This study began with three openings. The first occurred on Thursday, 11 November 2010. I was in my first semester as a tenure track assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Baltimore. Driving from my home near Washington to campus that day, I was tuned in as usual to the Diane Rehm Show on the local National Public Radio station. Diane was interviewing Deborah Cadbury, who had just published her book, Chocolate Wars (Cadbury 2010). Hearing the title, and not being all that interested in chocolate, I tuned out the Q&A.
But then I heard the word Quaker on the radio and tuned right back in. We do not hear that word very much in the American media, but I had some skin in that game. Twenty-plus years as an attender at Friends’ Meetings in Philadelphia and Washington. Married to a birthright Quaker … and loving her in part because she was a Quaker. Father of a beautiful daughter who had attended—and loved—a Quaker school since kindergarten.
So I was interested in the Cadbury interview now. As the author described the ideas that informed the Cadbury business enterprise, I became so excited that I started to shake. So much so that I pulled to the side of the interstate and listened raptly to the rest of the interview before proceeding to campus, a changed person.
The vision and values described by Deborah Cadbury in this interview and in her book were like water falling on my parched intellectual desert. After only a few months as a business school academic I already knew that its strikingly ethics-free environment would become increasingly uncomfortable for me, as it remains today.
The second opening happened the following year. Trying to pour a little bit of this Cadbury water into my little corner of the desert, I submitted a paper to the 2011 Friends Association of Higher Education conference. The paper’s title was ‘The Emergence of Innovation in Higher Education: The Case of a “Friends Business School”’. In this mishmash of a paper I described how I used an example of a startup idea—a new Friends Business School—to inform my teaching of undergraduate entrepreneurship students. What struck me was the look in the eyes of the audience as I delivered the paper. It was a look of desire. A desire, I guessed, for how Quakerism could be integrated into business generally, and business and management studies specifically. A desire reflected, I think, in the contributions to this special issue.
A third opening took place in February 2018, as I began working on this study. I was interviewing the Quaker head of a Friends school. This person was interesting to me because he had been a successful businessperson before making the transition to education. In preparing for this interview I read some of his public statements, including his blog. I gained insight into his motivation for making this transition when he described reading Taylor Branch’s three-volume history of the civil rights movement. In particular, Branch’s story of the Freedom Riders and their bus rides through the American South motivated this Quaker head’s career change. ‘That was my calling’, he wrote.
I read [about the Freedom Riders] and I realised that I needed to find my bus and get on it. I had to align my inner life, my values, my thoughts and my feelings with an outer expression of how I would spend my time, what I would choose to do, what I would recognise as vital. (Gibian 2018)
This alignment described well the way in which I taught entrepreneurship. Find your passion. Find your mastery. Find where they intersect. Build new businesses, organisations and products there. Rinse. Repeat. And this headmaster had shown that this process could be done in the context of Quaker education.
These three openings—recognising the contemporary relevance of Quaker business practices, experiencing the hunger that many of us in academia feel for a business education more infused with universal values and character development, and observing one Quaker who was integrating his business and Quaker lives in the education context—frame and motivate this study.
This paper continues the journey inspired by these openings by asking the following question: how can Quaker thought and practice make a significant contribution to contemporary management education? My answer is simple, I hope. Quaker management education will make a contribution when it is conceptualised. This paper argues that contemporary Quaker management education can be conceptualised as the nexus between effective Quaker business and educational practices. Quaker business taught in a Quaker way.
Interestingly, while management education is part of the curriculum of ten Quaker-affiliated colleges and universities today, I’ve found no evidence that any of these educational organisations provide an authentic Quaker management education as I have conceptualised it. The consequences of this gap are significant for Friends everywhere. In essence, for more than 350 years the Quaker educational ministry has had an opportunity to provide a Spirit-led management education to those who can make a large impact: the employees, managers, entrepreneurs and leaders of organisations—for- and non-profit alike—that operate in today’s uncertain and amoral world. But to date no educational institution has taken up this challenge. This study will argue that this gap might be filled by existing colleges and universities, by Quaker study centres or by new organisations yet to be envisioned.
Coming from perspectives and traditions beyond Quakerism, other scholars are also struggling to conceptualise the role of spirituality in management education (Manz et al. 2006). Much of the literature to date has focused either on macro level issues, such as infusing more religion into management education (Rao et al. 2014), or micro-level issues, such as classroom strategies related to spirituality (Trott 2012), faculty (Williams and Allen 2014) and student (Allen and Williams 2015) perspectives, and course design (Bento 2000). At the same time, management education critiques have argued for greater attention to self-conception (March 2003) and less emphasis on atomistic gloomy visions of human behaviour (Ghoshal 2005), both of which support an enhanced role for a Quaker management education.
