The Paradox of Awakening and Profitability

The Paradox of Awakening and Profitability

Building a business is extremely hard.

Building a business on the foundations of Selflessness, Authenticity, Love, and Service is even harder. And one can do that only if one is deeply authentic, generous, selfless and in touch with her/his deep self.

Conscious Capitalism, Servant leadership, love leadership etc. do not happen in isolation. These are, but an outer manifestation of a leader’s inner life. One who doesn’t live by these principles can never bring this to fruition in real world.

Living a spiritual life, living a life based on true north principles, balancing the paradox of individual awakening and business pressures is tough in a corporate environment, so, my respect for those who have been able to translate these principles and bring them to life in businesses is immense.

I stumbled upon “Meaningful Work: A Quest to do great business, find your calling and feed your soul” by Shawn Askinosie last month when 800-CEO-READ featured it in their upcoming books to read. Today’s blog post by Seth Godin calls out this book. A peep into the book traces Shawn’ career trajectory from being a successful lawyer to praying hard daily for years to find a meaningful calling, ultimately resulting in entrepreneurship. I found it fascinating for the references to the Trappist Monastery.

While I know very little about the Monks and the Trappist Monastery, I had read about it earlier in a fascinating book titled “Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks” by August Turak. Turak writes about how the principles of service and selflessness can be the foundation on which a wildly successful business can be built.

Closer home, I am aware of Aravind Eye Care, Cipla (do read this post) and Hare Krishna exports from Surat whose founders have built their businesses on these principles.

While there is so much talk today in the papers about VC’s, funding, how to make profits etc. There is hardly any talk about how to build sustainable, relevant and meaningful businesses. Businesses built on true north principles. Professors who are called to talk about business, regurgitate the same old tales we have read in the business papers, hardly anyone talks about this personal journey. I have actively sought out stories like these in my readings and they fascinate me no end. Walking the path of deep spiritual values is hard and guess that’ the reason we hear very little stories like these! So when I do find them, I feel like celebrating and sharing their success!

In my view, Shri Krishna in The Gita, lays out a very clear, unambiguous path, that can be used as guiding principles and I will share it in the next few posts.

But for now, given that we are talking about Monks and Businesses, I would like to end up with this beautiful story narrated by another monk who heads an Asset Management Company. We can all start with this parable and come back to hear how Shri Krishna answer’s the question about What kind of business/product/service to build in the next post.

Update: This series may have to wait for some more time!

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He let go of Billions of $ in Profits to save Millions from Death

Imagine you have a product that can make you at least $10,000 to $15,000 per year per person.

Imagine that you have a global market that absolutely needs a minimum of 10 million units every year.

Your product stands between life and death of the user.

Your cost of manufacturing that product is practically zilch.

Your competitors are selling that product at nothing less than $15,000 USD.

How much would you price it at?

For Dr. Yusuf Hamied, Scientist and Chairman of Cipla, the answer was very clear.

I am enrolled in a program offered by edx from MITx titled “U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society and Self” and one of the films I had to watch, as part of the program, was “Fire In The Blood”. This is one gut wrenching movie that I won’t be able to forget in a long time. It talks about a horrendous tragedy that could have been prevented, but for the insatiable greed of large businesses, their leaders and governments. It could have been a very dark movie, but it isn’t, for it shows that a small, handful of committed people, and most importantly, socially conscious business leaders, can indeed make a difference.

The film tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments aggressively blocked access to low cost AIDS drugs to third world countries, especially, countries in Africa leading to the death of over 10 million people. As the documentary’s website puts it, it is an intricate tale of “medicine, monopoly and malice” and also highlights the improbable group of people who decide to fight back. This is a film that needs to be seen by everyone who works for large businesses to understand how the desire for insatiable profits harms the world.

While the 3rd world was being ravaged by HIV/AIDS due to the non availability of affordable medicines to treat the disease, the Pharma companies were not willing to drop the prices, and the US Govt working hand in hand with the pharma companies threatened to impose harsh sanctions on countries that import generics. The absurd patent laws were another barrier. This was a huge man made disaster that killed over 10 million people.

It was in this scenario, that Cipla was approached and they stepped in with a generic drug that contained a cocktail of 3 antiretroviral drug at a price point of less than a dollar a day. Dr. Hamied, chairman of Cipla, decided not to profit from the drug.Putting the issues of access and cost in the right context, he is quoted, as saying, “We are being humanitarian. But we are not doing charity. We are not making money, but we are not losing money either.”

Do yourself a favor, watch the film. This film isn’t about Dr. Hamied, but many conscious individuals, doctors and NGO activists who fought their way through to bring the medicines to Africa. I have picked Dr. Hamied out here in the context of my series on Conscious leaders. His responsiveness to the challenge was to expand his circle of concern to every human being suffering from this disease. He took a conscious decision not to profit from someone else’s misery.

There are lessons out there, on how a business leader by being socially conscious, can impact humanity, so much so, that apparently in Africa Cipla is a temple and Dr. Hamied is a God! Dr. Yusuf lays out one primary lesson that will serve us all well, that the purpose of business is just not to profit, but to respond to business situations, with awareness and with a sense of belongingness with the community at large irrespective of their nationality, color, religion or any other biases.

While businesses do have to make money in order to succeed, monetary benefits shouldn’t be the only driver. Serving others always takes higher precedence over everything else.

Thanks a lot Padma Bhushan Dr. Yusuf Khwaja Hamied, you do us all proud.

PS: The Art of Living Foundation is holding a conference on Corporate Culture and Spirituality on 31st Jan and 1st Feb in Bangalore. If you are interested in learning how ethics, consciousness, spirituality etc. can make a difference in business, then come attend the conference and listen to some brilliant conversation athttp://www.ccsconference.in/

I also teach the Art of Living Foundations, corporate leadership programs, should there be an interest, feel free to drop me a note at RajWaghray (at) gmail (dot) com

(This is the second article in a series I am writing featuring Conscious Businesses and Awakened Leaders, under the tag: “Under The Bodhi Tree”)