Catholic Businessman Points Graduates to True Wealth

On the back of Frank J. Hanna’s new book, A Graduate’s Guide to Life: Three Things They Don’t Teach You in College That Could Make All the Difference (Beacon Publishing, 2017), is this quote, “Education is the process of introducing a person to reality,” by Catholic theologian Josef Jungmann.

That’s what Hanna acheives in his book. He explains reality, competition, and wealth to college graduates who have likely been fed distorted views of each. It’s a quick read that should appeal to any graduate of any faith or ideology who is open to sage advice.

As CEO of Hanna Capital LLC in Atlanta, Hanna has succeeded in private equity and venture capital for over 25 years. The committed philanthropist is cofounder of the Solidarity Foundation, generously advising and supporting many causes but especially Catholic education. Most important, he is a devoted Catholic, husband, and father.

For The Cardinal Newman Society, Hanna has a special importance as a valued advisor and member of our board of directors. We asked him some questions about A Graduate’s Guide to Life and what it means for Catholic education.

Catholic education and business—you have extraordinary experience and success in both. Whenever you write or speak publicly, you draw on your expertise in both sectors. What’s the common thread in your work and your life?

The truth about human beings, about this creature made in the image of God with a spark of divinity, is the same truth, whether at work, home, school, in sports, in hospitals or at the parish. The truth about our anthropology does not vary based on the sector in which we find ourselves. And just as the truth about man does not vary based on his surroundings, so too the truth about the Creator, theology, does not vary. Christ is the same yesterday and today, here and there.

Like business and faith, many people assume a contradiction between living a good life and being successful in a career. In your book, you encourage young adults to strive for both virtue and success—to gain things of value by bringing value to others. Haven’t we seen plenty of examples of “nice guys finishing last”?

This question begs a further question of what we mean by “finishing last.” And in fact, I reject the premise of “finishing last.” I don’t want my life to be a race. Watch sprinters in a race—if they are behind, they are in a state of desperation; if they are ahead, they are constantly looking over their shoulders. Who wants to live like that? That is not the good life. The point is not to finish first; the point is to live well.

Probably the most surprising claim in your book is that bare-knuckles competition is not the best path to success. Isn’t competition “the American way” and an ingredient of education? We teach young people, especially business and education students, that competition motivates, forms excellence, and ensures that the best rise to the top. Should Catholic schools discourage competition, or is it just that something important is missing from the lessons?

Competition is part of our animal instinct.  Every mammal in the animal kingdom competes, and many times they kill one another in their competition.

Competition between human beings can help bring out our best, but it must be infused with love and prudence, or it turns us into animals. The key for Catholic schools, or any other institution, is to be constantly vigilant regarding any competition, so that the result of the competition is measured against whether it promoted the nobility of our character, rather than the degradation of our humanity.

I’ll bet most of your readers are shocked by your warning that they are like Marxists when they measure wealth only in terms of material things. Of course, we’ve seen how materialism corrupts democracy and capitalism, too. Thomas Hobbes, a monarchist, imagined the natural state of man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” because of competition. You reject this view of man. Human nature aspires to something more. What is that?

Our modern culture is a bit lazy when it comes to an authentic understanding of wealth. We allow popular media to focus on a sensational view of wealth that popularizes the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” But the word “wealth” comes from an earlier English word “weal,” meaning “well-being.” We do, and should, aspire to wealth, but we have allowed a materialist view of wealth to dominate our definition of well-being, rather than one focused on that which truly brings us happiness.

Essentially you are teaching a Catholic view of humanity to a broader audience. Catholic schools and parents, however, can be more explicit. How does Catholic education teach young people to value more than material wealth? Why does it seem that we often fail to impart this lesson?

Catholic schools actually don’t teach much about wealth, as for generations we have regarded wealth as being synonymous with money, and we have viewed money as a necessary evil, rather than a blessing from God. Instead, we should be teaching our students that being in business can be, as Pope Francis has noted, a “noble vocation,” and that as Pope Benedict stated in a World Message for Peace, “wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty.”

Again, your book is aimed at a general audience, but your invitation to compete with “love and prudence” and to aim for “communion” with others—which Catholics understand to be a reflection of the love of the Trinity—is very Christian. If happiness through loving relationships is the true measure of wealth, then does that suggest an argument for faithful Catholic education?

Faithful Catholic education can provide a different framework for human happiness than that which is promoted by our modern popular culture. The popular culture has created an environment of narcissism that eventually leads to profound human unhappiness.

Faithful Catholic education shows students a different way to live. Following Christ is not easy, and it is not designed to be financially lucrative; however, it is designed to be in accord with our true human nature, and when we are in accord with our nature, we are on the path to true wealth, which is communion with God and others.

When choosing a college—even a faithful Newman Guide college—many students and parents place first priority on career preparation and the value of a degree in competing for jobs after graduation. All other things being equal, do you think that it is more important to choose a college that helps launch a good career or one that forms a person for true happiness in virtuous relationships and love of God? Is it necessary to choose between the two?

I have met folks who have been tremendously successful in making money, but don’t believe in God, are not happily married, or close to their children, or do not have many close friends, and they are not happy.

I have also met folks who have not made a lot of money, but are close to God, are happily married and/or close to their children and other relatives, and have a variety of loving supportive friends, and they tend to be happy.

Your readers are smart folks. I will let them figure out which of the two—career or relationships—I think is most important.

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