This study answers the question of how Quaker thought and practice can make a significant contribution to contemporary management education as follows. First, it reviews the literature that describes the salient tenets of Quaker business practices and Friends education as they relate to management education. Then, it describes in detail the nexus between Quaker business and educational practices. Updating Brinton (1967), the study argues that a contemporary Quaker management education should prepare students who are at once ‘priests, scholars, and workers’ (Brinton 1967: 100) in a small, monastic setting. The study next describes a contemporary Quaker management curriculum that should inculcate the distinctive practices that contributed to the past success of Quaker enterprises, and comprises four elements: reflection; financial prudence; the Quaker business method (Burton 2017); and sustainable product innovation. The study finishes with a thought experiment about what a contemporary Quaker management education might look like.
In the following section three literatures related to this study are reviewed: Quaker education, management education critique and Quaker management practices. These three research streams are then synthesised to provide a description of salient Quaker business and educational practices relevant to this study.
Quaker education is based on two beliefs: 1) individuals possess a Light Within that enables spiritual wisdom to be accessed experientially, and 2) truth is discovered when a diverse community gathers in a spirit of continuing revelation (McHenry, Fremon, Starmer and Hammond 2004). These beliefs inform several testimonies, and these testimonies make Quaker education distinctive from other educational forms. Contemporary Quaker schools commonly cite the testimonies of simplicity, equality, community and non-violence as founding principles (O’Donnell 2013). McHenry (2004) and Brinton (1967) saw these testimonies in the educational setting slightly differently: simplicity, equality, community and harmony (which includes both peacemaking and creating just institutions). In American K-12 Quaker schools, education is grounded in a somewhat broader set of testimonies: simplicity, equality, community and peace, plus integrity and stewardship. These testimonies are often arranged into the acronym SPICES.
While grounded in over 350 years of religious practice, testimony-based Quaker education retains a strong contemporary relevance. Lacey and Sweeney-Denham (2002) state that since 9/11 ‘education based on these social and spiritual values becomes the model for how the world should be’ (p. 50). The experiential nature of Quaker belief implies that the testimonies must be acted upon. To believe in simplicity is to act simply. To believe in equality means ‘making egalitarian behavior habitual’. To believe in community, students act communally. To believe in harmony, students behave justly and promote non-violence, peacemaking and just institutions. This approach has been described epistemologically as expanded experiential empiricism, in which experience is gained not only through external senses, but also through emotions, moral sense, aesthetic sense, relational experience and religious experience (Rediehs 2016).
Testimony-based Quaker education has four significant implications for how education is practised. First, Quaker beliefs and testimonies lead to a constructivist approach to education employing an inquiry-based pedagogy. Second, these beliefs have the consequence of valuing multiple perspectives. Third, they create a values-centred learning environment. Fourth, and perhaps less distinctively, the beliefs and related testimonies have increasingly contributed to an atmosphere of academic excellence in Quaker educational institutions (McHenry 2004). However, academic excellence alone is not the objective of authentic Quaker education. Rather, most Quaker schools today claim a distinctive ethos built on both intellectual achievement and social service (O’Donnell 2013).
The consequence of these Quaker educational practices has been a rare emphasis on character formation. One researcher described this emphasis as follows:
One advantage which the good Quaker school offers is its cultivation of the inner spirit of the student while his mind is being trained … . The student in a Quaker institution quickly feels that he is in an atmosphere of sincerity. The deeper issues of life are honestly met. There is no mission that has opened to the Society of Friends more important or more effective service than its varied forms of education. (Jones 1927/2007: 123–26)
The beliefs and testimonies have also pointed the way to educational policies on which curricula and educational institutions could be developed. The simplicity testimony suggests policies such as moderate speech, dress and deportment; scholastic integrity; and (important for the purposes of this study) an emphasis on practical subjects in the curriculum. The equality testimony implies equal education for all genders, socioeconomic categories, ethnicities and other types of diversity. The community testimony calls for policies that develop a sense of belonging to a Quaker community, promote a religiously informed education and attract and cultivate dedicated and concerned teachers. The harmony (or non-violence) testimony underpins policies that encourage non-violent methods and appeals to an inward sense of rightness (Brinton 1967: 41–42).
Taken together, Quaker beliefs, testimonies and educational practices offer the promise of a distinctive, compelling and integrated vision of what an authentic Quaker education might be. No scholar has seen what this vision might be more clearly than Howard Brinton. He said:
Every man in his own heart is at once priest, scholar and worker … . An education which does not develop personality on all three levels is incomplete and insufficient … . A school must be developed which enlarges the apprehension and awareness not only of the surface of the mind, but of the deeper levels which move the will. The originators of such a school must detect how this power has worked in history and how it may be generated today to transform both individuals and society … . This may appear difficult though it is approximated in certain educational institutions of a monastic character both in the Orient and the Occident. (Brinton 1967: 100–01)
More recently, Samuel Caldwell has captured and clarified Brinton’s vision of a Quaker education rooted in both externals and internals:
The distinctive aim of Quaker education, above and beyond excellence in academic instruction, is to encourage, nurture, foster, or fashion people whose characters are influenced by the distinctive experience and perspective of the Religious Society of Friends … . It seeks to nurture a particular sort of personhood … . What sort of personhood is this? It is, to borrow Rufus Jones’s phrase, a person who has ‘eyes for invisibles’; a person who knows deep down that what we see, taste, touch, smell, and hear is not all there is in life; a person who, in an age of rampant materialism, has firsthand experience of the reality and importance of Spirit in life; a person rooted as much in the unseen as in the seen, as much in the spiritual as in the physical; a person who has a capacity for reverence, and who is as well equipped to worship as to work. This is a person who has learned that truth, beauty, goodness, and love are evidences of the transforming power of the Spirit among us; a person who regards all of life as potentially revelatory of the Spirit and everywhere imbued with meaning; a person who is optimistic about the capacity of love and good will to mend the affairs of humanity; a person who has begun to develop the courage to testify outwardly to what he or she knows inwardly; a person who has the courage to follow the inward argument where it leads. (Caldwell 1987: 5)
Echoing beliefs and testimonies and Brinton’s vision, a set of specific proposals for an authentic Quaker educational institution was made by Helen Hole. Hole’s contribution is to call for greater emphasis on what is distinctive about Quaker education. She called for (1) experimental colleges that ‘dare to live on the cutting edge of our beliefs’; (2) community living in which students perform daily tasks; (3) schools based on a commercial enterprise such as a day care centre or home for the elderly in which they act as a laboratory for psychology or education courses; or (4) residences for students attending public secondary schools or state universities, with counselling and opportunities for worship and recreation, as well as courses, talks, discussions or small seminars on the Quaker point of view, by those teaching in those schools or universities. These experimental colleges might (5) teach fewer courses, (6) cooperate with other Quaker colleges, (7) shift away from winter use of buildings to reduce heating costs or make buildings available for other than academic use, (8) and make a greater use of work programmes to reduce costs, as well as offering (9) simpler diets, (10) much more diverse student backgrounds, (11) more experiential learning, (12) more exposure to the non-rational side of life, (13) open and imaginative curricula and scheduling terms at different times, and (14) continuing education that works for women and families (Hole 1978).
Quaker Higher Education
Within the literature on Quaker education, the research stream focused on higher education is limited—with one important exception—to histories of specific institutions. No consensus exists on what makes a Quaker college. An authentic Quaker education rooted in the beliefs and testimonies is frequently superseded in Quaker-affiliated colleges and universities by other priorities. Some of these priorities are related to Quakerism, such as required courses reflecting Quaker values or concerns, service projects related to Quakerism, or community codes described as queries. Others are more distantly related, such as consensus governance, local community service or embracing a Christian identity. Some priorities have little or nothing to do with Quaker beliefs and testimonies, such as historical preservation or being a leading liberal arts college (Hamm 2007).
The track record of Quaker higher education has been criticised by Helen Hole:
we must recognise that the achievement of Friends colleges, remarkable as it is, has diverged almost completely from the original distinctive purposes of Quaker education. On the one hand it no longer provides the main stream for the ongoing life of the Society of Friends by educating its leadership and providing a background for its general membership, and, on the other, its specialised service to a limited segment of largely privileged American society raises questions about the extent to which it is confronting some of the more fundamental problems facing American education today. Have we perhaps lost sight of what Friends were originally trying to do, without finding ways to apply our basic principles to a new era and to new problems? Is it possible that we have thrown out the baby with the bath water? (Hole 1978: 91)
Yet, Quakers have been innovative, especially in education. Examples include John Bellers (work colonies with teaching), Lancaster (monitorial system), Joseph Sturge/William White/George Cadbury (adult schools—nonsectarian education teaching simple skills).
