CATHOLIC BUSINESS PROFILE: General John C. Roth (Ret.): A Faith-based Leader on the Battlefield and in the Boardroom
A distinguished military leader and a successful business executive, Major General John Roth (Ret.) has become a sign of hope for many young professionals. Born in Chicago as the second of seven children in a military family, he lived as a child and an adult in many countries worldwide and experienced other cultures, including South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. In youth, he decided to serve his country as a soldier. He started as a young private and retired as a major general 40 years later. After graduating from West Point, his military career thrived. Gen. Roth fought in Vietnam and commanded over 16,000 soldiers during the Persian Gulf War. Yet his leadership is not limited to the battlefield.
General Roth learned also to face business challenges, becoming a business executive managing and owning several businesses. His strong faith has guided his decisions, both in his marriage and in his professional life. He is a member of Legatus and served on the governing board of this organization. He has been a member of the Knights of Columbus for 45 years, having served as Grand Knight and Financial Secretary. Married to his wife, Nancy, for nearly 48 years, he and his wife are proud of their two sons and five grandchildren. Although retired, the General works tirelessly for the Church and for evangelization. As the first member of Legatus Polska (Poland’s Legatus organization), General Roth now inspires business leaders in Poland’s major cities to develop local Legatus chapters to help these executives "explore the richness of their faith with fellow Catholic business leaders.” Recently, he spoke to the Catholic Business Club in Poznan, where Catholic Business Journal international correspondent Maciej Lobza, M.A., B.S., (who is also co-founder and president of the Poznan club) was able to arrange an exclusive interview with Maj. Gen. Roth for the Catholic Business Journal, which follows below.
CBJ: You lived in many places worldwide, how did that help you acquire a global mindset?
Gen. Roth: I believe that having had the opportunity to experience other cultures and observe how those cultures lived, governed themselves and sought God's Mercy gave me a broader view when I was placed in positions of authority and held managerial positions while trying to keep my faith central in the living of my life.
CBJ: What were the milestones in your professional life?
Gen. Roth: My milestones in my military career were my nation giving me the honor of commanding and leading soldiers at various levels of command as a Captain, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel and General Officer. Within industry, it was in creating and leading a manufacturing business. But all of these are secondary to the pride my wife and I share as parents of two fine men who are very successful in their careers —one in technology and the other in the health care industry.
CBJ: Who has influenced the development of your faith the most?
Gen. Roth: Without any hesitation --- MY MOTHER!!! As a convert to the Catholic faith, she understood the beauty of the Catholic faith and she inspired her children to understand and live that faith. She also inspired us to continue our faith studies throughout our lives. She still inspires me today and her words are as clear in my mind today as when I was a child.
CBJ: How faith has affected your life and your choices?
Gen. Roth: My faith has guided my decisions in virtually all of my life decisions—marriage (my wife and I entered our marriage with the understanding that we were binding our souls together to insure we would share eternity together with Our Lord and that our off-spring would be raised with that same belief structure); business (respect for people had to be a primary, if not critical, part of any policy or decision where I was the decision maker); and military (similar to my business perspective but with an even stronger understanding that each life was special and required strong, fair and disciplined leadership and example that was God-centered).
CBJ: When did you become a member of the Knights of Columbus and what role has this organization played throughout your life?
Gen. Roth: I joined the Knights some 45 years ago as a means of disciplining my life to "Love My Neighbor." The Knights of Columbus programs gave me an avenue to share my energy and abilities in a manner that served my neighbors, my parish church and those within my community who needed love and assistance, or both. The Knights of Columbus was a natural outgrowth of my mother's example—even when raising seven children, she found the time to help the less fortunate and to devote time of each day to prayer for them and those around the world who were oppressed or in need.
CBJ: What can business executives learn from military leaders?
Gen. Roth: To operate a business effectively, one must be disciplined, fair, knowledgeable and open to change and new ideas. A career in the military is filled with all of these aspects at all levels of management within the military and requires the ability to make critical decisions under extreme pressures. How to balance these demands within the military has been a very large part of any success I have had in industry. Further, it has been very interesting to me that the more open personnel systems and demands therein within industry have also been highly helpful in my decisions within the military where there is a 'less humanistic' leadership demand or style of leadership.
CBJ: What role does quick access to information play in the military and business world?
Gen. Roth: In the military it is the difference between life and death, and in business it is the difference between success/achievement and failure/loss of business.
CBJ: Why have you joined Legatus and what value has this organization brought into your life?
Gen. Roth: Legatus has allowed me to balance more effectively the demands of senior business leadership and remaining faith-focused, while the Knights of Columbus have continued to allow me a more 'practical' manner of 'loving my neighbors.' Legatus members are all business leaders and they face similar demands while trying to balance those demands with the need to study and live their faith—sharing methods that work and providing 'partners' in the 'living' faith through example and decision-making.
CBJ: How can business professionals bridge the concepts and demands of faith and those of profitability and governance?
Gen. Roth: I have found that disciplining my life to have time to meet regularly with a specific group of fellow business professionals who chose to live their lives according to Catholic Faith-based principles, to discuss issues and solutions that could help guide my conduct in business, was beneficial in facing problems with business management at all levels. While profitability and management policies are essential parts of business, balancing them with one's faith demands is more easily integrated through shared experiences.
CBJ: You have been visiting Poland quite often lately. What is special about Poland?
Gen. Roth: I find Poland to be a blessed nation!! I believe that your centuries-long suffering and blend of experiences have prepared your homeland to be a special voice within the nations of the world. Your very positive attitude that comes from your faith is particularly inspiring to me. I know that an abrupt break from a communist dictatorship to a somewhat undisciplined world can create a very difficult transition for Poles, especially the elderly and young, but I see the faith and know it shall help in your transition from 'slavery under communism' to trust in God and a leader amongst nations. It is your faith that has made you special, and faith that will make you special in the future, as long as you have the will and desire to hold on to what has made your nation special to me!
CBJ: What Legatus is doing in Poland and in what other countries it will be active?
Gen. Roth: It is my hope that over the next year we will create Legatus Polska Chapters throughout Poland. We have recently established Legatus Polska and I am its first member. My responsibility is to now inspire business leaders within the major cities to develop Legatus chapters within the key cities, such as Krakow, Katowice, Warszawa, Gdanks/Gydina, and Poznan.
CBJ: What skills do young people need to acquire to become successful business leaders?
Gen. Roth: Initially they will require technical skills and a discipline to keep those skills current and broad. Insure you have a passion for what you decide to study or to develop as a career. Build partnerships with contemporaries and seek out a mentor to help in guiding you. Keep balance in your life—all work is not a course I recommend, rather a balance of work, fun and faith!! Stress is built when we don't balance our lives and will very negatively affect our attaining success! TRUST in God and follow His teachings!! They are guidelines that can make us better business people and leaders!