The man behind Catholic U’s largest donation ever

Tim Busch discusses faith and the business world, and his efforts to educate the next generation of business leaders in Catholic social teaching.

The Catholic University of America recently announced that it received a donation of $15 million—the largest single donation in school history—to assist with the operational needs of the School of Business and Economics and related academic programs. The gift comes from the Busch Family Foundation, and the CUA business school will be renamed the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics in the donor couple’s honor. Other major donors joined with Busch, resulting in a total donation of $47 million.

Tim Busch is an attorney from Orange County and founder of the Busch Firm, which specializes in high net-worth estate planning as well as real estate and business transactions. He is also founder and CEO of Pacific Hospitality Group, a hotel development and management company that owns and manages eight hotels in California.

Busch grew up in Clinton, Michigan, in the Detroit metro area. He was the second of six children in a devoutly Catholic family. Busch’s father, Joe, introduced him to the business world; Joe founded and operated Busch’s Fresh Food Market, a chain of 15 upscale supermarkets in Michigan, which Tim and his brothers own today.

Busch earned a B.B.A. degree from Western Michigan University, and then went on to earn a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. In search of a warmer climate and better business opportunities, Busch re-located to Southern California in 1982. He married Steph in 1985.

Busch is unabashed about sharing his Catholicism, explaining, “The focus of my life is getting myself to heaven and to help others get there, too.” 

In addition to multiple successful business enterprises, Busch is also actively involved in a number of Catholic apostolates and charities. Since 1990, he has been a member of Legatus, an organization for Catholic CEOs and their spouses. He also joined with Father Robert Spitzer, SJ to found the Magis Institute, which uses modern science and technology to explore the intersection between faith and reason. In 2011, Busch and Father Spitzer launched the Napa Institute, an annual conference which aims to equip Catholic leaders to defend and advance their Catholic faith in “the Next America,” today’s increasingly secular society. The Napa Institute’s next conference will take place at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley July 6-10.

Tim Busch recently spoke with CWR.

Tim Busch

CWR: There are many Catholic charities and non-profits that would be worthy recipients of donations. Why did you choose CUA’s business school?

Tim Busch: My wife and I have been involved in Catholic education since 1992, when we started St. Anne’s School in Laguna Niguel and JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. Our two children attended these schools, which offered both an education in the Faith and strong academics.

I’ve been on the board of Catholic University for 12 years. Early on, I didn’t know a lot about their programs, but over the years, I’ve learned. Three years ago, I became a member of the board of visitors for Catholic University’s School of Business and Economics. I saw the opportunity to change the way business was presented in the educational format, to make it a place where students could have a conversation about what Catholic social teaching is all about. Others were willing to partner with us, which led to the $47 million gift.

CWR: What will the funds be used for?

Busch: It will be used to renovate Maloney Hall on the grounds of Catholic University, where the business and economics school will be relocated. Maloney Hall was built in 1917, and was once used as a chemistry building and research lab. It’s been out of service for several years, so we’ll put it back into service.

It will also fund academic programs in the school, as well as a new Institute for Human Ecology. This includes the hiring of new professors and an effort to grow the school, which currently has about 7,000 students.

CWR: How will CUA’s business school differ from one at a secular institution?

Busch: It offers a more holistic education, as half the classes a student takes are outside the business school, such as classes in philosophy. When I went to business school, I never took classes like that. 

I think there is a really opportunity right now. If you look at the country’s law schools, they’re declining in enrollment. This is due in part to the high cost of going to law school, and the limited opportunities for jobs upon graduation. Only a handful of graduates are finding salaried positions. 

Millennials are more attracted to business, where they can really make a difference.

CWR: Some have criticized CUA and its business school for associating with you and with the Charles Koch Foundation, which was one of the other contributors to the $47 million gift, arguing that free-market capitalism is not consistent with Catholic belief. You have publicly disagreed. Can you share your thoughts on this?

Busch: This is at the heart of what I’m doing. I believe all kinds of people, whether they be on the political right or left, conservative or progressive, want to see the prosperity of mankind. And if anyone says they have a better idea of how to achieve it than the free-market system, let’s hear it!

Over the past century, we’ve seen wars fought over economic models such as fascism, socialism, and communism. How did that work out for mankind? These “isms” don’t lead to justice, but violence. People don’t get what they need to survive and resort to violence to get it.

And when we abandon free markets, the Church suffers, because when the Church stands up for the rights of individuals, the government has to suppress it.

We need a system that involves the common man in the economy so he can enjoy its benefits. This starts with giving business people the freedom to build successful businesses, which employ workers who can earn a decent living and provide for their needs. There will always be an imbalance of material resources in the world as some achieve more than others, but this disparity provides an opportunity for charity.

We don’t help the poor by giving them a handout, but by providing them a place at the table so they can provide for themselves. If they’re on the dole and simply get a check each month, this won’t bring them joy or allow the system to prosper.

Charles Koch is not Catholic, but he’s fascinated by the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding economics and society. He believes that our country was founded on principles consistent with Catholic social teaching, and that we have the system that will lead to the greatest prosperity for all mankind.

I’ve learned a lot from the Koch family. They believe that mankind can prosper when you give people opportunities and a chance to control their own destiny. I think that people who fear them don’t understand them. Charles Koch wrote a book, Good Profit, which I believe is very consistent with Catholic social teaching. He shouldn’t be attacked, but applauded.

CWR: There are millions of Americans living in poverty or who are dependent on government assistance to survive. Is the free-market system the best way to help them?

Busch: It’s already been proven throughout the world. In places that are adopting free-market capitalism, we see people being raised out of poverty. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to do, but that capitalism creates an environment in which the ordinary person is most likely to prosper.

