Commentary & Analysis
We Have A Pope—and His Apostle to the Printers
In one of his first official acts since his election as pontiff, Pope Francis has unveiled a radically new strategy for proselytizing to the world: he’ll carry on the work of St. Peter through an international network of printing companies he intends the Church to acquire.
By Patrick Henry
Published: April 1, 2013
By Sanctus Patricius
VATICAN CITY, April 1, 2013 – In one of his first official acts since his election as pontiff, Pope Francis has unveiled a radically new strategy for proselytizing to the world: he’ll carry on the work of St. Peter through an international network of printing companies he intends the Church to acquire.
Admitting that his knowledge of printers and their ways is limited, the Pope has turned for guidance to an American member of his 1.2 billion-strong flock: “Father Frank” Steenburgh, mystic, print industry dealmaker, and spiritual advisor to New Direction Partners (NDP), an ancient order of contemplative monks.
The pope, formerly known as Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina, also disclosed that he chose his pontifical name out of personal admiration for Steenburgh, who has been elevated to the status of exclusive M&A consultant to the Curia (the Vatican’s policymaking bureaucracy).
In his pastoral letter, “Print non est mortua,” Francis detailed his vision of the printing conglomerate he’ll direct Steenburgh to build through a series of acquisitive transactions. In this way, the Holy See hopes to reinvigorate its spiritual outreach in an era when many people spend more time in the labyrinths of Facebook than they do in the pages of the books of the Gospels.
“What better way to ‘offset’ this troubling decline in belief than through the renewed use of medium that first made believers of us all?” quipped the pontiff, giving his imprimatur to the scheme.
Steenburgh’s mission will be to spread the good news about mergers and acquisitions to every print company owner he can reach through the rapidly spreading lay ministry that he conducts from a rustic hermitage in Keuka Park, NY. A charismatic preacher who served for many years as a fighting chaplain to an international congregation symbolized by the Greek letter χ, he is reputed to be on the Vatican’s short list for living canonization as a secular saint of graphic communications.
Most pilgrims to Steenburgh’s austere, one-room dwelling in Keuka Park have described their immersion in his teaching as something close to a transfigurative experience. But, some also have professed astonishment at his unorthodox prescriptions for bringing printing companies together in business deals.
Steenburgh neither claims nor denies authorship of an underground work, The Secret Catechism of M&As, removed last year from the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books by Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI. But, many of its precepts are similar if not identical to Steenburgh’s own utterances on the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots of M&A dealmaking.
Blissful innocence and unquestioning optimism are the cardinal virtues for those seeking salvation for their printing companies in the industry as it exists today, according to Steenburgh, who rejects the cautious methodologies and restrictive rules of conventional M&A advisement. Well known to his followers are contrarian admonitions such as these:
• Don’t sweat all those numbers. “Consider the lilies of the field,” says Steenburgh. “They never heard of an audited financial report.” Excessive concern for valuation, cash flow, and other worldly matters is not good for the soul and may even be an occasion of sin.
• What’s your company’s EBITDA multiple? Whatever you want it to be. EBITDA stands for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. An agreement between seller and buyer on some multiple of it determines purchase price in tough M&A negotiations. “There are nine choirs of angels,” says Steenburgh. “Ten Commandments. Twelve apostles. Fourteen auxiliary saints. Forty days of Lent. Pick a number and pray.”
• If you’re buying, don’t bother drawing up a written acquisition plan. Banks that fund M&A transactions know that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it will be for them to resist your appeal for buyout cash, says Steenburgh to his disciples. Spare your bankers all the paperwork—just remind them that it’s better to give than to receive.
• Tuck-ins are for heathens. “Father Frank” is at his fieriest when denouncing this type of M&A arrangement, in which the purchase of customer accounts and other assets is paid for with earnings that the seller supposedly will collect in the future.
It’s better to store up treasure in the here and now, thunders Steenburgh as he commands his followers to insist on all-cash transactions when selling.
Printers of all faiths—and even those professing no faith at all—are welcome to seek his “blessing” and his sage counsel when they have grown weary of going it alone as independent business owners.
Those who have reached this point in the article without remembering that today is April Fool’s Day are urgently advised to contact “Father Frank” without delay.
In Rome, meanwhile, Pope Francis reportedly is devoting many hours to his study of the fundamentals of graphic communications. An encyclical on the doctrinal acceptability of digital printing is said to be in preparation.