Arguably, the most distinctive Quaker contribution to higher education is to be found not with any college or university, but in the adult school movement, in particular the founding of the Severn Street Adult School in Birmingham in 1845 by Joseph Sturge. This model is described by Brinton:
These conditions are required in the adult school. It must provide for regular and frequent periods of silent prayer, worship, meditation, and contemplation— a searching for inward Truth and Light. It must be free from stress and strain which bring all the evils of forced development. It cannot be geared to the conventional educational mechanism with its credits and degrees. Its aims are incommensurable with any system of numerical measurement. Such a center for study must be small, permitting a maximum of closely integrated community life. To such a ‘school of the Holy Spirit’ the adult may retire for a brief or for a longer period of growth and refreshment in the cultivation of new found powers within. (Brinton 1967: 108)
Other notable examples of institutional and programmatic experimentation in Quaker higher education include Swarthmore’s honours programme; Friends World College’s emphasis on self-directed inquiry, offerings tailored to individual needs, problem-solving approaches and the world as its campus; Wilmington College’s work programmes for financing college education, preparation for agricultural teaching and cooperation with community colleges; and Pacific Oaks’ focus on elementary education teaching training.
The most well-elaborated Quaker curricular innovation was the Whittier Idea. This long-overlooked initiative is directly relevant to contemporary Quaker management education.
The Whittier Idea
In 1923 Walter Dexter and Hershel Coffin—both Earlham professors—were appointed president and dean of Whittier College, respectively. Established as a Quaker college in 1901, Whittier had struggled during and after World War I to maintain enrolment and, at the time of Dexter’s and Coffin’s appointments, was facing a financial crisis.
In responding to this crisis, Dexter and Coffin sought to reorganise Whittier using curriculum redesign as the central element. Their guiding spirit was optimistic: ‘might [college] be the most enthralling experience of life; the most complete fulfillment of native aspirations at a time of greatest rapidity in growth and development?’ (Coffin 1928: 6).
While at Earlham, Dexter and Coffin had conceived a philosophy of education inspired by Quaker tradition, their views on education and the legacy of World War I. That philosophy was based on three ideas:
Education must be functional—preparation for the exercise of major human functions (home life, vocation, social relationship, avocation/recreation, religion/life philosophy)
Complete education must be religious education (whole curriculum offered under umbrella of spiritual interpretation, particularly ‘what insights would Jesus have about physics or history?’)
Education must be democratic (a community of will, not of autocracy and obedience, orientated to realising the highest group welfare leading to every individual’s highest potential, based on friendship and good will) (Coffin 1928: 10–11)
Dexter and Coffin conceptualised higher education as starting with problems, rather than disciplines. They saw education as occurring through cooperative learning seminars and via participation in significant enterprises (Lacey 1998). They implemented their philosophy, which they named the Whittier Idea, through two initiatives. First, a required ‘correlation course’ was offered during each of the four undergraduate years. This course constituted the core curriculum of Whittier and was interdisciplinary in nature. In the freshman year the course was entitled Human Issues and provided an overview of the structure of knowledge; the student’s possible vocation; the practical problems confronting contemporary society; and the challenges of individual life, including marriage, sex, leisure, social attitudes and morality. In the sophomore year the course—now called The Psychological Aspect of Human Issues—explored the practical problems in the context of the conflict between tradition and innovation. In the junior year the course was entitled The Basis of Social Progress and addressed how humans develop social organisations as permanent features of human society. Finally, the senior year’s correlation course—called The Christian Basis of Reconstruction—took a theological turn and argued that only Christian principles offer a solution to human society’s practical problems (Coffin 1926; 1928).
