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Putting faith back into big business

In the wake of corporate scandals like Enron and WorldCom, some CEOs are banking on religion to help regain trust from consumers.
/ Source: NBC News

With corporate wrongdoing and scandal dominating the headlines in recent years, many CEOs are looking for guidance of a different kind.  NBC News correspondent Kevin Tibbles takes a look at faith in the workplace as part of our special series, “Faith in America.”

It's a business model for producing model businesses.

“If you can talk about the football game on Monday, you ought to be able to talk about your faith on Monday.”

That's the down-to-earth philosophy of the man at the top of the world's largest meat processing company, John Tyson.

Tyson Foods has more than 100,000 employees at more than 100 plants; 110 of those employees are chaplains.

“We try to create an environment of permission — permission for people to talk about their faith, whether they're a Christian faith, a Muslim faith, a Buddhist or an atheist or a Jewish faith,” says Tyson, chairman and CEO of the company.

At Tyson, the chaplain's role isn't preacher, but listener.

When a tornado destroyed Lynn Freeman's home in Pierce City, Mo., chaplain Chris Carver not only counseled Freeman about her loss, he helped organize repairs.

“I think if it hadn't been for him I might have lost more than just my home. So I’m thankful for that,” says Freeman.

To former U.S. Army chaplain Gil Stricklin, the founder of Marketplace Ministries, religion is playing an important role in a rising number of businesses. His company supplies part-time chaplains to 250 firms nationwide.

“This year we have gained one new company every 72 hours,” says Stricklin.

Some see this movement to bring faith back to the boardroom as a natural reaction to recent corporate scandals.

“I think a number of CEOs have tried to go to religion in order to bring values and ethical commitments back,” says Douglas Hicks, author of "Religion and the Workplace."

“Ii like to tell people that I’m not all that smart but I serve a God that is,” says Gary Heavin, founder of Curves fitness clubs for women. Heavin has grown his faith-based business to 9,000 franchises in 31 countries — serving women of all religions. 

“I think there's a tremendous lapse in values in corporate America,” he says. “Look at Enron and WorldCom and all the other things that are going on. I think it's time we begin to talk openly about our faith again and put values back into the boardroom.” 

For these companies, faith pays both professional and personal dividends.