Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How to Avoid Compromising Gospel Principles in Business?

I heard a talk show host the other day refer to the owners of a major hotel chain as "good Mormon folks who disseminate pornography just because it's a profit center." Ouch.

I recall the first time I ever stayed in a well-known Mormon-owned hotel chain, a fine hotel near the San Francisco airport. I had heard that there would be a Book of Mormon in every room, but there wasn't one in mine. Instead, I had a wine list about four pages long. I was much more disappointed to see that my television offered a sophisticated menu of in-room movies with 50 or 100 different "adult" films (what a terrible word to describe the sexual immaturity and dysfunction that drives people to watch such filth). This was around 1987. They were certainly on the cutting edge of societal decay.

My purpose here is not to pick on that hotel chain or any particular individuals (notice how I have NOT mentioned the name of the chain in question to avoid undue embarrassment to the owners or to the many people who attend sports and religious evens in the eponymous building at BYU). I suspect that all LDS people in business face pressures to do things in ways that might be viewed as contrary to some Gospel principles. The company I work for once made cigarette paper, for example, arguably playing a role in the grotesque tobacco industry. Retailers often believe that they cannot stay in business if they don't offer cigarettes or alcohol. Business partners might indirectly or even directly build up regimes that stamp out the Gospel. Life gets very complex, sometimes making it too easy to point fingers and to overlook our own shortcomings.

The real issue is this: where do we draw the line? When should we walk from a business opportunity that may be perfectly legal and socially acceptable, but questionable from a Gospel perspective? Or when do we quit or job or change our career? Is it fair to do any more than to say that each person must work these issues out themselves, prayerfully seeking the Spirit and good counsel from others, and striving not to be deceived by filthy lucre? Or is filthy lucre the inevitable victor in our moral battles?

It's easy to find the apparent weaknesses in the business decisions of others, but I'd be interested in your success stories on this topic.

23 comments:

Bookslinger said...

As soon as Marriott became a publicly traded company and J Willard (and family) was (were) no longer at least 51% owner(s) of the company, the rules changed. He was no longer absolute commander, and the company became subject to the voice of the majority of the stockholders.

Anonymous said...

Mormanity-----another thought provoking post. I sure could not see you being a Young Mens President if the youth could see that you sold Pornography. But then no LDS people could operate a convenience store in the Midwest. They all seem to sell alcohol, tobacco etc.

ujlapana said...

I'm not sure I understand what tobacco or alcohol have to do with the Gospel. Adam fell, Jesus saves. Is the Gospel timeless or not? If it is, you have to exclude a lot of these issues from "the Gospel." Maybe you could retitle it "How to Avoid Compromising Church Policies in Business?"

Marriott control of the organization is not as simple as 51%. Bill runs the company, which means he can make decisions on hotel operation. Think about it--the CEO maximizes returns to shareholders, but should only do so within the constraints of moral behavior. To lie (let's say overcharge room rates by $0.01) would be wrong, even if you never got caught. If you believe that providing certain movies is wrong, how does profit even matter? JW could say, "none in my hotels, thank you." If the board ousted him, would he not be laying up for himself treasures in heaven? Maybe the Ferrari collection is just too tempting to let go of right now. (The church would miss that tithing stream, too--the family is very generous.)

All in all, I think Bill can show what he wants, Steve can play games on Sunday, etc. It's the Church that should be distancing itself from people that blatantly disregard some of its fundamental emphases. Instead they get put in positions of influence.

endlessnegotiation said...

Regarding the Mariott chain, except for a few rare exceptions most of the hotels sporting the name "Mariott" are not owned by Mariot. Mariott is in the business of managing hotels and not real estate investment. Investors build the hotels and then hire Mariott to manage and market them. That means that none of the capital investment decisions (such as what sort of media distribution systems to install and who the provider will be) are not made by Mariott. Mariott's job is to hire and train staff and manage the day-to-day operations of the hotel-- basically the company is in the business of managing other people's investments. A few years back I stayed at one of the few hotels still owned by the company and "spank-o-vision" was not available on the television (not that I as hoping it would be available-- we ususlly just make sure if it is available we diable it for the sake of the kids).