The second initiative in the Whittier Idea is an early form of project-based learning at the university level. Available to only the top 25 per cent of students, this initiative combines features of independent study, honours work and apprenticeship. A customised interdisciplinary reading programme will be designed based on the student’s vocation, and sometimes paired with a non-credit apprenticeship of observation and practical work with an employer in the student’s field. For example:
suppose a young man wants to become a dentist. Let him then be apprenticed for a semester, half time, to a leading dentist. Let him sterilise instruments, mix cement, polish crowns and bridges, bake enamel, and keep the calendar. Let him see what the professional life of a dentist is: what it means to be a dentist. At the same time let the co-operating dentist require reports in digest form of suitable professional literature, and let him discuss this together with the work being done by the student. This dental office experience will then serve to polarise and vitalise the student’s biology and chemistry, his psychology and ethics. He will also read his history, sociology, and economics with the appropriative mind of the intelligent man of affairs. (Coffin 1926: 357–58)
The Whittier Idea advocated for a holistic, spiritually informed, project-based education. These threads have been separated from one another in the decades since the idea was first articulated. Holistic education is the basis for many liberal arts curricula. Spiritually informed education can be found in the many faith-based colleges and universities around the world. Project-based learning is a well-established pedagogy, including at one well-regarded higher education startup: the Olin College of Engineering. Yet the original idea of an internally consistent, self-reinforcing curriculum as argued by Dexter and Coffin has disappeared. It might yet reappear in an updated form in contemporary Quaker management education.
Contemporary Quaker Management Education—Empirical Evidence
Contemporary Quaker management education is practised by fourteen Quaker-affiliated colleges, universities and adult study centres in the US and UK. These organisations offer this education in one or more of five progressively more complex ways: via one or more business courses; through an undergraduate minor; via an undergraduate major; in the form of one or more graduate business programmes, such as an MBA; and, finally, via a business school with deans, departments, accreditation and the like.
These colleges, universities and study centres can be grouped into three categories: those offering postgraduate business education (George Fox, Friends, University of Birmingham, Pendle Hill and Woodbrooke), those offering an undergraduate business degree (Barclay, Earlham, Guilford, Malone, Whittier, William Penn and Wilmington), and those offering undergraduate business courses but no degree (LIU Global and Haverford). Several Quaker-affiliated colleges and universities, such as Bryn Mawr, Pacific Oaks and Swarthmore, do not offer any business courses.1
Quaker-related institutions of higher education providing management education. Source: college and organisation websites, www.wikipedia.org.
|College or University (year of establishment)||Total Enrolment (2017)||Business School||Graduate Business Programme||Undergraduate Business Major||Undergraduate Business Minor||Business Courses|
|Barclay College (1917)||210||x||x||x|
|Bryn Mawr College (1885)||1771|
|Earlham College (1859)||1019||x||x||x|
|Friends University (1898)||2782||MBA||x||x|
|George Fox University (1891)||3839||x||MBA (added 1992) (ACBSP accredited), DBA (added 2006)||x||x|
|LIU Global (1965)||200 (estimated)||x||x|
|Guilford College (1889)||2137||x||x||x|
|Haverford College (1856)||1290||x|
|Malone University (1957)||3083||x||x||x|
|Pacific Oaks College (1945)||1000|
|Pendle Hill (1930)||Not known||x|
|Swarthmore College (1869)||1620|
|University of Birmingham (1900)||>5||Supervising PhDs on Quaker business topics||x|
|Whittier College (1901)||1743||x||x||x|
|William Penn University (1873)||1050||x||x|
|Wilmington College (1871)||990||x||x||x|
|Woodbrooke (1903)||Not known||x|
Some scholars have begun to examine how contemporary Quaker management education might be changed to make it more authentically Quaker. For example, a distinctive Quaker management education pedagogy might emphasise the diversity of viewpoints that could be employed to examine contemporary business and management challenges. It might examine these challenges through the lenses of the testimonies—peace, equality, integrity, community, simplicity, stewardship—rather than through the existing single lens of shareholder theory used in most business schools. Second, the pedagogy of a contemporary Quaker management education might conceive of this education as a Meeting for Worship for learning, in which the lecturer’s role might be like that of a Clerk (Conversation with Nicolas Burton, 25 April 2018).
Management Education Critique
This study is motivated and informed in part by a growing literature that criticises management education and business schools. Despite these critiques, possible alternatives have been slow to emerge.
Beginning in 1973, a series of political, economic, social and technological developments have slowed productivity, economic growth, employment and household income in large portions of the global economy, while increasing income inequality. These changes have increased the pressure on managers and leaders across the business, nongovernmental and public sectors. Corrupt and unethical management practices have increased. Returns on invested capital have fallen. Temporary government budget deficits have become permanent. Philanthropic fundraising targets have been missed. These developments do not yet reflect the full effect of two larger challenges still unfolding: climate change and automation.
