August Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, media contributor, and award winning author who attributes much of his success to living and working alongside the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey since 1996.
Turak’s first book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity, was published by Columbia Business School Publishing in 2013. The book chronicles Turak’s 20-year odyssey as a frequent monastic guest at the Trappist monastery of Mepkin Abbey; the monks he came to know and love; the rugged lifestyle of prayer and work he share with them, and the amazing secret to 1000 years of Trappist business success: a secret that Turak calls service and selflessness.
In parallel, the book describes how Turak and his partners used these Trappist business techniques to build and eventually sell two highly successful software businesses using only $2000 in seed capital and an unwavering commitment to the Trappist business model.
Finally, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks demonstrates that the new economic model that Pope Francis seems to be seeking – in light of his frequent critiques of capitalism – already exists within the Judeao-Christian Tradition. Trappist monks have been successfully running businesses for 1000 years. The Trappist model doesn’t reject capitalism. Instead it transcends the flaws and limitations of capitalism. The Trappists are not wildly successful in business despite their commitment to only the highest moral and ethical principles; they are successful because they are.
What every good Trappist knows is that the more we forget our selfish motivations the more successful we become. By chronicling how he was able to build two highly successful companies in a secular marketplace using this model, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks emphatically demonstrates that the Trappist model is not all “motherhood and fluff,” nor is it only suitable for cloistered monks.
For example, in 2017, Avera Health, a large, Catholic, Midwest hospital chain bought 1500 copies of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. They worked exclusively with Turak’s nonprofit SKSF to build a Resource Guide and Videos using the book and subsequently created a companywide, year-long program in organizational meaning and purpose and reported outstanding results.
August Turak grew up in the cable TV business. He was a founding employee of both MTV: Music Television, and what is now the A&E Network in the 1980s. He is still in touch with Tom Freston, the former CEO of Viacom, and received a blurb for the back of his business book. Later, Turak moved to North Carolina and started the software companies that were eventually sold to BMC Software for 150 million dollars.
Though his head did well in business, Turak’s religious heart was always spiritually searching for a higher meaning and purpose to life. In 1996 all these issues came to head when a freakish sky diving accident triggered a severe “Dark Night of the Soul.” Looking for solace from deep depression, Turak turned to the monks of Mepkin Abbey: A Trappist monastery just outside Charleston, SC. He has been a frequent monastic guest ever since. Turak often spends weeks and even months at a time getting up at 3:00 AM to live, pray, and work alongside the monks. It was by living so closely with the monks that Turak was able to experience the monastic stories and lessons that he used to write Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.
In 2004, almost on a whim, August Turak entered the John Templeton Foundation’s Power of Purpose essay contest. Although he had never written anything for publication before, his essay, Brother John, bested thousands of other entries and won the $100,000 grand prize. Brother John is the story of how a magical encounter with a Trappist monk finally taught Turak the purpose of life and the secret to happiness. Brother John was later reprinted in the anthologies The Best Christian Writing and The Best Catholic Writing.
The Templeton Prize dramatically changed Turak’s life. Brother John was published in two anthologies, The Best Christian Writing and The Best Catholic Writing, and this, in turn, launched him on a second career. Turak became a leadership contributor for Forbes.com, an on-air radio contributor for the BBC, and Columbia Business School published his book, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. But the common fourteen-year-old thread that runs through all this subsequent work is the spirit of service and selflessness: a monastic thread that leads right back to a spool called Brother John.
But, despite Turak’s intense gratitude, over the years, Brother John gradually became a Zen koan for him: a frustrating stone in his shoe that led directly to this book… Brother John was written in 2004, and it is increasingly hard to find, yet we still receive a small, but steady, stream of correspondence from people who have stumbled upon the essay. Almost without exception, they write about how Brother John helped them through the death of a child, an episode of severe depression, or a particularly painful divorce.
Being periodically reminded of the healing power of Brother John has been a double-edged blessing. Turak is, of course, profoundly moved and humbled by these letters. They always take him back to 1996: the year when the events you are about to read about actually took place. It was not an innocent religious “retreat” that initially sent August Turak to Mepkin Abbey and Brother John. A freakish sky-diving accident had triggered a personal crisis, or “Dark Night of the Soul.” Turak arrived at Mepkin Abbey hip deep in a desperate battle against depression, panic, and incipient despair. As a result, it has been especially gratifying for Turak to discover that his essay seems to convey a bit of that same healing power that he received from Brother John and the monks of Mepkin: a healing power that saved his life.
Yet there is also a downside to this blessing. Why? Because these letters always left Turak wondering how much more good Brother John could accomplish if it were more widely available. He seemed to be the proud owner of a marvelous candle snugly nestled under the proverbial bushel basket.
All this came to a head when a business executive drove 400 miles to thank August for writing Brother John. For several years, Turak had been toying with the idea of turning Brother John into an illustrated book. A busy executive willing to drive 400 miles proved decisive: something bigger was insisting that Turak act on his idea. Through grace or luck, he found an amazing artist, collaborator, and friend in Glenn Harrington.
Glenn is an award-winning artist who has done illustrations and cover art for all the major publishers. He was also commissioned to paint many of the portraits that now grace the World Golf Hall of Fame. Glenn took immediately to the essay and to the project. On his own initiative, he travelled to Mepkin Abbey to meet Brother John and to immerse himself in the Trappist way of life. Glenn is a deeply religious man, and his art not only captures the spirit of Brother John but also conveys the serenity and mystical power that make Mepkin Abbey a spiritual nexus, a place where heaven and earth meet.
At the John Templeton Foundation’s Power of Purpose awards ceremony in New York City, Turak was asked what he intended to do with the $100,000 grand prize. He replied that he intended to give it to charity. After donating to Mepkin Abbey and several other favorite charities, Turak used the remainder to fund the Self Knowledge Symposium Foundation (SKSF). The SKSF is a not-for-profit corporation we created. Our mission is to bring Brother John’s transformative message of meaning and purpose to a Western culture increasingly bereft of meaning and purpose.
Over the intervening years, Turak continues to fund the SKSF, and any remuneration he receives from his writing, speaking engagements, consulting, or personal coaching, is donated back to the SKSF to underwrite our ongoing efforts.
In our latest effort to make a difference, we are turning August Turak’s Templeton Prize winning essay into an illustrated book: Brother John: A Monk, a Pilgrim, and the Purpose of Life. It will be released on October 21st. It is available now for pre-release orders on Amazon. The book will contain 22 original oil paintings of Mepkin Abbey by the award-winning artist, Glenn Harrington.
The rights to Turak’s essay, and therefore to this book, have been transferred to the SKSF. All royalties will be reinvested into future efforts like this one. At the most critical moment of Turak’s life, Brother John offered to share his umbrella. Turak’s life is now dedicated to sharing, to the best of his ability, this magical umbrella with you and all our fellow men.