.

What?

As well as being a renowned centre of spirituality and literacy, the Admont Monastery, founded in 1074, also developed into an important economic base for the region. The original endowment from Saint Hemma of Gurk had included vast forest lands, and these, along with a vineyard estate established in 1139, remained the main source of income for centuries.

Why?monastery.jpg

Following the collapse of timber prices in the 1930s during the Great Depression, the Admont Monastery was unable to pay wages and bills. Precious artworks had to be sold to ensure survival. Then the monastery was expropriated by the Nazi regime in 1939 and not returned to the monks until after the war. The vineyards remained lost. The monks had to diversify their business interests and set up a number of enterprises including hydroelectric power stations, a care home, a market garden, restaurants, real estate development, and service industries.

When?

STIA, a specialist wood products producer and the main focus of this case, was set up in 1972.

STIA.jpgWhere?

The monastery is located in a remote location in the Ennstal Alps in the northern part of the Austrian province of Styria.

Key quote

‘While there is still time, while we are still in the body and are able to fulfil all these things by the light of this life, we must hasten to do now what will profit us in eternity.’ – Excerpt from The Rule of Saint Benedict

What next?

STIA was facing a rapidly changing market. Chinese producers were putting downward pressure on prices and for the past two years, STIA had reported losses. Helmuth Neuner saw keeping STIA afloat as one of his major challenges. Could it survive into the future? During his many years as the monastery’s Business Director, Helmuth Neuner had always held The Rule of Benedict in high regard. What would Saint Benedict have advised?

 
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The author

AuthorsDietmar Sternad

Dietmar Sternad explains how he came to write such a fascinating case and the key lessons it offers about long-term business planning.

A 940-year-old organisation …

When the Dean of our School of Management returned from a week in which he immersed himself in monastic life at a Benedictine monastery, I knew this was exactly what I had been looking for: a 940-year-old organisation that has been very successful in several business sectors and a top manager who thinks in centuries rather than quarters. It was the perfect ‘outlier case’ to explore long-term oriented business thinking and a different yet very effective approach to doing business.

Vivid and authentic

old book

For me, visiting the protagonists and getting a feeling for ‘their place’ is highly important for writing a vivid and authentic case. I visited the Admont Monastery on probably the harshest day of the winter. Deeply covered in snow, the monastery was a very quiet and peaceful place – almost as if time were standing still. It was the perfect setting for a long and very intense conversation with the main case protagonist, the monastery’s Business Director, Helmuth Neuner.

Higher purpose

writing cases‘Long-term’ managers distinguish themselves by focusing more on creating a strong assets base and potential for the future than short-term performance. They foster lasting win-win relationships – especially at a local and regional level; accept longer investment cycles; and try to minimise their risks by investing in sectors with lower volatility. Above all, they have a higher purpose and constantly strive for creating quality in an all-encompassing sense, including attention to details, having an eye for beauty and working with very high ethical standards. 

Different world

It is one of the key advantages of this case that students can immerse themselves in a different world. They are usually surprised at how much they can learn from a monastery and the case is a real eye-opener as they discover the value of taking a completely different temporal perspective on business.

Ancient rule

old book

How many business organisations thrive for more than 900 years? The monks and their secular staff must be doing something right! I am particularly fascinated by how the ancient rule of the monastery’s founder Saint Benedict of Nursia provides a strong value base for today’s management.

Almost 1,500 years ago, Saint Benedict wrote that the cellarer should ‘neither be a miser nor a prodigal and squanderer of the monastery’s substance’. Making sure that the substance – or asset base – of the monastery is preserved and carefully expanded is still a key guiding principle for today’s managers in the monastery.

Humanist approach

One thing that I found striking in the monastery is a very distinct, humanistic approach to leadership. When Helmuth Neuner, Admont’s Business Director, says that ‘humility is one of the most important elements of leadership – it’ s about letting the other person live, giving him or her the chance to develop, and taking delight in how the other one is able to do something’, we are reminded that business is about people who are providing goods and services for other people as least as much as it is about making money.

About the author

Dietmar Sternad is Professor of International Management at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria. The case was published by Ivey Publishing.
e d.sternad@fh-kaernten.at

 

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