In the face of these challenges, business and management educators have responded with a variety of incremental changes to business school curricula focusing on the themes of globalisation, leadership development, curriculum integration and innovations in pedagogy and course design, at least at some elite US schools (Datar et al. 2010), even as other scholars and commentators have criticised the management theories taught by these schools as the intellectual foundations of corporate scandals (Ghoshal 2005) and financial crises (Tett 2009; Galbraith 2014; Wolf 2014).
The global economic crisis of 2007–08 revealed that what business schools teach about economics, finance and the performance of economies has been put into question, and that management scholars had done little to focus on this issue. The crisis has suggested that theory marginalised by the mainstream could now be more relevant. Yet few researchers are focusing on questioning the assumptions underlying management, economics and finance (Starkey 2015).
A central concern of the original professional business schools was profession building, which was seen as a governance mechanism separate from markets and hierarchies. Professionalism teaches appropriate behaviour and self-restraint (Khurana 2007), but is an indirect method to achieve these behaviours. More direct is an education that emphasises character development.
Character development in the business school setting emphasises the development of leaders who want to make a positive difference in the world by focusing on morals, values and universal virtues (Crossan et al. 2013). A virtues-based ethical framework is favoured by many contemporary Quakers (Scully 2009) and offers one path to integrating spirituality in management education (Manz et al. 2006). Such a framework also offers a way to integrate Quaker testimonies into mainstream contemporary management education.
To develop a virtues-based ethical framework, six universal virtues have been identified: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence (Peterson and Seligman 2004). These virtues, their features and connections to Quaker management education are depicted in
Integrating universal values with Quaker management education. Adapted from Crossan et al. (2013).
|Virtue||Definition||Dimensions||Connection to Quaker Management Education|
|Wisdom||Cognitive strengths involving knowledge acquisition and use||Creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning, perspective||Commitment to academic excellence beyond test taking, entrepreneurship focus|
|Courage||Emotional strengths involving exercise of will to accomplish goals in face of opposition||Bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest||Integrity testimony, entrepreneurship focus|
|Humanity||Interpersonal strengths involving tending and befriending others||Love, kindness, social intelligence||Community, peace and stewardship testimonies|
|Justice||Civic strengths underlying healthy community life||Teamwork, fairness, leadership||Community and peace testimonies|
|Temperance||Strengths protecting against excess||Forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation||Simplicity and stewardship testimonies|
|Transcendence||Strengths forging connections to larger universe and providing meaning||Appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality||The Light Within|
Quaker Management Practice
The dream of small-scale cooperative production, autonomy and democracy is a beautiful one, and it is exemplified in the thought of John Woolman, the Quaker Gandhi. (Punshon 2017: 195)
Quaker management practice has been formed from a historical experience rooted primarily in Friends’ outsider status. As outsiders, first in the UK and, after a brief awakening in colonial Pennsylvania, in the US as well, Quakers became entrepreneurs with a distinctive business culture emphasising trust and co-operation between firms and within networks (Prior and Kirby 1993; Turnbull 2014).
Quaker-founded firms were unusually successful at both wealth creation and innovation. Researchers have sought to describe the distinctive attributes of Quaker management practice that contributed to this performance. Fincham (2017) describes a complex ecosystem in which Quaker commerce flourished. He identified four factors underpinning that ecosystem: (1) education and apprenticeships; (2) a communal financial infrastructure; (3) a transatlantic network; and (4) the discipline of the Religious Society of Friends, including a commitment to fair dealing, regular reviews of financial commitments, no acceptance of debt default, honouring verbal contracts, inter-marriage, arbitration and an aversion to tithing. Most of these factors were of a particular time and place, and some may have limited relevance to contemporary management practice.
King (2014) identified four more general, yet still distinctive, attributes of Quaker businesses that contributed to their relative historical success: (1) honesty, including the setting of fixed prices and cessation of bargaining; (2) networking, which led to mutual self-help; (3) conservative financial practice, including meticulous bookkeeping, financial scrutiny by the community, the avoidance of debt and businesses financed by other Quakers at below market rates; and (4) philanthropy, which foreshadowed contemporary social responsibility.
Yet, as King (2014) points out, these general practices faded away for three reasons. First, joint-stock companies replaced family-controlled firms, eroding Quaker control. Second, Quaker businesspeople drifted out of Quakerism to fashionable society, diluting the impact of Quaker practice on their firms over time. Third, the benevolent paternalism inherent in Quaker employment practices, such as building schools and housing for employees, was eventually seen in many Western societies as antithetical with democratisation.
