A networking group that the Pope endorses

Catholic organization is only for top-tier executives.

By: Melinda Sherwood
   There’s a new networking organization for business leaders that the Pope himself endorses.
   Legatus, a Catholic organization for top-tier business executives with approximately 60 chapters nationwide, recently formed a Princeton branch. The group meets once a month at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Nassau Street for Mass, followed by a dinner and presentation by some heavy-hitters from the business community.
   Joseph Berardino, the CEO of Arthur Andersen Worldwide who resigned in disgrace as the WorldCom and Enron scandals unfolded, will speak on "Crisis and Renewal in the American Boardroom" at the group’s meeting Wednesday. The presentation is open to Legatus members only.
   Founded in 1987 by Tom Monaghan, the former owner of Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers baseball franchise, Legatus — which is Latin for "ambassador" — aims to bring Catholic business leaders and their spouses together in a monthly forum that fosters personal spiritual growth.
   Only top-tier Catholic business leaders — CEOs, owners, chairmen, presidents, directors, managing directors, managing partners, executive directors — and their spouses are eligible for membership in Legatus.
   Annual fees range from $2,500 to $3,000 a year, which includes the cost of dinner for two each month and the stipend for speakers.
   "The Judeo-Christian tradition provides an unparalleled reflection on the meaning of business and the dignity of the people we all do business with," said Gregory Floyd, the northeast regional director for the nonprofit, who works out of Berkeley Heights.
   "Through the Old Testament prophets to the Gospels and the Epistles, to the early church fathers and on through the medieval theologians up to people writing today," he continued, "there’s an unparalleled tradition of reflection that addresses the topic of work and the meaning of work and Legatus seeks to bring all that wisdom to bear and make it available to men and women running companies today, as well as to give them an opportunity to talk to each other."
   If Legatus’ recent growth is any indication — in the past five years, 11 new Legatus chapters have formed in the Northeast, according to Mr. Floyd — many of the high priests and priestesses of business may have discovered the relevance of religious values in professional contexts.
   "Particularly in light of some of the ethical crises and world crises of the past few years, many business leaders, and many people in general, have become more reflective about where their lives are going," explained Mr. Floyd.
   The quintessential fallen angel of the accounting world, former Andersen CEO Mr. Berardino is therefore an interesting, if somewhat ironic choice for speaker on the topic of boardroom ethics.
   Mr. Berardino headed Arthur Andersen’s U.S. audit practice for three years before becoming CEO of the worldwide division in 2001. During that time, the firm approved audits of Sunbeam, Qwest, Enron and WorldCom — companies that collectively defrauded investors of hundreds of billions of dollars.
   Mr. Berardino confessed no knowledge of the firm’s shady accounting practices, but he voluntarily stepped down in March 2002.
   Crucified by his peers and cast out of his profession, Mr. Berardino became something of a wandering apostle preaching on corporate reform at different venues.
   An act of penance?
   Perhaps. But Mr. Berardino is a popular and compelling speaker on the issue of reform precisely because of his ordeal, according to Mr. Floyd.
   "For top-tier business people, he’s an excellent choice for speaker because he’s been through the fire," said Mr. Floyd. "He has warm and wise ideas about how to move on, as well as an insightful analysis about some of the things that got us into this situation in the first place."
To join Legatus or for inquiries, contact Gregory Floyd at (908) 286-0013 or by e-mail at gfloyd@legatus.org. For more information on membership criteria, visit www.legatus.org.