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The Pope as CEO
by industry commentator Bob Veres: March 20, 2013
The Roman Catholic cardinals selected a new pope: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now more popularly known as Pope Francis I. With his ascension to the Papacy, the Argentinian-born Jesuit became the second-largest employer in the American economy, behind only WalMart. The Economist magazine estimates that American-based Catholic institutions (including churches, health care networks, primary and secondary schools plus 244 Catholic colleges and universities) employ more than a million people. Its annual budget comes to some $170 billion, higher than General Electric's annual revenue of $150 billion. Catholic Charities USA and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff members and distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, the last year for which data is available. The Archbishop of New York is believed to be Manhattan's largest landowner.
Less well-publicized is the fact that the church is now an active issuer of bonds. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board reports that at least 736 American state bond issues--with interest exempt from federal government taxation--are currently outstanding to pay for expansion and renovation of hospitals, schools and other church facilities in 30 states.
In all, 74 million Americans identify themselves as Catholic; only three countries in the world--Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines--have larger Catholic populations. The sheer size of the church's operations in America--an estimated 60% of its global wealth--makes us think about the new pope in a new way: as a CEO who takes over a troubled franchise, and an important player in the U.S. economy.