Despite the seeming irrelevance to contemporary management practice of Quaker methods, Turnbull (2014) called for renewed attention to the Quaker contribution to three areas of focus in management: innovation, poverty and social welfare. He distills several ways in which Quaker management practice might link to the broader business world. First, Quaker businesspeople saw wealth creation as a moral responsibility. This goes beyond profit or shareholder value maximisation, or beyond moral codes, regulation, business ethics and social responsibility. It is really about stewardship of the founders’ purposes, objectives and capital. Stewardship leads directly to enhancing the company’s reputation for quality, employee relations, supply chain, environmental sustainability and social value.
Second, spiritual discipline shapes character. This leads to integrity, trust, honesty, patience, creativity, determination and responsibility, which are all essential to the entrepreneurial character. Inquisitiveness, stewardship and an outlook recognising businesses’ wider responsibilities lead to vision and purpose. All of this leads to entrepreneurial risk-taking, while remaining conservative on other activities that challenged that code, such as advertising. He calls attention to a key gap in contemporary business education: ‘The instilling of discipline, even moral discipline, seems neglected today in modern business education and preparation’ (Turnbull 2014: 68).
Third, Quaker businesspeople displayed a passion for education and training. He argues that ‘[b]usiness and education belong together for training not only in business skills but also for the formation of character, personality, and life skills that shape the very nature of leadership in business and society’ (Turnbull 2014: 70).
Fourth, Quaker businesspeople advanced a vision for business in society. In their minds, business, wealth, responsibility and society are linked. Quakers believed (and believe) that businesspeople cannot behave amorally in one sphere of life and then seek to do good in another. This vision is not about corporate social responsibility but rather about integration through education, partnerships with other businesses, employee participation and community involvement.
How might distinctive Quaker management practices be revived for the contemporary world? A significant literature has described the distinctive attributes of Quaker collective decision-making. For example, Burton (2017) describes the Quaker business method (QBM) as a decision-making process arising out of Quaker Meetings for Business. QBM is socialising and non-hierarchical, in contrast to decision-making processes in contemporary business, which are variously autocratic, democratic or collective. QBM seeks to find unity around decisions by recognising the Light Within of each person. By encouraging continuous revelation, QBM promotes the pursuit of truth within organisations. This process can enhance organisational performance.
It is important to remember that past Quaker firms had a number of practices that may ill suit the contemporary business world. These include paternalism, which is perceived as patronising and illiberal; the constant tension to make money at the expense of values, such as advertising using the Quaker principles; spying on competition; collusion; profiting from sugar addiction; and the family ownership model, which required family members with a rare genius for business.
Punshon reminded us of the promise of a revived Quaker management practice:
If advanced economies could capture the secret of the steady-state company with a social conscience, as the Quaker businesses had within their grasp at one stage, a way forward might be found that would provide personal fulfillment, a high standard of living and methods of production that do not exploit the environment. (Punshon 2017: 195)
Is this promise unrealistic? The next section presents one possible way forward.
Contemporary Quaker Management Education: The Nexus
This study argues that contemporary Quaker management education is the nexus of Quaker business and educational practices. It is Quaker business taught in a Quaker fashion.
A conceptualisation of contemporary Quaker management education.
A Thought Experiment
What might Quaker management education look like? It might be a new, independent organisation under the care of Friends-related bodies with an interest in its success. It could collaborate with other Friends colleges and universities and therefore might be located near them—such as in the Philadelphia area.
Its mission would be to help students to ‘find their bus’, to connect their deepest passions with those activities, skills and disciplines they have mastered to create new products, services and processes that change the world. It would develop students’ character.
Its curriculum would centre on four content areas derived from Quaker management and religious practice: reflection; financial prudence; the Quaker business method of decision-making; and sustainable product innovation.
Its pedagogy might be experiential, solving problems by examining them through the lenses of the testimonies and related queries. For example, it might set a large problem—climate change or automation, for example—then examine that problem and possible solutions through the lens of simplicity (in what ways might living more simply reduce the impact of climate change? What are the opportunities created by this change in perspective?), peace (what opportunities can be created for nonviolent change in the face of climate change), integrity (what opportunities exist to promote more truthful dialogue on climate change?), community (what new communities could be created in response to climate change?), equality (how can new opportunities to speak truth to power on the climate change issue be developed?) and stewardship (what new opportunities can be developed to promote the ethical use of the Earth’s resources?).
Its faculty might see themselves as Clerks do in Meetings for Worship, as such an education would be seen as a Meeting for Worship for learning.
It might help students to learn by organising this curriculum around an affiliated commercial enterprise—for example, a bookstore—that acts as a learning laboratory. Student would work in this enterprise, applying what they have learned elsewhere and reducing their tuition in the process.
Discussion and Implications
This study began by asking: how can Quaker thought and practice make a significant contribution to contemporary management education? This question seemed of interest for at least two reasons. First, Quakerism’s rich history and current practice of higher education seemed somehow lacking when it came to management education. Second, the many failings of contemporary management education—made manifest most recently by the 2008 global financial crisis—has made the search for alternative management education models more urgent. A contemporary Quaker management education seems one way to address both of these challenges.
A contemporary Quaker management education is one that teaches Quaker business practices in a Quaker way. The study describes four general business practices—honesty, networking, conservative financial practice and philanthropy—as well as other attributes of Quaker business and practice, such as innovation and the Quaker business method of collective decision-making—that could form the basis for a Quaker management curriculum. This curriculum could be taught using the Quaker testimonies as alternative lenses through which contemporary business problems could be explored by students. Such an approach would be consistent with the experiential empiricism unique to Quakerism, but also reflective of universal virtues that could enable the ‘mainstreaming’ of a Quaker approach to management education. One initial venture in contemporary Quaker management education might be a new business school, affiliated with Quaker organisations, that could enable its students to ‘find their bus’ through reflection leading to a connection of their deepest passions, skills and networks to create new ventures that change the world in a positive way. This school would help to fulfill Brinton’s vision of higher education as taking place in a monastic setting where students are at once priests, scholars and workers.
What are the challenges to realising such a vision? First, Quaker-influenced businesses and organisations are far less influential than they once were. It is difficult today to make a compelling case—especially to non-Quakers—that a Quaker approach to management or management education is likely to lead to superior business performance. More ethical, responsible and sustainable approaches to business all face a common hurdle—who will pay for the additional ‘bottom line’ that such approaches seek? A Quaker approach to management education must argue on different grounds. It must argue that, rather than profit maximisation, it seeks to educate to fulfil Woolman’s vision as described by Punshon (2017): small-scale cooperative production, autonomy and democracy. This vision can be contrasted with today’s predominant global business environment of large-scale production, adversarial labour–management relations, wage slavery and oligarchy.
A second challenge concerns the distinctiveness of Quaker education itself. Hole (1978) is right to point out that Friends schools of all types have been increasingly subject to isomorphism, behaving more and more like other colleges and universities against which they compete for students. This is not just an issue for Quaker universities. Distinctive institutions such as Antioch, Black Mountain and Highlander have all struggled to remain different, and many have failed in the process. Most Quaker educational institutions today have faculty who are predominantly non-Quaker, are overseen by boards of trustees who are mostly non-Quaker and have student populations dominated by non-Quakers. It is nearly impossible to maintain a distinctive Quaker education given these pressures, and practically irrational to consider creating a new Quaker business school from scratch.
And yet, and yet. A broader movement in management education is re-examining how business is taught. Explicitly spiritual approaches to management education exist in other faiths, including Buddhism, Judaism and Catholicism.
More broadly, what does the possibility of a contemporary Quaker management education tell us about Quakerism? About management education? It is striking that, despite historic Quaker success in business, Quaker management education remains so limited to date. A discomfort with business among contemporary Friends may explain this limited impact. Why might contemporary Quakers not accept that, as education is a core mission of Quakerism, management education reflecting Quaker values and practice ought to be offered? It remains troubling—at least to this author—that many contemporary Quaker business-people don’t yet see the need for a management education reflecting their deeply held values.
With the recent spiritual turn in management education, a Quaker offering would offer a new ‘take’ on the role of religion in management education. While other faith-based business schools are explicitly targeted at those practising a particular faith, Quaker management education would take a different approach, open equally to all from every faith tradition and those without a faith.
This insight raises the question of the Quaker management education’s ‘boundary conditions’. While its linkage with universal values would make such an education appealing to all theoretically, in practice it seems likely that such an education would primarily draw students from contexts familiar with Quakerism, such as the US and the UK. It is not reasonable to expect a global Quaker revolution in management education anytime soon.
This study concludes with a sense of possibility. A Quaker business school could be built. By helping students to find their bus it would help realise an important Quaker mission that remains unfulfilled: to make a Quaker spirit manifest in management education.