A trio of successful Catholic businessmen shared insights on their faith and the role it plays in their personal and professional lives at the Aug. 2 First Friday Club of Cleveland lunch program at The City Club.
About 200 people packed the room to hear panel members AJ Hyland, former CEO of Hyland Software; Jerry Schroer, CEO of The Schroer Group; and George Wasmer, former CEO of Lake Erie Screw, discuss “Three Businesses – One Faith.” Moderator was Mary Ann Corrigan-Davis, president of St. Joseph Academy.
The trio has decades of experience in boardrooms and beyond and all are known for their ethical leadership and adherence to Catholic values.
Wasmer said Lake Erie Screw, which was based in Lakewood, was founded by his father. The firm became a leading player in the fastener industry. The family business was sold in 1985.
Corrigan- Davis asked him when he first realized the importance of his Catholic faith.
“”When my parents told me I was a Catholic,” Wasmer quipped. He said his education at St. Angela Merici School in Fairview Park, St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University helped reinforce his faith. After high school graduation, Wasmer joined the Coast Guard and for the first time in his life was not always able to attend Sunday Mass.
“Some of us talked about doing a prayer service on the boat,” Wasmer said. They did Bible readings, said prayers and sang some hymns. “It helped make Sundays a little better,” he added.
Wasmer recalled being summoned by his superior officer who had attended some of the prayer services and was inspired. “He and his family wanted to become Catholic,” Wasmer said. After returning from their assignment, he was able to connect the family with people to help them with their faith journey.
He also credited Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon with helping him not only achieve and maintain sobriety, but to become a better person and a better Catholic.
Schroer leads a network of 29 nursing homes, including Altercare of Ohio, and has 3,700 employees. It is listed as one of the North Coast 99 Best Places to Work and nine of its facilities were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as Best Nursing Homes.
When Corrigan-Davis asked Schroer if his faith had always been important, he recalled how he had been away from the Church for 15 years. When he learned that his youngest brother, a Marine, was being deployed to Iraq, he returned to the Church and prayed daily for his brother’s safe return.
“God upheld his end of the bargain,” he said, adding that his brother also returned safely after two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
“You come to believe that you can’t live your life or do your job without faith. I can’t imagine not having the Blessed Sacrament and the Church in my life,” said Schroer. He found comfort in his faith — especially in praying the rosary — when his father died three years ago. “My parents laid a great (faith life) foundation,” he said.
Hyland retired young as CEO of Hyland Software, also listed as one of the Best Places to Work. Corrigan-Davis asked him how faith plays out in the workplace.
“I try to live a good life,” he said, explaining that he didn’t try to bring attention to his faith because doing so could have detrimental effects. He said the way you treat your employees is important.
“Treat them with respect and care. Know them, know their names,” he said.
Hyland also said when traveling for business, he always made an effort to attend Mass. He recalled attending Mass in Japan where he was the tallest person in the Church and he didn’t understand a single word. “But there is a universality to the Mass so I knew when to stand, kneel and sit,” he said.
Following the advice of St. Francis, he said when he walks, he always walks as a disciple of Jesus.
Schroer talked about how his firm tries to be sensitive to needs of employees, including helping one whose home burned, helping with a Habitat for Humanity home project for another and arranging for travel expenses for another who couldn’t afford an emergency trip home.
At Lake Erie Screw, Wasmer said it was a tradition to provide employees with ham or turkey for the holidays. “Someone asked if we could get a few extra and I wanted to know why,” he said. The employee explained that if the company would provide the meat, they would fill the baskets with other items and would donate them to needy families.
“It’s important to remember that all employees and co-workers are children of God,” Wasmer said.
Regarding the importance of the rosary, Hyland said he has always been devoted to the rosary and the Blessed Mother, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe. “We still try to pray the rosary as a family. It puts you in the right frame of mind.”
Corrigan-Davis also asked the panel to talk about how they keep their faith alive, active and growing.
Wasmer talked about how he would allow children with disabilities to ride and visit with the horses on his property in North Olmsted. He also helps raise money for similar programs for children with special needs in Florida and he supports Habitat for Humanity.
Hyland said he transferred to St. Ignatius High School as a junior. That and his experience at Georgetown University, where he earned his degree, helped define and strengthen his faith life.
Schroer agreed, saying he stays in touch with some of his old instructors. He also is fond of the Ignatian prayer for generosity, which he said helps motivate him. The 3,700 employees and thousands of residents at his business’ 29 nursing facilities also provide him with motivation. “There is a core value of wanting to help within our company,” he added.
The trio also discussed keeping their faith in check and maintaining balance while running a company.
For Wasmer, that meant communication. He said married couples figure out how to make things work and those principles also apply to business. “It’s important to spend time with your family and to let the kids be a part of things,” he said.
Hyland sometimes found it difficult to balance his demanding travel schedule and family life. “The key was my very supportive family; I love being with them. And I didn’t have a lot of other hobbies,” he said. “The important question is to determine if your priorities are in order: God, wife, kids and business. Your job as a manager means being so good that you can step aside and someone else can take over. You can’t ascend if the people above you don’t rise,” he said, adding, “And pay attention to the servant-leader concept.”
Corrigan-Davis mentioned Chick-fil-A, which closes all of its restaurants on Sunday, and asked how the panelists’ businesses would handle that.
“We’re open on Sundays,” Schroer quipped, but he said it was admirable that Chick-fil-A management “would leave money on the table for a value-based decision. At Altercare, we still have some people who worked with my parents (who started the company in 1973), as well as many newer employees. We try to have a mission-based company that focuses on ways to find the mission in what we do.”
Schroer said adding hospice care to the facilities was an important decision. “It’s a beautiful thing. It lets people die with dignity and lets us add something to their lives.”
Corrigan-Davis, who had a long career as an executive with American Greetings before becoming SJA president 13 years ago, congratulated the First Friday Club on its 60th anniversary.
John FitzGerald, First Friday Club president, reminded attendees about the First Friday novena and recapped speakers for the next several months.
Leo Hyland, president of Cleveland Central Catholic High School, will speak on “The Power of Catholic Education” on Sept. 6.
Maureen Dee, executive director of treatment, prevention and recovery services, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, will address “Understanding the Opioid Epidemic” on Oct. 4.
Father Thomas Gaunt, SJ, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (also known as CARA), will discuss “1958-2018 Catholics in America” at the Nov. 1 meeting.
And Bishop Nelson Perez will address the club on Nov. 29.
For more information on the First Friday Club of Cleveland or to make a reservation for a lunch program, visit firstfridayclubcleveland.org, call 216-589-9852 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.