This month, we honor Arthur Guinness, the brewer. Yes, the eighteenth century brewer whose beer is still beloved today! “Buy why?” you might wonder. Did you know he used his business as a means to eliminate poverty and suffering in his community? Did you know his legacy continues to do so more than two centuries later? His brewery even played a part in the temperance movement in Ireland!
In the mid-1700s of Guinness’ day, Dublin had the highest rate of death and disease in all of Europe. Poverty was incalculable. Slums were filthy, dangerous places, filled with disease and hopelessness. Cheap gin had replaced undrinkable water, and alcoholism was devastating the entire country. There was deadly religious strife between Protestant and Catholic. Dublin, in Arthur’s day, was a city of squalor and human degradation.
Arthur Guinness had a passion. His passion and his purpose was “to seek out ways to serve his fellow man, and to mend what the harshness of life had torn.” His skill as a brewer was the instrument allowing him to follow his purpose.
In time, the Guinness brewery built modern, sturdy homes (still in demand today by the affluent in Dublin), hired doctors, built athletic fields, and sponsored trips. It taught classes for both workers and their families on basic financial management, nutrition, sanitation, childhood development, physical fitness, and first aid.
As the brewery grew, Guinness built city parks, funded the refurbishing of churches (both Protestant and Catholic), established a trust to help the poor (which is still in operation today), supported Trinity College, and much more. Guinness cared about his fellow man; he saw the harshness of life for so many, and he lavishly used what he had to serve and to heal.
As an example, one of the Guinness heirs, Rupert, was given a lavish wedding gift of £5,000. Instead of setting himself up in fashionable surroundings, he immediately moved into the slums with his wife. They became lifelong advocates of the poor and the downtrodden, especially children. Eventually Rupert became a member of the House of Lords, and his wife, incredibly, stood for Parliament in the House of Commons and became one of the first female members of Parliament in British history. They championed the cause of the poor and were probably the only Members of Parliament to have actually lived in slums.
I am not a beer drinker myself, but I am a business owner as Arthur Guinness was. It was his passion to “serve” and to “mend,” which I so admire: using one’s excellence and skill to build a culture of care, with purpose beyond oneself and one’s family, to the broader community, investing resources for the benefit of one’s fellows. Brewing beer was merely the vehicle Guinness had available that enabled him to do what his heart told him to do. This, I believe, is the role business—excellent business—is meant to take.
Every business has a culture, revealing what it most esteems and values. Although the Guinness enterprise spanned more than two centuries and now has passed out of the Guinness family hands, its example shines out to me in all its winsomeness, challenging me and urging me on to excellence for something so grand and beautiful. Oh, how our own society needs such business cultures and such family legacies.
Yours, for the return of Grace, Civility, Beauty, Gentility, and Excellence,
P.S. If you are interested at all in the Guinness history and legacy, read the excellent book, The Search for God and Guinness, by Stephen Mansfield, available in our Market and elsewhere.