Corporate Management - The Dharma of Karma
by Suma Varughese
Synthesis through self-awareness and spirituality is the new mantra at some of the management schools in India
They speak a new language on the management campus
these days: Sanskrit. The buzz words in business circles are no longer TQM (Total
Quality Management) or Kaizan. They are Ahm Brahmasmi (I am God)
and Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That). And for the aspiring managers, the new
Bible is the Bhagavad Gita.
In its '90s avatar, Indian spirituality is sashaying down corporate
corridors, ready for business. The quest for self-awareness, once confined
to mystics and spiritual adepts, is bursting out of secret places to fertilize
mainstream business activity. By now it has gone well beyond the mandatory yoga and meditation,
the only indigenous concepts to have gained corporate acceptance, albeit
disguised as stress relievers, in the past few years. The gloves are finally off.
Industry is boldly mining the depths of Indian wisdom, the Vedas, Upanishads,
Puranas, looking for a framework springing from Indian roots and
thought. "It is time we rediscover our own ethos and cultural context
if we are to give meaningful and relevant management education," says
S.K. Chakraborty, convener of the Management Center for Human Values at
the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta.
At the Himachal Futuristic Communication Ltd. (HFCL), Delhi, managers
and senior staff tune into fortnightly lectures on Indian philosophy.
Alacrity Foundation, a premier construction company in Chennai, practices
human values such as integrity (reportedly, they have never given a bribe),
trust, and the welfare of others. Industries like Excel and Nirlep also
encourage worker participation and try to create a stress-free, familial
Much of the credit for this new synthesis of spirituality and materialism
goes to the resurgence of some spiritual organizations and their new found
popularity among urban westernized professionals. The Mount Abu-based
regularly teach corporate clients the value of listening, tolerance,
adaptability and decision-making through the practice of Raja Yoga.
Two other programs that have made steady inroads at the corporate level
are the Rishi Samskruti Vidya Kendra's (RSVK) Siddha Samadhi Yoga (SSY) and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living course.
Management consultants, many of them Vedantists
and swamis, are also entering the fray. Swami Someshwarananda, founder
of the Vivekananda Centre for Indian Management in Indore, outlines three
reasons for developing an Indian style of management: "To have an appropriate
management style in India; to show how ethical values help in every aspect
of industry and business; and to show that a great achiever can lead a
Pandit, a productivity expert, endorses the use of Indian concepts along with
the standard western practices. "There is power in the concept, which often brings
about a total change in attitude," he says. But the greatest catalyst for this
change are the management institutes which have designed their curriculum In line
with eastern thinking.
Some spiritual organizations have themselves entered the field of management
education. Mata Amritanandamayi Math has opened the Center for Value-Based
Management Education at Ettimadai, Coimbatore in India. Maharshi Mahesh
Yogi's organization has five centers of management study in the country.
The emphasis here is not so much on spiritual and ethical principles as
on expansion of consciousness through meditation, yogic
techniques and creative
IIM's capitulation to this new thinking through its Management Centre for Human
Values has given the changeover much-needed credibility, even among hard-core
champions of western empirical thought. The center came about, admits Dr Chakraborty,
when managers attending the Executive Development Program questioned the absence
of concepts from Indian philosophy in the curriculum.
Says he: "Management
in action is a holistic process. Nowhere in our education, least of all in our
management training, is it taught so. We are told to be rational and to concentrate
on analysis. This fragmentation of the mind into analysis/rationality and emotions
sets up a gap in our values." A growing number of autonomous management institutes
have consciously veered in the direction of IIM.
In Mumbai, the SP Jain
Institute of Management & Research (SPlIMR) has established a reputation for value-based
education, emphasizing adoption of values, social sensitivity, team spirit, student
participation in administration, and a month-long social project with the underprivileged.
The Srihgeri Sharada Institute of Management in New Delhi and the Symbiosis Centre
for Management and Human Resource Development (SCMHRD) in Pune, unabashed advocates
of Vedantic thought, aim at synthesizing holistic Indian concepts with modern
Says Dr MB Athreya, adviser to the Sringeri Institute:
"Our graduates will have the intellectual equipment to be competent decision-makers
as well as congruent leaders pursuing shreshta dharma (responsibility of
the elite) for atmano mokshartam (realizing one's self)." The implication
is that the application of Indian philosophical and spiritual concepts has the
potential to become the Indian industry's USP; our indigenous secret potion, promising
an Asterix-like invincibility and indomitability.
SCMHRD agenda includes helping students discover their powerful creative
selves through yoga, pranayam,
and various team-oriented activities. In his book Indian Wisdom for
Management, Swami Someshwarananda writes that the main character of
Indian culture is synthesis. It is an ability to reconcile contradictions,
a movement from opposing choices to converging ones. Indian thought can
thus reconcile contradictions and conflicts inherent in the materialistic,
capitalistic business model of our times: the conflict between trade unions
and management, between colleagues for top jobs, between companies for
market shares, between industry and environment, and above all, within
the individual, for whom success is increasingly extracted at the cost
of peace of mind and happiness.
Swami Someshwarananda pinpoints three
primary concepts. One is the dual mantra, Ahm Brahmasmi and Tat Tvam
Asi. The second is advaita or non-duality—in other words, the
holistic principle mentioned earlier. The third is the emphasis on subjective
factors such as vision, foresight, courage, determination rather than on tangible
objective factors such as money and material goods.
