In two installments (the first and the second) we made it all the way through to the end of The Beekeeper, but we promised to deal with the lingering implications of the book before sending it off on its way. We were, you recall, asked to “place this copy in a space for others to read.” We were thinking of leaving it on the streetcar, but it is very difficult to lose a book on a Pittsburgh streetcar. Some kind passenger will inevitably pick it up and say, “Excuse me, you dropped your book,” and hand it back in such a way that it is impossible not to say “Thank you” and take it. One will have to be sneaky about it.

The best way to understand The Beekeeper is as a religious text. Not as a scripture; it is not as ambitious as that. It is more like those books you find at the Christian bookstore with pictures of sunsets on the covers, the ones that promise to deepen your faith through shallow platitudes. They are not aimed at atheists or Shintoists or Jains or even Episcopalians. They are aimed at Evangelical Christians who want to feel good about the particular kind of Christianity they already profess.

We are having the same experience when we read The Beekeeper. It is not written for heretics or infidels. It is written for people who already know that there is more wisdom in the latest management buzzword than in all the works of Plato, and its purpose is not to change their minds about anything but to strengthen their faith in what they already believe.

Perhaps the most obvious indication that we are dealing with a religion is that it is impossible for wisdom to be sought outside the cult. Imagine an evangelical Christian publishing a book for the Family Christian Stores in which his hero visits India and learns valuable wisdom from a Hindu philosopher. It would not fly. When he presented his book to his target demographic, the author would be tarred and feathered and made to watch music videos by contemporary Christian bands until he broke down and confessed that he had never truly been saved at all, after which he would be welcomed as a lost sheep and given a bath. But it would be quite all right if he went to India and learned the wisdom of Indian tradition from an Indian Baptist. The author would simply have to make sure to indicate that the Indian had been converted some time ago, or had come from the only Baptist family in his village, or something like that, and then his readers would trust him completely.

The same is true here. If the authors had suggested that a business-school graduate needed to learn something from a farmer—or from an airline pilot, or from a poet, or from a race-car driver, or from anyone who was not a member of the cult—they would be denounced as heretics and their book would go into the shredder, which it would break in a spectacular way because it is a hardcover book. Outside the business world there is no salvation. Business-school graduates tell farmers and airline pilots and poets and race-car drivers how to do their jobs, not the other way around. This is why it was vital to establish at the very beginning that the farmer was a retired CEO of a marketing company. If a certified businesswoman is going to learn from a wise mentor, it had better be someone with the authority to teach, and that means either a business-school graduate or an insect.

Where even generic nondenominational American Evangelical Christianity has an artistic advantage over the faith of the MBAs is in its willingness to admit that human beings fail. The standard drama of Evangelicalism requires a conversion story: the protagonist must reach the lowest possible point in order to accept Jesus as his or her personal savior and go through the triumphant conversion experience. This is drama. We can argue about the theology if you like, but there is the germ of entertainment here. Contrast that with Catherine’s conversion story. At the beginning she is very successful, and the only problem she has to deal with is too much success. At the end she is a little more successful and a lot more smug. That is the archetypal conversion experience of a business-school graduate. It does not make a good story.

One other difference between Evangelical Christianity and Evangelical MBAism is that MBAism is very clerical. There is a priesthood, and they are the only people who matter. At the beginning of the story, the problem Catherine identifies—the one that comes from too much success—is a problem of relations between managers and employees. The employees feel as though they don’t matter, as far as we can make out through the jargon: “our employees felt that our company values of recognition and connection were nonexistent between managers and employees.” From then on, Catherine deals only with managers, as if employees did not exist. The Leadership Team are the only people who have any effect on the world. All Catherine’s wise little emails from the farm are sent to the Leadership Team. When she comes back to work, she is greeted by the Leadership Team. She speaks only to the Leadership Team: she doesn’t say hello to the security guard on the way in or have a friendly word with the janitor. “The beekeeper is responsible for all the bees, their growth, and their ability to do the jobs that they were placed here to do,” she has told the Leadership Team in one of her posterworthy “quotes.” (We could write an essay on the use of the word “quote” to describe something you just made up yourself but are particularly proud of, but we have other dead horses to beat.) That means she, the Be Keeper of Be Keepers, never has to deal with anyone below the level of supervisor. If you do not have MBA after your name, you are a grey blob in the hallway.

It really sounds as though the MBA priesthood could learn a few lessons from the Popish Church, which, in spite of its top-down business model, has been trying in the past few years to emphasize the importance of the lay members. This is especially useful when there is a shortage of qualified management, but then of course there will never be a shortage of qualified management in the business world, because managers will determine their own qualifications in such a way that they already meet them.

So we have found The Beekeeper very instructive, though perhaps not in the way the authors intended. We have learned quite a bit about the religion of business, which is the only religion that matters in America, all the others being tolerated only so long as they do not inconvenience the official state religion. All that learning has taken us three days, but perhaps we have spared other readers quite a lot of work. If you should happen to receive a copy of The Beekeeper at your place of business, with a similar request to leave a review on line, you need not take all the trouble Dr. Boli has taken. Artemus Ward once printed this endorsement of his lectures attributed to “Old Abe”:

Dear Sir—I have never heard any of your lectures, but from what I can learn I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like.

Yours, respectably, O. Abe.

You could easily adapt that for an Amazon review.

Dr. Boli would like to conclude by making an offer to authors: if you have written a leadership fable that needs publicity, you can send it to the celebrated Publishing Empire, and if his secretary pulls it out of the stack on a day when Dr. Boli is feeling benevolent, Dr. Boli will review your book as thoroughly as he reviewed The Beekeeper.


  1. mikeski says:

    “I should say that for people who like the kind of lectures you deliver, they are just the kind of lectures such people like.”

    So, of all the management books you’ve read, this was definitely among them?

  2. John Salmon says:

    Dr Boli, having lived long and seen much, has in that long and honorable journey acquired perhaps a trifle more cynicism (our religion is money) than is called for.

    Though I might add that in this he echoes Thomas Merton of several decades ago.

  3. The Shadow says:

    I was under the impression you were a Papist yourself, Dr. Boli?

  4. GP says:

    While this book certainly isn’t perfect, it might represent the only opportunity some get to know apiculture. Until “Bring your Bees to Work Day” takes off, we need to hold back on the systematic destruction of this title.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *