Gellert Dornay, president and CEO of Axia Advantage Home Loans, launched this semester’s popular networking series, “Life on Tap,” on September 6, by giving an insightful talk on how to be a Catholic businessman in today’s secularist world. A Christendom alumnus, Dornay’s talk drew over a hundred students, faculty, and staff into the college’s St. Kilian’s Café, as he encouraged those present to go out and change the world.
“Your contribution to the world really does matter. Your entire worldview currently exists within the walls of this campus, and it’s hard to take in the noise on the other side of the wall. But, you need to do this, because God is calling you into His service,” said Dornay. “Don’t listen to what the world tells us about leadership and take wealth from others. Commit your life to the service of God in all that you do, each and every hour. The world needs you; souls need you. Go out and maximize your positive contribution to the world.”
Dornay, who attended Christendom College and the University of Washington, currently helps families fulfill their dreams of home ownership, while also helping raise ten children, with his wife, Elizabeth, in Seattle. He began his talk by laying out the world’s current state of affairs, saying that students have been born into “the worst time in the history of the world.” From wars, to contraception and abortion, to euthanasia, to the plummet of Church attendance, the world is in a worse place than it was hundred years ago, he said.
With that context in place, Dornay told students that their contribution to the world, and how they can affect it through their actions, is more important than ever.
“So what’s the good news? The good news is that you are not dead yet. The good news is that you can do something about it. Your contribution to this specific time in history matters. The good news is that you can play a vital role in the salvation of souls. I know this seems like a lot to bear, as you haven’t even graduated from college yet. But, the salvation of the whole world is resting on your shoulders,” said Dornay.
Dornay captivated his listeners as he related his own life story, as a four-time college dropout to beginning to work for Java Trading Co. at the age of 19. After he bought out Java Trading Co. with his father-in-law, he helped grow it into an international sensation, working with Wal-Mart, Hyatt Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Starwood Hotels, and many others, across three continents.
As a young, successful businessman in his late-20s, Dornay believed he knew all he needed to know about business. However, one of his superiors, in a performance review, told him otherwise, and that “you can always be better.” While such a statement took sometime to digest, Dornay took the advice to heart — both in his job and in his faith.
“Now, I have a better understanding of myself and how to improve, not just in my professional life but in my personal life as well,” said Dornay.
As time went on at Java Trading Co., Dornay began to question if he was contributing to society in a positive way, and if there was a way to bring his faith more meaningfully into his work. He began to find that the business decisions he was involved with, in boardrooms across the world, did not seem to take any ethics into consideration, making them shallow as a result. With a fellow young, Catholic businessman, Dornay began to look into Catholic social teaching, and how it can guide a business properly.
Dornay advised students to incorporate Catholic social teaching into their future careers, and to not allow the world of business, so often dictated by Wall Street, to consume them. In Dornay’s case, when he sold Java Trading Co. in 2006, he decided to not go forward as a shareholder with them, after the board decided to let itself be controlled by a Wall Street firm. Many employees of the company, who had rolled their stock forward into Java, were later left with nothing for their retirement, after the company accumulated too much debt — a policy that clearly does not fall into Catholic social teaching.
“Catholic social teaching is more than just feeding the poor, and a corporation’s primary responsibility is not just pleasing shareholders. When the Church sees problems like this in society, it tries to address them through ideas such as the common good, solidarity, just wage, the preferential option for the poor, and others,” said Dornay.
As an example of how to properly run a business with Catholic social teaching in mind, Dornay talked to the students about a new stock ownership plan at Axia that revealed a stark contrast to the profit sharing plan that had sunk his previous company, Java.
“When I helped found Axia Home Loans in 2008, my partner and I committed to these principles as we built and ran our mortgage operation. Nine years later, we our instituting an employee stock ownership plan, and giving up our ownership. This is not an exit strategy for me. The employees will get the company’s profits, which would otherwise go to the shareholders, and will get $100 million worth of retirement income that they otherwise never would see,” said Dornay.
Dornay concluded his talk by encouraging students to not listen to the world, but instead commit their lives to the service of God in all that they do, no matter what career field they eventually enter.
“Don’t listen to what the world tells you about leadership and amassing wealth at the expense of others, but instead store up your real treasures where the rust and the thieves can’t get them. Commit your lives to the service of God, and His Will in all that you do, not just on Sundays for an hour, but each and every hour, even after you punch the clock at the office.
The world needs you. Souls need you. Go out and maximize your positive contribution to the world. And, when you do die, may the first words you hear be, ‘well done my good and faithful servant,’” said Dornay.
“Life on Tap” is a networking series organized by the college’s career and leadership development office, giving students the unique opportunity to gain valuable insights by bringing successful figures from a variety of different fields to campus to give talks and mentor students. To find out more, or to see videos from past “Life on Tap” events, click here.