Winning in Business with the Jesuit Approach

I am admittedly a proud product of the Jesuits. From my roots in St. Xavier School in Cincinnati, Ohio, to later teaching at Ateneo de Manila, the Jesuits have played a huge role in shaping who I am today.

Yet, beyond being imbued with the values and principles of a Jesuit education, I also learned one thing that has subsequently helped me in building brands and businesses around the world. I call it “The Jesuit Approach to Business.”

It starts with the foundation of the Jesuits. How they adopted a missionary approach, and spread the word of Christ throughout the world. From their founding in 1540, and behind great missionaries such as Francis Xavier, the Jesuits spread Christianity through Africa, Asia, India and the Americas, converting one person at a time.

One person at a time. That’s the essence of the Jesuit approach.

Today there are roughly 2.2 billon Christians, nearly one-third of the world’s population. And the roots of this trace back to the Jesuits, and the approach of “one at a time.” It took time and effort, not a “mass” approach like the televangelism of today. Business can learn from all walks of life. And certainly religion is one of them. So why not learn from the Jesuits?

The truly great brands are built over time, decades of consistency. The businesses that are “built to last” are built gradually and steadily. Too many businesses today are impatient. Greedy. They want it all and they want it now. They set unrealistic expectations for growth, or on establishing brands, and in pursuing the overreaching goals, individuals and organizations sacrifice quality for quantity.  New stores are opened at too fast a rate, marketers become lazy and rely on mass media such as TV as the sole means to build brands.

They forget that real brands, and real businesses, are built via the Jesuit approach — one at a time. One store. One customer. One purchase. At a time.

Jollibee started with one store and did not open 800 overnight. Starbucks is the world’s most valuable coffee brand, yet has never run a TV ad.

It starts with one shelf at a time. One store at a time. Then one consumer at a time. Going for quality of sale, not just quantity. And when you find you have consumers talking about your brand — and telling others about it — then you know you are onto something special.

Driving the Jesuit approach into an organization means bringing attention to the idea and driving measures in a different way:

For salespeople, are they thinking of winning “one customer at a time”? Going for depth of sale versus just quantity? In consumer goods, it means focusing on winning one shelf at a time, one store at a time. Each day is better than the previous day. This is how empires are built!

For marketers, by all means have an aggressive above-the-line plan, including mass media. But beyond this, ensure a part of the budget is dedicated to grassroots efforts. Engaging consumers on an intimate, one-to-one basis. Creating word of mouth. Does the marketing plan have components that will drive consumers to text message their friends about your brand?

Several times over the years, I have stood in a supermarket aisle, watching consumers shop my category. I would see a consumer reaching to buy a competitive product, and I would always approach her, and gently explain the benefits of my brand, to see if I could convince her to buy mine.  Most of the time I was successful. And I often would have a young employee ask me, “Boss, why do you invest such time on one person?” I always answer by quoting the Jesuits.

The Jesuit approach. Founded nearly 500 years ago, and has stood the test of time.