The Search for God and Guinness, Stephen Mansfield. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
Summary: A history of beer, of the Guinness family and the history of Guinness from its beginnings, and the faith that that motivated the social goods pursued by many of the family members who led the company, and others in the family line.
Unlike the author, who came from a family of teetotalers, I came from a family that enjoyed a good beer in moderation. Most of the beers I grew up with were American beers and often my response to them was “meh.” It wasn’t until recent years that I discovered Guinness, and concluded, that this is what I’ve always thought beer should taste like.
So my curiosity was piqued when I came across this book in a second-hand store. I happen to love God and like Guinness and so I wanted to see how these two went together. Along the way, Stephen Mansfield took me on a delightful journey on the history of beer, including the long line of saints who enjoyed a good brew including the Pilgrims, Saints Patrick, Bartholomew, Brigid, and Columbanus, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley. He traces the origins of beer, the science of brewing, and the different types of beer. A fascinating side note of this history is how beer provided a much more temperate alternative to the gin palaces and other forms of hard liquor that spelled the ruin of many.
Mansfield traces the beginning of the Guinness brewery with Arthur Guinness’s purchase in 1759 of a derelict brewery at St. James Gate, Dublin, including his bold move to increase the size of pipes carrying water from the River Liffey to his brewery and “defend it by force of arms.” Guinness had learned the art of brewing from his father, brewing small amounts for an inn, and starting a small brewing operation before taking over the derelict brewery in Dublin. Influenced by George Whitfield, he used profits from his growing brewery to fund the growing Sunday School movement.
From these promising beginnings, Mansfield traces the growth of the Guinness brewery through the generations, and the good family leadership it enjoyed in each generation. There was the key decision to focus on stout and improvements in the scientific brewing of that stout, the transport and storage of the product that provided consistent high quality wherever it was served in the world, and in the twentieth century, the advertising campaigns that made the brand ever-more popular. Among those working on these campaigns was Dorothy L. Sayers.
Most striking in this narrative is the care the company showed toward its workers, providing medical care for employees, families and even widows, housing, and superior wages (as well as a couple free pints a day of stout). During wars they guaranteed the jobs of servicemen, and paid families half salaries while their men were in service. In many respects, including employee education programs, their policies exceeded today’s most progressive companies.
The other intriguing aspect of this book is that while many of the leaders of the brewery were Christians who employed their wealth and position not only to benefit their workers but wider Dublin society, there was also a branch of the family, the Grattan Guinnesses marked for their pursuit of ministry and world missions activity. Mansfield gives us a thumbnail biography of Henry Grattan Guinness, an evangelist who was easily the equal of D. L. Moody. Mansfield notes that the definitive biography of this man remains to be written.
In more recent years, the company diversified and passed from Guinness family leadership and experienced some scandals. Mansfield doesn’t focus much attention on this and handles lightly any problems in the history of the family. He does imply that the long focus on brewing stout was a strength of the company that was lost as they diversified. The emphasis throughout is on the growth of the company, and the positive contributions made by this family, and the influence their faith played in the good works accomplished through their wealth and influence. So I would treat this account as entertaining and informative but not definitive history.
The book concludes with an epilogue that summarizes “the Guinness Way” in five principles:
- Discern the ways of God for life and business.
- Think in terms of generations yet to come.
- Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well.
- Master the facts before you act.
- Invest in those you would have invest in you.
This suggests another value of this book, as an example of a business that does well by doing good along several key dimensions from its spiritual compass, to thinking beyond the next quarter, to having a laser focus, quality strategic planning, and respecting the dignity of workers, investors, and customers. While technologies and markets change, it might well be argued that these basics do not, but may be more crucial than ever.