The time to walk away from a business deal is when someone offers you money to ACTIVELY encourage others to engage in behavior contrary to gospel principles. As a grad student I interned with an investment company. During one of my rotations I was assigned to cover the food and beverage industries and the first company I was assinged to research was Anheuser-Busch. I looked at their financials, their marketing plan, and their competition and consequently wrote up a glowing recommendation for the fund manager with the result of the fund increasing its investment in AB. Do I feel guilty about that? Not one bit. A few months later when I was actively looking for a permanent job in corporate finance (I had decided I didn't particularly like the institutional investment game) the fund manager for whom I had interned, without conferring with me, recommended me to the VP of finance at AB during a game of golf. A few days later I got a call from the guy at AB and he invited me for an interview. I went on the interview (I couln't very well turn down a free lunch at Fraser's Brown Bag) and during the conversation politely let him know that I could not in good conscience work for AB because I felt like I would be actively engaging in something my church felt to be inappropriate. This confused him given the glowing report I had produced (and of which he had a copy) but I explained that in that instance I had been dealing with other people's money and was in a position to be a proxy for them in that I was trying to make the decisions they would have made if they had my knowledge and expertise (and not necessarily my ethics). He understood and respected my explanation and eventually he passed along my name to someone else who did hire me. I think my situation interning at the investment firm parallels the dilemma the Mariott family faces.

Ian said...

Very interesting perspective endlessnegotiation. I really helps some of us to understand in the background. I had always assumed that if a hotel was named Marriot, then it was owned by Marriot. Thanks for that.

I also agree with ujlapana. In the case that someone is involving themselves in shady deals or are promoting non-gospel practices, then the church should distance themselves from them. The individual can do whatever they want. It is their own concience that they should worry about.

On a side note, we had a young man in our stake one time that was trying to save money for his mission. He got a job offer by a beer company to drive a beer truck. Worried about wether he should take the job or not, he actually went to the stake president to see what he thought.

What would you do in that situation?

dicentra63 said...

Worried about whether he should take the job or not, he actually went to the stake president to see what he thought.

What would you do in that situation?


If I were the Stake President? I'd advise the young man to turn down the job and look for another, trusting in the Lord to provide. The economy is not such that good jobs aren't readily available. This isn't the Great Depression.

Bookslinger said...

Worried about whether he should take the job or not, he actually went to the stake president to see what he thought.

What would you do in that situation?


I'd say, "Elder, you and your companion have just taught someone a missionary discussion about the Word of Wisdom, tithing, and making sacrifices for the gospel. The discussion goes well, and the investigators have invited you for dinner, which you accept. Over dinner, they ask what you did before the mission, and how you saved up money. What do you want to be able to tell them?"

Ryan said...

Issues like this are pandemic here in Pittsburgh. For instance, you are far more likely to get Sunday off because you want to catch the Steelers game than if you want to go to church.

Naturally, many investigators and even members miss church because they're at work. However, I can think of two people who have made a concerted effort to free up their Sundays. One brother has moved to an evening shift at his grocery store, while a recently baptized sister has quit two jobs -- the first because it was a cigarette shop, and the second because they broke their promise to give her Sundays off.

Her faith was rewarded -- each time she went maybe a whole week before finding her next job.

Anonymous said...

I work for a company that produces equipment that helps our soldiers kill "the enemy" - I try not to think about it much.

James said...

Last month I spent a week in the Marriot Residence Inn of Alexandria, VA. Somewhat to my surprise, there was in fact a Book of Mormon in the drawer, along with the obligatory Gideon Bible. That's not the first time I've seen that in a Marriot, either.

I've often been tempted to buy Altria stock, but so far I haven't simply because of Word of Wisdom issues.

The Alexandria hotel does offer adult channels, along with a polite sign on top of the TV alerting you to that fact, and advising you to have the front desk turn them off if you don't want them. As far as I could tell, the Hotel was not "owned" by Marriot corporation, but by a separate company.

Anonymous said...

Pornography is a deadly disease, is it not? Look at it from that perspective.

What if this discussion were about a hotel chain that distributed Ebola or AIDS in it's rooms? How many would want to have anything of anything to do with such a business?

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt 10: 28)

"Members of the Church should avoid pornography in any form and should oppose its production, distribution, and use." (True to the Faith, Pornography, 117–18)

Anonymous said...

Then I guess investing in the vice fund http://www.vicefund.com/ is right out then?

Anonymous said...

@anonymous: Pornography is not a deadly disease. Not in the literal sense, and only in the figurative sense in your opinion.

10 years ago when I was in Youn Men's, one of our YM leaders owned a small local grocery store. They carried alchohol and cigarettes and other such items. Not only that, they were very well known in the community for their excellent wine selection. As a youth I certainly thought that was wierd.

Anonymous said...

