Humility and ambition lead to success

Jesuit Father William J. Byron, a professor at St. Joseph’s University, will be the guest speaker at the breakfast meeting of the Catholic Business Network of South Jersey. His topic will be Humbition: A Special Virtue for Catholics in Business.

Below is a 2010 essay in which he discusses “Humbition,” an amalgam of the words “humility” and “ambition” and the key to how Christians can succeed in the secular world of business.

The Catholic Business Network of South Jersey will meet 7:30 a.m. on Friday, April 10, at the Woodcrest Country Club. Cost is $20. Contact: – or call 856-562-1891.


Three days of spirited discussion in mid-July between and among Jesuit business school educators focused on the challenge of preparing students for business leadership in a culture of consumerism, materialism and “me first” individualism.

Approximately 100 “Colleagues in Jesuit Business Education” met at Marquette University to assess the consistency between what they are doing and the Ignatian principles that underlie their schools.

Ignatius of Loyola wrote in his book of Spiritual Exercises that the three steps to genuine success are poverty, enduring insults or contempt, and humility:

“Consider,” says Ignatius, “how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons, apostles, disciples and the like. He sends them throughout the whole world, to spread his doctrine among people of every state and condition. …

“Consider the address which Christ our Lord makes to all his servants and friends whom he is sending on this expedition. He recommends that they endeavor to aid all persons, by attracting them, first, to the highest degree of spiritual poverty and also, if his Divine Majesty would be served and pleased to choose them for it, to no less a degree of actual poverty; second, by attracting them to a desire of reproaches and contempt, since from these results humility.

“In this way there will be three steps: the first, poverty in opposition to riches; the second, reproaches or contempt in opposition to honor from the world; and the third, humility in opposition to pride. Then from these three steps they should induce people to all the other virtues.”

To the eye of faith, acceptance of the genuine Ignatian vision and values — a refusal to be possessed by one’s possessions —will be seen as a form of liberation that frees a person to become an effective leader.

To the secular eye, this makes no sense. How, then, can it make sense in a modern business school?

A back-office service company — SEI Investments in Oaks, Pa. — holds up the word “humbition” for praise and imitation: “At SEI, the most effective leaders exude a blend of humility and ambition — humbition — that relies on the power of persuasion rather than formal authority” (excerpt from “Mavericks at Work,” by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre).

Humility, as demonstrated in Christ’s life, is a highly desirable leadership characteristic. Think of it as “humbition,” an amalgam of humility and the ambition Ignatius thought of as doing “more” for the “greater glory of God.”

Graduates of Catholic business schools should have antennae that are attuned to the dangers of consumerism, materialism and individualism. One Jesuit professor I know likes to suggest to students who are barraged daily with televised, print or Internet ads that are the infrastructure of our culture of consumerism that they should ask “not what this ad invites you to buy; rather ask what this ad presumes you to be!” All too often, the only honest answer is: “A materialistic, hedonistic, personally insecure consumer, who might also be a sex maniac, given the sex appeal that underlies so many sales pitches!”

We have to encourage our students to think “humbition.” They need to appreciate the importance of not being possessed by their possessions.

We educators have a long way to go in persuading our students of the validity and practical worth of the countercultural values that underlie the Gospel. The same values underlie the Catholic colleges and universities that are trying to find their place in the front ranks of American business schools.

Categories: Columns