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What can the corporate world learn from the cellarer? Examining the role of a Benedictine abbey's CFO

Martin R.W. Hiebl (Institute of Management Control and Consulting, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria)
Birgit Feldbauer-Durstmüller (Institute of Management Control and Consulting, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Linz, Austria)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 4 February 2014

554

Abstract

Purpose

Benedictine abbeys are highly stable organisations that have existed for almost 1,500 years. The extant literature ascribes this stability in part to the notion of Benedictine governance, which centres on the Rule of St Benedict (RB). An integral part of Benedictine governance is the cellarer, who plays a role comparable to that of a chief financial officer (CFO) in a traditional corporation. Unlike corporations, however, in which the CFO has emerged into a more important role over the past few decades, the cellarer has been an official position in Benedictine abbeys since the introduction of the RB in the sixth century. The present paper aims to explore the cellarer's role and assesses which parts of it could be reasonably transferred to the corporate world.

Design/methodology/approach

Informed by organisational role theory, the authors conducted a single case study in an Austrian Benedictine abbey. The authors used group discussions and semi-structured interviews as the main research instruments.

Findings

The authors find that the cellarer's behaviour shows strong signs of stewardship, which could serve as a role model for corporate CFOs. However, because of the studied abbey's situation of financial distress, the cellarer also experienced severe role conflicts rooted in his obedience to the abbot, the high involvement of the abbey in the local economy, and the cellarer's conscience as a Christian monk. From these findings, the authors describe those aspects of the cellarer's role that should thus be avoided for corporate CFOs.

Research limitations/implications

The presented findings are based on a single case study. Therefore, because of the contextual factors idiosyncratic to the abbey under investigation, the results must be interpreted with care. Nevertheless, the findings explain the cellarer's role and depict its potential benefits for the corporate world, which should induce further research.

Originality/value

This is the first paper to explore in-depth the cellarer's role as well as one of the first to transfer the potential benefits of single roles rooted in Benedictine governance to the corporate world.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the participants of the 10th International ISTR Conference (2012) in Siena, Italy for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. The authors also gratefully acknowledge valuable comments by Silvia Payer-Langthaler. Special thanks go to the case abbey's monks and non-monk employees, who devoted significant amounts of time to the research project reported in this paper.

Citation

R.W. Hiebl, M. and Feldbauer-Durstmüller, B. (2014), "What can the corporate world learn from the cellarer? Examining the role of a Benedictine abbey's CFO", Society and Business Review, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 51-73. https://doi.org/10.1108/SBR-12-2012-0050

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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