As well as in the opinion of the Lord's mouthpiece:

"Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive." (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Living Worthy of the Girl You Will Someday Marry,” Ensign, May 1998)

You seem to have missed the whole point. What's more dangerous, a physical disease or a spiritual one? The Savior said not to fear what can kill the body, but that which can destroy the soul in hell.

Talon said...

As some have pointed out here, it is not correct to say that the Marriott's "own" the Marriott hotel chain. The Marriott's for certain own large chunks of shares, and hold responsible positions in the company, but they do not "own" it.

It should also be noted that hotel chains that offer movies have little choice themselves over the content that is delivered. The in-room movie system comes as a package delivered by an outside provider. The hotel owner does not get to pick and choose which movies are delivered by the system, or the rating. And so it is left up to the hotel occupant as to what kind of entertainment they will consume. The same way a convenience store customer may by milk, candy, and bread, but avoids the magazine isle.

I agree that members of the church should act ethically in their business dealings, but we should all be looking to our own dealings, not our neighbors. The argument can be made that because it is a CEO's job to maximize shareholder value (and it is in fact illegal for him/her to act otherwise), and in-room movie services (of all ratings) are a large revenue generator, Mr. Marriott is acting ethically as a CEO. To equate him with Larry Flint is off base in my opinion.

I had a mission companion from Virginia who's family were tobacco farmers. There is a large depot just north of Idaho Falls that collects malt barley from local farmers for Budwieser. There isn't a job in Las Vegas that isn't directly or indirectly tied to the gambling industry. Steve Young works on Sunday. LDS men and women in the legal profession defend rapists and drug dealers, etc., in court everyday across North America.

Are any of these better/worse than Mr. Marriott? Are they any better/worse than you/me? Who are we to judge? Thankfully "the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart."

Anonymous said...

Omni Hotels is porn free: http://www.afajournal.org/cover/pornography_5.asp

If they can do it, I have to ask than why not Marriott?

"The argument can be made that because it is a CEO's job to maximize shareholder value (and it is in fact illegal for him/her to act otherwise), and in-room movie services (of all ratings) are a large revenue generator, Mr. Marriott is acting ethically as a CEO."

If prostitution was a "large revenue generator" would that also be ethical?

If it were me, I'd either get the filth out or walk. I have a hard time seeing anything else as principled.

Anonymous said...

"I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves" -Joseph Smith
I am certainly glad that we aren't to be the judges of other peoples actions. As Talon quoted "the Lord looketh on the heart"

Talon said...

"Omni Hotels is porn free:
If they can do it, I have to ask than why not Marriott?"

For the very reasons already mentioned above: Omni is a privately owned hotel chain, Marriott is publicly owned.

Mr. Marriott must govern the corporation as per the wishes of the majority of shareholders. If He and his family acutally owned the company privately, I would assume, as is the case with Omni, there would be no porn (as was the case mentioned above when someone stayed at one of the locations actually still owned by the Marriotts).

"If prostitution was a "large revenue generator" would that also be ethical?"

Prostitution is a large revenue generator, but it is also generally illegal in most jurisdictions around the world, whereas providing in-room movie services to customers and allowing them to choose the content they view is not.

If we were going to pick apart every practice by every corporation in the world that didn't promote LDS values we would never travel or shop anywhere.

Using Omni as an example, they don't provide adult movies to customers, thats great. Do they open on Sundays? Do they sell alcohol in thier restaurants? Do they sell cigarettes in their gift shops? Etc., etc., without much effort you can cross Omni off your list of "LDS friendly" establishments.

"If it were me, I'd either get the filth out or walk. I have a hard time seeing anything else as principled."

Now you are talking the language that corporations understand. And by voting with your feet, you send them a message, which I applaud. Me, I choose to vote with my wallet; There is no way I can afford to stay at a Marriott. :-)

Mark N said...

I've often wondered about employment statistics in Las Vegas, given that there are so many members of the Church there. How many are employed by casinos, either directly or indirectly? I presume that a member of the Church being employed as a blackjack dealer on the casino floor might raise a few eyebrows. How about working as a hotel maid at a casino-owned or -affiliated hotel? How about a computer programmer who supports the accounting systems at a casino? If you work as an actor at a family-oriented casino theme attraction, is that OK?

Are the members in Las Vegas given specific counsel as to what is and isn't a decent way to earn a living and pay tithing on the income?

CDA1961 said...

