The Accidental Executive, by Albert M. Erisman, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2015.
Summary: A former Boeing executive reflects deeply on the biblical character of Joseph in Genesis 37-50, and amplifies on these reflections from his own experience in business leadership and interviews with other executives in a highly readable account suitable for discussion groups in business and church settings.
Over the years I’ve seen many people write books that are a variation on the theme of “leadership lessons from the life of….” What sets the good ones apart from others in my opinion is how carefully and closely the author actually remains to the biblical text, not forcing it to affirm things it does not say or speculating or over-psychologizing the text.
This is one of the better examples of this genre in my opinion. It is evident to me that the author, a former Boeing executive, has spent a long time soaking in the narrative of Joseph’s life from his immature beginnings and lack of awareness of how his brothers perceived him, to his formative experiences as a slave where he feared God, worked responsibly and fled sexual temptation, to prison years where he devotes himself to the task at hand, trusts God over the long years as he awaits deliverance, and then forthrightly, and without regard to personal position advises Pharoah with divine insight and good strategic insight cultivated through years of service. Then we see how he copes with fantastic success, confronts the thorny issues of reconciliation with those who betrayed his trust, and his later years.
I thought it of particular interest that Erisman questions some of the later decisions and the lack of apparent consultation on Joseph’s part when he institutes policies that enslave all of Egypt (while his own family enjoys special privilege) and how this might have contributed to the eventual enslavement of Jacobs descendants. This was a new thought to me and I thought reflected well on approach to scripture that doesn’t see accounts of lives like Joseph’s as unvarying hagiographies but rather descriptions of people who both walked with God and made mistakes.
Erisman enriches his reflections by drawing upon his own experience in industry as a Director of Technology for the Boeing Corporation. Discussing Joseph’s patience for example, he talks about a strategy that his R & D folk came up with to make production processes more efficient that was squashed by conflict between two divisions but adopted five years later when assembly was bogged down and needed this solution. He describes meetings he held with his division during a downturn as an example of dealing with fear through utter transparency that did not withhold bad news nor what steps were being taken by the company.
While Erisman’s own experiences often make him aware of subtleties in the text of Genesis, the stories that came out of his interviews with other execs, orginally appearing in ethix.org, gave memorable illustrations that particularly underscored the quality of integrity that ran through Joseph’s life. Perhaps most moving was the example of Wayne Alderson, who turned around Pittron Steel through his “value of the person” campaign, where he provided an office for the union president, spent regular time on the shop floor with employees and regularly thanked them for their work as they finished a shift. Through this he made Pittron profitable, and a buy-out target. When the new owners expressed appreciation for what Alderson had done but did not want him to continue the practices that accomplished these results, Alderson walked away rather than compromise. He also tells the story of Sherron Watkins, who was the whistle-blower at Enron who exposed its fraudulent accounting, at the cost of her job.
Not all the execs lost their jobs however. We also have narratives of Gloria Nelund in the banking industry, Alan Mullaly at Ford, Bill Pollard at Servicemaster and Bonnie Wurzbacher at Coca-Cola among many others who talk about the challenges and opportunities for influence in the business world. And this underscores a final value of this book in revealing that there is no sacred-secular dualism where spiritual work is better than work in the world of business. Erisman concludes his book with a discussion of calling that argues that people can answer the big call of God on their lives in corporate life and the world of business.
The book’s chapters are short and make this ideal for discussions in business and professional groups considering the ethics and spirituality of work. The format also lends itself well to personal reflection and the book, printed on high quality paper, makes a great gift for the business person in one’s life. Church groups that want to gain an appreciation for the world of work and the opportunities for spiritual faithfulness will also find this book a great resource.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”