Friesens Corporation, printers in Mennonite Manitoba, 1951-1995

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Thiessen, Janis
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Many Mennonite scholars have maintained that a conflict exists between the values held by the Mennonite faith community and the values of a broader society whose economy is based on capitalism. The self-proclaimed philosophies of capitalism and Mennonitism, competition and communalism, are not easily reconciled. It may be asserted, however, that viewed historically, the involvement of Mennonites in business life is not only compatible with Mennonite beliefs, but is encouraged by them. The most well known presentation of the synergistic relationship between religion and capitalism is that of Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. However, where the Protestant work ethic emphasizes individualism and personal success as a proof of God's blessing, the Mennonite work ethic stresses collective effort as evidence of one's relationship with God. The Mennonite work ethic thus incorporates the values of honesty, trustworthiness, cooperation, and effort. This ethic enabled Mennonites to be active participants in capitalist economies. The willingness of Mennonites to accept managerial authority, even as they accepted the authority of their fathers, husbands, and church leaders, made them model employees from an employer's perspective. Friesens Corporation, (formerly D. W. Friesen & Sons) a printing firm established by a Mennonite family in the Mennonite West Reserve of southern Manitoba, is a part of this history of Mennonite involvement in the economic realm. During the company's early years, management was able to use a paternalist management style to equate the Mennonite work ethic with corporate values. With the company's success and expansion, paternalism was no longer able to meet the needs of the employees. The collapse of paternalism was accompanied by a transfer of managerial control to a new generation of family members and employees. The earlier paternalism was replaced by a human relations management model, which placed greater emphasis on technological capabilities and performance standards. Historian Ted Regehr has raised the question of whether Mennonite businesses are distinguishable from other Canadian businesses. A study of Friesens Corporation suggests, at the very least, that the company's profit sharing and employee share ownership plans set it apart from the majority of Canadian private companies. Further, it may be argued that Friesens represents as democratic a model of workplace organization as is possible today for a business with Mennonite roots, given the Mennonite community's reluctance to generate a critique of capitalism.
Printing plants