A Princeton religion professor is scheduled Monday to take his trust-building message to one of the most unlikely of venues: a meeting of the world’s financial elite in Davos, Switzerland.
But David W. Miller, who leads Princeton’s Faith & Work Initiative, is determined to go wherever he is needed.
“What’s central to a key part of human traditions is we break down,” Mr. Miller said Friday in an interview with The Washington Times before leaving for Switzerland. “Religion is really good with the healing process and acknowledging human fallenness.”
Mr. Miller, a former financial-executive-turned-academic, engages in research into corporate America’s need for values-based leadership.
Public surveys show a precipitous drop in trust among Americans for public institutions ranging from government to the media to corporations, along with a decline in religious observance.
Mr. Miller is at the vanguard of thinking that rebuilding trust may take the ethics and models of the Abrahmaic faiths.
In a paper titled “Towards a ‘Restoration of Trust’? Preliminary Insights and Lessons from Wisdom Traditions,” Mr. Miller and co-author Michael J. Tate argue for nearly a dozen theses to guide corporate thinking on trust building, ranging from wisdom found in the Koran to the Old and New Testaments to Jewish texts.
“Companies often turn to lawyers, lobbyists, public relations personnel, crisis managers, social media experts,” they write. “Perhaps it is time to consider other resources to help restore a broken trust with an institution’s primary stakeholders … Namely, we consider the resources that exist in various religious traditions.”
Mr. Miller’s appearance at the 2020 World Economic Forum comes at an auspicious time for trust-building. Rapid speech technology and international competition has exacerbated what Mr. Miller calls “human brokenness,” leading to institutional crises in companies that once were dependable household names.
“These aren’t necessarily bad organizations,” he said. “Legally, they’re persona ficta [legal person], but they’re comprised of humans like you and me.”
But a company’s mea culpa must be more than skin deep, he said. Mr. Miller recounted with incredulity the campaign Wells Fargo launched mere months after CEO John Stumpf’s departure with the heading “Re-Established in 2018.” He said the public reacted with skepticism at seeing “a stage coach trotting across a commercial.”
“Isn’t that really a bit quick?” Mr. Miller said. “Am I really hearing deep remorse?”
He advises that businesses must face the reality of their own brokenness, echoing the declaration of St. Paul (“the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I do”) or the simple affirmation in the Koran, “We are full of doubt.” He alludes to companies that have rebounded from nadirs of public controversy stemming from unethical decisions, such at Tyco, which saw two of its executives plead guilty to stealing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tyco has since changed it name to TE Connectivity and has concentrated charitable giving on assisting worldwide girl leadership programs and aiding children of color in STEM fields.
“It’s painful. It’s hard, and you really have to steward the passage of time well,” Mr. Miller said.
His business message has attracted attention. He said some big names have names have reached out to him about melding their corporate mission with morality rooted in religious wisdom.
“There is absolutely a tension [between capitalism and religious faiths],” Mr. Miller said. “And smart leaders have a heart and soul … So how do you navigate those divergencies, but how do you equally leverage the parallels?”