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Making room for God in the workplace

Serving Two Masters? Reflections on God and Profit
by C. William Pollard
Collins, 288 pages, $19.95

At ServiceMaster, there is no conflict between venerating God and pursuing profitability, writes former ServiceMaster chief executive C. William Pollard.

The title of Pollard's new book, ``Serving Two Masters?," calls to mind the biblical passage that points out the impossibility of serving God and money.

``We seek to honor God in all we do at ServiceMaster and also to grow profitably. Are these two objectives compatible? Do they mix? Should they mix? The daily operations and performance of our company confirms they can and do ," Pollard writes in one of the 48 ``reflections" in this theology-laced business book.

ServiceMaster is one of the world's largest and most successful diversified services companies. Among the brands that operate under its umbrella are TrueGreen Chemlawn, TrueGreen Landcare, Terminex, American Home Shield, ServiceMaster Clean, Merry Maids, AmeriSpec, Furniture Medic, American Residential Services, Rescue Rooter, and American Mechanical Services.

Pollard was chief executive of the company from 1983 to 1993 and again for an 18-month transitional period that began in 1999. The reflections in this book were compiled from remarks delivered to the company's board of directors during Pollard's 27 years as a ServiceMaster executive.

The title is somewhat misleading, because it suggests that Pollard is really bent upon showing how to serve both God and mammon. On the contrary, the book's opening reflection makes it clear that at ServiceMaster the emphasis is upon serving God and that reaping profits is merely a byproduct of that servitude.

``As a business firm, we want to excel at generating profits and creating value for our shareholders. If we don't want to play by these rules, we don't belong in the ballgame. But we also believe the business firm has another purpose," Pollard writes. ``It should be a moral community to help shape human character and behavior. It should be an open environment where the questions of who God is, who we are, and how we relate our faith to our work are issues of discussion, debate, and, yes, even learning and understanding. They are `whole' people who come to work every day, and they bring their faith with them."

Honoring God ``in all we do" is the first of four objectives that ServiceMaster strives to keep aligned, Pollard says. The other three are helping people develop, pursuing excellence, and growing profitably.

The 48 reflections in this volume cover a broad range of issues that every business must deal with. Among them are planning for growth, fair wages, religious diversity in the workplace, growing bigger and providing small-business service, sustaining a good reputation, giving back to the community, dealing with dishonesty, and keeping a focus on core business.

Pollard is unabashedly Christian. But one of the distinguishing features about his reflections is the tolerance accorded to people of other faiths. ServiceMaster, after all, is an international company that employs people of various religions.

``The most important question in life is the question of God. . . . The company's role is to raise the question of God, not to answer it. The answers must come from people on an individual basis," Pollard writes.

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