Monk Works In Good Company

MarketSpan's new Chairman and CEO Robert Catell, center, speaks to reporters in New York Friday, July 31, 1998 AP

From the top floor of Keyspan's corporate headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, CEO Bob Catell presides over one of the largest energy companies in the Northeast.

Keyspan, which delivers gas to millions of customers in New York and New England, has 12,000 employees. But this is the story of Catell's relationship with just one of them.

A decade ago, Catell tapped Kenny Moore to be his corporate ombudsman, reports CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason.

"It was an experiment when I first started," says Catell. "I don't think either one of us knew how it was going to work out. It was something new, something different."

As a corporate advisor, Kenny Moore came with some unusual credentials.

"At an early age, I felt called to the priesthood," says Moore.

Moore is a former monk. He is one of six children who was raised in New York. Moore spent 15 years in a monastic community as a Catholic priest. He gave up collar and robes only after he became troubled that the church wasn't changing fast enough.

Moore explains, "I thought if I stayed, I would become embittered, or disheartened. So I left."

He landed a job in the human resources department at what was then called the Brooklyn Union Gas Company.

But, Bob Catell wasn't interested that Moore didn't know much about business.

"It wasn't really his business acumen that I was looking for," Catell says. "It was his ability to connect with the human side of people that I was really looking for."

Moore wasn't the only one going through a transformation. So was the company. Because of mergers and market deregulation, Keyspan was in the midst of a gut wrenching change.

Like the company's obsolete storage tanks, the energy business, as they'd known it, was being blown apart. And if the 100-year-old gas utility was going survive, Catell knew it would have to transform itself.

"Commitment cannot be mandated to employees. It can only be invited," says Moore. "Engineers and accountants may not be real good at inviting people. Monks may be better at it.

Right from the start, Moore's advice was radical. Change, he argued, starts not with a beginning but with an ending:

"So I said, 'Why don't we do a corporate funeral?' He looked at me like I had two heads," remembers Moore.

"I thought he was crazy," laughs Catell. "It took me a little while to grab hold of that."

Moore remembers Catell apprehension because of the risk, which he also encouraged.

"[It] took me a little while to come to grips with it myself," says Catell. "Imagine when I tried to convince the other officers in the company … They were a little skeptical. They even thought I was crazy. But it worked."

Four hundred Keyspan executives were invited to the mock service. They all paid their respects to the past and looked to the future.

"And then we used those 400 or so people in the room to be, I guess, sort of apostles to go out and talk to the rest of the employees about the need for this change," says Catell

Moore says, " I thought as CEO, for [Catell] to take that risk, I think it gave permission to our other corporate leaders to go and do likewise. I think it also telegraphed to our employees that they were not alone. That the CEO was willing to be vulnerable."

The success of the funeral cemented the relationship and Catell's confidence in Moore, who encouraged him to come down from the executive floor to rally his employees.

"I think that's been one of the most important messages that Kenny has brought to me," says Catell. "That I need to get out and visit with the troops."

Although Catell may not have the time, sometimes, to visit his employees, Moore acts a conscience to remind the CEO of the importance of such a simple deed.

At Moore's suggestion, Catell brought a graphic artist into the Keyspan cafeteria to help executives sketch out a mural of how they envisioned the future of the company.

And he brought an improvisational comedian in to help teach improvisational skills.

"I even admit I had some problem participating in the session when we did it and I kind of made a little bit of a fool of myself," says Moore. "But maybe that was part of what we were trying to do -- to show our employees that none of us are perfect."

If Catell was sticking his neck out, so was Moore.
But, Moore says the only thing he has to lose, if an exercise doesn't work, is the respect of his peers. Losing that respect, according to Moore, is risky but not the end of all things.

Once, cancer almost killed Moore. Then he suffered a heart attack and had to endure a quadruple bypass surgery. But, he has survived, with the support of his wife Cynthia, who also works at Keyspan, and their two sons.

"Those two near death experiences taught me this is not a dress rehearsal," says Moore. "It's not worth waiting to try to be who you are. If at the end of the day, if I was still alive, I considered it a success. So, in some regards, I couldn't fail."

So Moore, who reports directly to Catell, doesn't pull his punches. And, Catell doesn't want his advisor to hold back.

Their unorthodox relationship has endured for a decade now. The CEO, who started as a meter repairman, and the former monk have a partnership. They've even collaborated on a new book.

But, sometimes Moore acts on his own. Every Monday morning, he strolls down the street from Keyspan to a local florist and orders flowers to be delivered to two Keyspan employees, who he picks sometimes for good deeds – sometimes at random.

As it turns out, a monk knows more about business than you might think. And in Kenny Moore's creed, "What's good for the spirit is good for the company."

"I think it was Henry Ford who said, 'I hire a person for their skills, but they bring the whole person in with them,'" says Moore. "I think companies are coming to realize that if we can engage not just the physical energy of people, but the mental and emotional, and even the spiritual energy of people, that those companies have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. And it's not a religious conversation. It's a business conversation."

It may be a radical idea for a CEO, but not for a monk.
  • Rome Neal

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter