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From HR Hotshot to Jesuit Priest

HR can learn a lot of Jim Martin's journey.

November 2, 2001
Related Topics: The HR Profession
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HR veteran and Wharton Business School graduate Jim Martin had it all. A risingexecutive with GE Capital, a division of General Electric, he had a great salary,a plush office, and the respect of his peers. He lived in a tony Connecticut suburband owned a closet full of Joseph A. Banks suits.

Then one day, to the shock of his colleagues, Martin announced he was leavingGE to become a Jesuit priest. In an instant, he went from rising corporate starto a life of simplicity, chastity, and obedience. Instead of wooing recruitsover restaurant lunches, he was soon washing the feet of indigents in a Jamaicanslum. He turned in his American Express card in exchange for a $35-a-month allowancefrom his order, and traded silk ties for a clerical collar.

And in the terrible days following the terrorist attack on the World TradeCenter, he has been at "ground zero" helping survivors and celebratingMass with firefighters and police officers. "Most of what I've been doingthere is just talking to the rescue workers and helping them through this,"he says.

Many people switch careers, but few do it so dramatically-- especially a driven executive like Martin, now 41.

In his book, InGood Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to a Life of Poverty,Chastity and Obedience (Sheed & Ward, 2000), he describes his eightyears at GE and his spiritual journey.

Much of corporate HR was "very dehumanizing," he recalls. At GE Capital,employees were assigned a number from 1 to 4 after annual appraisals. The ratingssummarized a person's potential, or "pot." Workers were either "highpot" or "low pot."

"Managers called up asking for a job candidate, and, after I provideda lengthy explanation of someone's strengths or weaknesses, they would say,'Yeah, that's fine, but is she a 1? Or, 'Forget it, he's just a two.' It waslike playing 'Fish' with people."

One part of the job he did enjoy was helping others-- counseling unhappy, stressed-out employees, and mediating between workersand their managers. Once, after spending two hours with an employee "whohated her job so much that her hands shook," he realized that the priesthoodmight be his true calling.

Raised Catholic but never particularly devout, Martinhad felt himself surprisingly -- and increasingly -- drawn to a religious vocation.He was especially intrigued by the Jesuit motto, "Contemplatives in Action."Unlike traditional parish priests, Jesuits can serve many roles, moving throughthe world as college professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, architects, andsocial workers. Martin added HR recruiting professional to the list.

"As a priest, you work with people, and all theskills I used in HR have come in handy. A lot of HR's standard operating procedures-- such as emphasis on open communication with employees -- make sense. Religiousorganizations can learn from the professionalism of the corporate world."

And corporate HR can learn a lot from the Jesuits, he adds. The most importantlesson: "to treat each person with dignity."

Workforce, November 2001, p. 15 -- SubscribeNow!

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