The focus shifts from the external to the internal; the motive from profit
to service and personal growth; the means from capital and natural resources to human ones.
Says Swami Someshwarananda: "From profit we must make the objective people-oriented.
I recommend to all my clients that they take two to three minutes off
each morning to chant a mantra: 'I work for the people, I work for the
nation'." He concludes: "If we can make goodness effective, it will show
Pandit cites the case of Standard Electricals Ltd., manufacturers of circuit breakers
and electrical switch gears in Jalandhar. He taught them the value of shifting
from shakti (adversarial) mode to bhakti (nurturing) mode in dealing
with the employees. When the implementation of these concepts produced record
production levels, Pandit suggested that in the remaining two months of the financial
year, they try to make up for the shortfall in the projected production and profit
budgeted for Rs 28 crore sales and RS 1.8 crore profit for 1994-95, they
had made only RS 20 crore sale and RS 50 lakh profit. After obtaining
the workers' permission and commitment to the project, they secured an
impressive RS 4 crore sale and a profit of RS 50 lakh in the next two
months. Pandit feels that IM which "doesn't work with multinationals",
produces good results in the less literate and more traditional segments
"People reach out to these concepts
like the parched earth receiving rain." Management institutes implementing IM
principles have been remarkably successful. SPJIMR is listed as one of the 10
best management schools in the country, while SCMHRD had over 9,500 aspirants
for 90 seats in 1997 and attracted 112 campus corporate recruiters. The ironies
are rich. While the more conventional disciplines from primary school to the liberal
arts remain dissociated from the ethos of the land, a 'mercenary' subject like
business management has, in its pursuit of materialism, come face-to-face with
the rarefied zone of spirituality.
Introduced by Americans to establish and entrench their business practices
such as individuality and competition, management studies are now veering
to their opposites: teamwork, cooperation and even service. The time seems
peculiarly rife for a resurgence in eastern thought. One reason, of course,
is the proven success of the Japanese model of management based on Buddhism
and Shintoism, which reflects Indian ideas. When the Japanese proved that
holistic principles such as TQM and Kaizan made brilliant business sense,
the whole world sat up to take note.
So did we. Says Anil Sachdev, Eicher MD: "We realized
after talking to the Japanese that the change has to be brought about within oneself."
And this movement within can be perfected by our culture. Says Rishi Prabhakar,
founder of the RSVK: “The sages of the past have given us the best possible
tradition and knowledge... This would not be found at Harvard Business School."
What has given a crucial impetus to the implementation of IM is that the
business imperatives of globalization and the quickening pace of obsolescence
call for a fluid, horizontal, de-structured organization which eastern
thinking with its emphasis on internal resources facilitates. The root
of IM is the Vedantic concept of oneness. The universe, and all
in it, is one interconnected indivisible whole.
From this understanding radiate all the concepts associated with
Indian thought such as: the whole affects the part and vice versa. Just as a human
being is a composite of body, mind and soul, so too, the employee, the company
and society are seen as one unit. "Can an employee grow at the cost of the company
or the company at the cost of society?" asks Swami Someshwarananda.
Holistic thinking reconciles contradictions. Emotions and intellect are no longer
at war, but seen as crucial halves of the whole. Says Dr Chakraborty: "Holism
is synthesis, the union of analytical intellect and emotion, the united mind with
the all-enveloping vision." "Management has to be a function of brain, heart and
guts," says Dr Manesh Shrikant, honorary dean of SPJIMR.
For Dr Chakraborty,
the crucial Indian concept is that of antardrisbti, which he describes
as a penetration to the heart of the matter. But such limpid clarity of mind calls
for two qualities: stillness and purity, in other words, antarmukhita (drawing
the senses within) and antarshuddbi, (inner purification). It is this state
of mind he hopes to cultivate in his Center for Human Values.
Indian concept, Swami Someshwarananda says, is that of self-sustenance, the establishment
of systems that will run by themselves, needing little or no outside help or supervision.
He cites the instances of Lijjat Papad, the Udipi hotels with their lightning
speed and efficiency, and the local grocer to highlight Indian practices such
as flexibility, role rotation and individual empowerment.
are fantastic," enthuses the swami, "all they need is self-confidence." Dr Chakraborty
sees IM as allowing the cultivation of noble emotions and human values such as
gratitude, humility, contentment, transparency, truthfulness and forgiveness.
Thus Indian Management focuses on transformation of the individual as the source
of all external transformation, unlike the western model which advocates transformation
of the environment as the means to individual transformation.
Parallels and parables are drawn from the Jataka, the Puranas,
Panchatantra and Mahabharata, the ancient Indian literary
texts and epics. Says Swami Someshwarananda to illustrate the need for
individuality: "We do not care to know the names of the 100 Kauravas
(one of the two feuding families in Mahabharata) because they were
copies of Duryodhan, while each of the Pandavas was unique. Make
yourself a Pandava."
He has also derived such Indian ideas as the Arjun model of management,
the Namaskar, the Eklavya, Pancha Bhuta, Shiva-Shakti
and Krishna models. With its emphasis on values and the welfare of the
whole, IM has the potential to reconcile prosperity and productivity with
social equity, social need, peace and harmony.
It can synthesize the private initiative of capitalism with the social
justice of communism. And it alone can restrain business from generating
greed, consumerism and environmental degradation. It is the Indian vision
brought to life, dreamed by all sages and philosophers from Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo to S. Radhakrishnan, and likely to be realized, strangely enough, by the
Indian corporate world.