Where Are Quaker Business Men Today?



Abraham Darby, George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree were captains of industry, their names synonymous with the industrial revolution and the history of British business.
They were also known for their honesty and paternalistic way of caring for their workforce which stemmed from their Quaker beliefs.
But have the Quaker business leaders had their day?
In Britain today there are about 17,000 Quakers, and 400 Quaker meetings for worship each week.
Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, do not share a fixed set of beliefs but they do try to uphold a set of values, which they call testimonies, around themes such as truth and equality.
When Quakers went into business they tried to uphold these testimonies which often resulted in ethical businesses which looked after their workforce.
And many believe their reputation for honesty and fair dealing led to their success.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation was set up in 1904 in York as the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust by Joseph Rowntree, a Quaker, businessman and philanthropist who with his brother developed a confectionery company.

Tony Stoller, chair of the foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, said Quakers initially went into business for two reasons.
He said: “Quakers got into business partly because they couldn’t go into anything else and also because they were close-knit.
“When groups of people are excluded from certain aspects of public life they focus on others. In the 18th and 19th Century they wouldn’t go into the military or the church, they were excluded from politics and large areas of public life so they found themselves going into industry.”
He said the “close-knit” nature of the Quaker community at that time meant they supported each other and were also critical of each other ensuring they maintained high standards in their work. In fact a Quaker could be disowned if he was declared bankrupt.
Mr Stoller said contrary to popular belief Quakers did drink alcohol and many became brewers.
“Quakers were known to have such high standards of probity. Their measures were very good – decent beer was a good alternative to bad gin. Their beer wasn’t watered down; there was no sawdust in their flour. They were regarded as very honourable,” he said.
But the Quaker’s time as business leaders has passed, according to Mr Stoller.
“By the beginning of the 20th Century Quakers were becoming liberalised,” he said.
The liberalisation occurred as Quakers had the chance to enter professions more in keeping with their values.
Mr Stoller said: “They entered the caring professions; there was a shift into teaching, social work and medicine. At the same time the great Quaker businesses had run their course – a family business typically runs for three generations.
“Quakers didn’t wring every last penny out of a business so they were appealing companies to be taken over.”

Scott Bader  —   Chemical company Scott Bader was formed by Swiss Quaker Ernest Bader in London in 1920.
In 1940 the company moved to Wollaston, Northamptonshire, to escape the Blitz.
The company employs 600 people, two of whom are Quakers, and has sites in France, Croatia, South Africa, the USA, China and Dubai.
The company makes resins, gelcoats, adhesives and pastes that are used in everything from boat manufacture to cosmetics.
In 1951 Ernest Bader placed the entire company in the hands of a charitable trust. The move ensured the business could never be bought out and that workers could have a say in how it was run.
To this day the company will not manufacture anything that could be used for warfare or violence. It also follows a set of Quaker principles.
Philip Bruce, the CEO, said: “Our view is to live within our means. Our job is to take the business and nurture it.
“When I retire I can pass it on to the next generation and keep employment in this place.”

Many Quakers prospered in industries such as banking.
Many former Quaker companies still exist, including manufacturers Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry’s and Clarks, banks Barclays and Lloyds and the financial institution Friends Life which was formally Friends Provident.
Mr Stoller: “Arguably Quakers as big entrepreneurs have had their day because we have found other outlets that are easier to square with prevailing attitudes.”

By abandoning business for the more consonant professions, have we Quakers surrendered the moral high ground which was ours a century ago?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s