• |
Header Banner

Matt Gonnering ’98 leads with eudaimonia – a word and a concept that has attracted attention far beyond the global marketing technology he heads.

Forbes Magazine Features CEO of Happiness

If you’re up at 5 a.m. in Madison, Wis., you’ll share sunrise with a unique entrepreneur: already at the office, munching popcorn and reading about Mother Teresa.

“I fire out of bed, and learning starts now,” says Matthew Gonnering ’98.

Gonnering is CEO at Widen, a global marketing technology company based in Madison. He is indeed an executive, but for him, CEO stands for something else: “Chief Eudaimonia Officer.” 

Gonnering has a passion for holistic health, and to him, each day is a laboratory for tinkering with new information in order to to flourish. It’s an approach that recently drew the attention of Forbes magazine, which profiled Gonnering in the story, “Why This CEO Leads With Eudaimonia: A Commitment to Happiness, Health and Prosperity for All.”

Eudaimonia? The work of Paul Wadell, professor of theology and religious studies, focuses on the virtues. He can offer a definition: “Eudaimonia is typically translated as ‘happiness,’ ” he says. “But a fuller and richer understanding of the word suggests that it refers to the ‘best possible life’ for human beings, a life that would be truly conducive to human flourishing.”

As an undergraduate, Gonnering was listening. “I learned business stuff in business school, which seemed appropriate,” he says. “But I liked the liberal arts education – that’s the value of St. Norbert – the introduction to many different concepts, not just focusing on one thing.”

Mother Teresa, HR director
Gonnering grew up in the entrepreneurial world of family business. Recognizing the personal side of business, he still often heard broad-stroked negative critiques about “all businesses.” He knew firsthand there was a different story. Noticing that most of his past business courses focused exclusively on the economic driver, he interjects, “There’s something that fits on top of all that which people are missing: human-centered design of business – dignity of work, contribution to greater good.”

He describes combining resources in a kind of personal “bulletin board,” including input from scholars, saints and salespeople. 

Consistent with his holistic ethic, Gonnering volunteers on the board of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, where members read about Mother Teresa together. He says he connected with her approach to life: “Not just her complete surrender – she had a little attitude. She talked to some of the most outrageous dictators in the world to try to convert them through her service to others.” In public lectures like TEDx and Disrupt HR, Gonnering asks business leaders to imagine how their companies might be different if Mother Teresa were their director of human resources.

Freedom ring
The world may imagine it is CEOs who make all the decisions, but Gonnering questions this paradigm. He says, “I try to get things out of the way so other people can make decisions, more like blocking and tackling.” 

Gonnering emphasizes that when people navigate their problems and are able to find their own answers, the company functions from what he calls a “freedom-centered” lens, emphasizing organizational democracy. 

Lucy Arendt, professor of business administration, confirms that Gonnering’s outlook has grounding in business theory: “It’s the perceiver, the follower,” she says. “That’s who decides whether a reward is worth it or not. Motivation works best when it is based on self-governance.”

Support network
Gonnering regularly engages in learning opportunities to develop this ethic of eudaimonia, spiritually and intellectually. 

In addition to studying scripture and other reading, Gonnering chose to attend the first-ever conference of the newly formed Eudaimonia Institute. It was, says Gonnering, an “incredible network,” an experience shared with scholars, journalists, elected officials and public intellectuals. Gonnering, who presented on applying eudaimonia in companies, says he was the only businessperson at the gathering. Mother Teresa, HR director, might be proud. 

This article first appeared in @St. Norbert, May 8, 2018