The largest improvements in the conditions of mankind in the history of the world have been attributable to the free market. It starts with people being able to get the financing and freedom they need to start small businesses, which in turn create jobs. Big business doesn’t create jobs, they cut jobs and consolidate. Small business does [create jobs].

CWR: You recently wrote an opinion column for Forbes celebrating the 125th anniversary of the release of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. It seems that Rerum Novarum contains a good balance for Catholics who lean left or right on economic issues. On one hand, for example, Leo expresses concern for the welfare of the working man and insists he be allowed to earn a decent living in safe working conditions, but on the other he defends private property and urges unionized workers not to strike and disrupt society. 

Busch: That’s a good summary. [Rerum Novarum] was written in 1891, and is something that should be more widely read. It came at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when child labor abuses and sweatshops were widespread.

Fast-forward 100 years to 1991, when Pope John Paul II released Centesimus Annus at the time of the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. He took Rerum Novarum and gave it a modern focus. Pope John Paul clearly attacks communism and socialism, for example, which for decades had suppressed the Church and freedom of religion, as well as private property. He also defended private property and markets, while calling for the defense of the rights of the poor and needy. I believe that’s what Catholic social teaching is all about, striking the right balance between the two, while looking at the common good and society as a whole.

I believe that if we adopt the principles outlined in these encyclicals we’ll not only have more harmony in society, but create greater wealth, providing more goods and services that people need.

CWR: In Rerum Novarum, Leo asserts that in view of eternity, what counts is not how much we have but how we use what we have. Is there a lesson here for our materialistic culture?

Busch: Yes. It reminds me of the old saying: there won’t be a Brink’s truck following behind the hearse. When God gives us wealth, he gives it to us as stewards. That’s why Steph and I are so pleased to be able to support Catholic University’s business school. We see it as a responsible use of resources, which can leverage other resources to bring about the education of students who will create greater wealth and improve society.

Keep in mind that in whatever system in which you find yourself, someone has to own the property. In a communist system, the government owns it. In a monarchy, the king owns it. In a capitalist system, the people own it. Those of us in a private property system are accountable to God for how we use our wealth. And, when we donate to charities, we need to hold them accountable. They need to be responsible, just as donors need to be.

CWR: In your years in business, are there any unethical practices, behaviors, or attitudes you’ve observed that particularly concern you?

Busch: Two things come to mind. First, Wall Street is too focused on pure profit rather than building up business. I have friends who call it “rent seeking.” 

Wall Street people buy low, then look for the chance to sell high and turn a quick profit. It disrupts the economic system, and is indicative of a failed economic system. People are motivated by a quick rate of return; the markets have conditioned people to behave this way.

I’m in the hotel business. We buy a hotel and hold on to it. We’re building a business.

Second, I don’t like to see businesses trying to figure out ways not to provide benefits to their employees. They might, for example, employ someone less than 20 hours a week so as not to have to pay their health benefits. This is why we have Obamacare, which has taken over one-sixth of the economy.

In my business, we employ many low-income people. When I meet with them, I ask, “Do you have health insurance?” I’m pleased to say everyone did, except one young man who chose not to, so he could save $100 a month or some such amount. I really scolded him for that!

CWR: What government policies do you think are most harmful to businessmen as they try to establish successful businesses which can offer people jobs and opportunity?

Busch: Regulation hurts small business. Big business can afford to hire accountants and lawyers to help them navigate the regulatory system, but the small business guy can’t afford that. In the end, excessive regulation is protectionism for big business.

Heavy taxation destroys jobs and businesses. In my state, California, our federal and state tax rates combined on business are more than 50 percent. This is far higher than many other parts of the world.

An issue frequently discussed in the news of late is the minimum wage. When you raise it you look like you’re helping the worker, but you’re actually doing him great harm. This is especially true for the entry-level or unskilled employee, as you eliminate his job or move it elsewhere.

The minimum wage is an anti-market regulation that leads to unemployment. California’s minimum wage will be raised to $15 an hour by 2022. This will lead manufacturers to move jobs to states where the minimum wage is nearly half of California’s. If the federal government raises the national minimum wage, jobs will move overseas. All the research shows this.

What people need to realize is that it is the job that is essential, and the pay secondary. Once people are working, they can acquire additional skills or be promoted from within to earn higher pay. But the minimum wage can eliminate them from having any opportunity to work in the first place.

CWR: Carl Karcher (1917-2008), founder of the Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain, was a daily communicant. He’d give people he’d meet a St. Francis prayer card along with a coupon for a free Carl’s chicken sandwich. One of his 12 children became a priest. Are there any Catholic businessmen you’ve known who have been a particular inspiration or role model to you?

Busch: I knew Carl well. He was a good man.

One person who immediately comes to mind is Tom Monaghan, founder of Legatus. He espouses all of these principles of Catholic social teaching that we’ve discussed. He’s had his challenges, but I think he always tries to do what’s right.

There are many other friends I could point to, such as those on the Catholic University board of visitors. They’re all great Catholic people, striving to do good with their lives.

CWR: Tell me about your activities with Legatus and how it has helped you and your peers better live your faith.

Busch: Legatus has been very important to me, a game-changer in my life. I’ve been involved with it for 26 years; its purpose is to integrate faith into the workplace. We meet monthly. Our members try to incorporate Mass and the sacraments into their daily lives, and say the Rosary and chaplet. It’s a rare phenomenon in the business world. It really inspired me to get involved in the world of Catholic education, and support such organizations as Catholic University.

About Jim Graves 131 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.