The point and bottom line is that Mr. Marriott Jr. is the Chairman and CEO and he has a choice. He has tremendous sway over the Board not only because he is CEO, but also because he built the hotel portion of his fathers company. He chooses the revenue stream over what he believes is right! Does anybody believe that JW Marriott Sr. would hide behind "the best interests of the shareholders," when a matter of principal or public morality was involved? The public/private ownership argument clouds the issue and serves to give Jr. an out, which, by the way, he doesn't take. When asked by Jeff Greenfield on CEO Exchange Jr. said nothing of public ownership or holding less than 51% of his company. He said when asked whether Marriott hotels provide adult movies, "we do it. We don't like to do it, but it's a competitive thing that our competitiors are all doing it and our customers say they want it." Not a peep about public ownership or holding less than 51%. It is all about the Revenue! Mr. Marriott Jr. could have porn-free hotels if he brought his influence to bear on this issue. He does not. He has chosen the revenue stream under the guise of customer service. Simple as that. Junior is a poor imitation of Senior, a "pipsqueek" next to his father. The alcohol and smoking comparison is a red herring. The sad result is that Marriott Int'l is Lodgenets biggest customer, which, by extention, means, that the remains of that great company founded by JW Marriott Sr. is the one of the biggest supporters of the porn industry in America. The result, Marriott Int'l, like it or not, has chosen to be part of the coursening of America and a significant contributor to the pandemic of abuse and exploitation of women in the world today. Marriott Int'l is a shell of its former self, even though it is 10 times the size. As a great fan of Sr., what a disgusting shame! And endless negotiation, you are nothing more than an "enabler" on this one.

CDA1961 said...

The point and bottom line is that Mr. Marriott Jr. is the Chairman and CEO and he has a choice. He has tremendous sway over the Board not only because he is CEO, but also because he built the hotel portion of his fathers company. He chooses the revenue stream over what he believes is right! Does anybody believe that JW Marriott Sr. would hide behind "the best interests of the shareholders," when a matter of principal or public morality were involved in a company that he Chaired? The public/private ownership argument clouds the issue and serves to give Jr. an out, which, by the way, he doesn't take. When asked by Jeff Greenfield on CEO Exchange, Jr. said nothing of public ownership or holding less than 51% of his company. He said when asked whether Marriott hotels provide adult movies, "we do it. We don't like to do it, but it's a competitive thing that our competitiors are all doing it and our customers say they want it." Not a peep about public ownership or holding less than 51%. It is all about the Revenue! Mr. Marriott Jr. could have porn-free hotels if he brought his influence to bear on this issue. He does not. He has chosen the revenue stream under the guise of customer service. Simple as that. Junior is a poor imitation of Senior, a "pipsqueak" next to his father. The alcohol and smoking comparison is a red herring. The sad result is that Marriott Int'l is Lodgenets biggest customer, which, by extention, means, that the remains of that great company founded by JW Marriott Sr. is the one of the biggest supporters of the porn industry in the world. The result, Marriott Int'l, like it or not, has chosen to be part of the coursening of America and a significant contributor to the pandemic of abuse and exploitation of women in the world today. Marriott Int'l is a shell of its former self, even though it is 10 times the size. As a great fan of Sr., what a disgusting shame! And endlessnegotiation, you are nothing more than an "enabler" on this one.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are considering opening up a small Latino Grocer. We are members of the church and I am struggling with the ideas that clientele will expect to have alcohol and tobacco products available. Would it be unwise to open the business if I decided not to have those products? Would that keep a lot of consumers from coming in? The Word of Wisdom is a law given to the Latter-Day Saints who have made covenants with Heavenly Father. I still, however, don't want to damage the repuation of the church. Perhaps I would be blessed by Father in Heaven by not having such substances. Would I be providing for the man who goes home, gets drunk and abuses his family? There are of course certain things I would never do such as offer ponography or hard liquor. That's for certain. I remember when I was on my mission in SLC, I met with the soon-to-be mission leader of the Provo mission. He told me he owned various Outback restaurants. Well, they have bars there and serve alcohol. I recall that the Deseret Mercantile back in the days sold tobacco and alcohol products. Does all that make it right, though? Hmmmmm.... Your thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

Lukeair2006 said...

Bill Marriott publicly declares himself to be a 'Mormon/Latter Day Saint'. He makes millions from peddling filth to those who stay in Marriott hotels. A tenth of his personal earnings end up in the coffers of the Lords church. I know low income, low profile individuals who have been disciplined in the church for having merely looked at pornography, never mind selling it. But then they don't contribute millions of dollars to the church coffers. Lucifer did say he would buy everybody up didn't he? That was EVERYBODY!