A Promethean Task. Philippe De Woot Talks about the True Role of Business


"Management is about administering things. Leadership is about motivating people and giving sense and meaning to what they do. Leaders should be the architects of the collective conscience. It is they who can put ethics back into the raison d'être of business."

This was the view expressed by Philippe De Woot, Emeritus Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, speaking at the 2nd International Colloquium on Christian Humanism in Economics and Business at IESE today, presided over by Prof. Domènec Melé. De Woot, whose talk was titled "Christian humanism at the service of development," rejected the narrow definition of the raison d'être of business as being the production and distribution of services.

In his view, the role of the firm is to create and innovate and to harness science and technology in order to transform it into material development. The entrepreneur is the essential figure, he said, someone with vision, a taste for risk and the ability to convince others to back him. He compared entrepreneurs to the heroes of Greek mythology and cited Prometheus as the archetypal entrepreneur, who dared to steal fire from the gods and convince others to use it. But like other Greek heroes such as Ulysses and Jason, Prometheus was cursed. De Woot, drawing a parallel with the creative and destructive uses of nuclear energy, said this was an allegory of the human condition, because "people who dare to dream are capable of both the best and worst."

Power is now in hands of private firms, De Woot said. The nation state is outmoded with the result that busines is operating in a political void. "The market competitive economy is not immoral, but it is amoral, in that it has no intrinsic values, and no raison d'être except to maximize profits," he said.