Volume 6 - Issue 08
AUGUST - 2008
BEACONS TO BOLSTER THE SOUL OF BUSINESS
…Watching the Corporate Universe Through the Eyes of the Alumni of the School of Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Prasanthi Nilayam - Part 1
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT SIXTH ‘M’ OF MODERN BUSINESS
All’s fair in love and war, it is said. If we were to extrapolate this proverb to the world of modern business, it would imply “All’s perfect if we are making profits”. After all, wealth creation for promoters, employees and shareholders is the sole reason why a company exists, operates and competes aggressively in the business world.
To put it simply, business is a function of 4 Ms to create the fifth M - the conglomeration of men and material, methods and machines to generate – Money. Period. This is what most capitalists, be it a small entrepreneur selling her/his wares in a tiny town, or the CEO of a multinational company will vouch for.
Boom to Bust - What Drives Big Businesses to Sudden Bankruptcy?
But then, why did Enron, which was one of the world's leading electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper and communications companies and named as "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years by the Fortune magazine, go bust in late 2001? Why did MCI WorldCom, which was born out of a US $ 37 billion merger of WorldCom and MCI Communications, and dominated the American Telephone Industry in the 1990s, file the largest bankruptcy protection in the history of United States in 2002? It was action replay with Adelphia, the fifth largest cable company in the United States, which suddenly went insolvent in 2002.
All these companies had the 4Ms in plenty and did pretty well to have a swell fifth M for a short while too. Enron had a workforce of 22,000 employees and claimed US $ 111 billion revenues in 2000; Worldcom’s assets were to the tune of US $ 103 billion; Adelphia had 110,000 customers in 27 states. Why and how then did things go so extremely astray despite the expertise, resources and robust plans?
Ethical Integrity Takes Back Seat to Bottom Lines
“The fact of the matter is that today, stuff-selling mega-corporations have a huge influence on our daily lives. And because of the competitive nature of our global economy, these corporations are generally only concerned with one thing... the bottom line. That is, maximizing profit, regardless of the social or environmental costs,” says Mr. David Suzuki, a well known Canadian environmental activist. It is said, “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.”
Corporatisation of Business Education
Though in modern times, there is much more awareness and appreciation of the importance of these ideas, there has hardly been any paradigm shift in trying to reorient the goals and focus of the business organisation towards this direction. What makes matters worse is the ‘corporatisation’ of business education, which panders to the demands of the business world often blindly.
As Rakesh Khurana, Associate Professor of Organization Behaviour at Harvard Business School, puts it in his latest book – From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession: “Contemporary business schools increasingly see themselves as business organisations and not educational institutions.
"Over the past decade, the apparent dominance of market logic in how business educators think about their enterprise has become evident in their discourse. Business schools make a ‘value proposition’ to students, who are now commonly described as ‘customers.’”
Marketing Business Education Endangers Social Health
Business education today has become a marketable commodity rather than a professional education. Some social scientists view this situation as perilous to the future of humanity, as it poses long term health hazards to modern society, many of them of a terminal nature. In such a scenario, for many budding managers, pay packages and perks become far more important than ethics, economic value takes precedence over eternal values, and money takes the centre stage, often at the cost of morality.
One visionary who redefined the role, goal and responsibilities of managers and clinically disengaged corporate success from the no holds barred ideology of profit-making at any cost, not surprisingly is the Universal Teacher and the most committed champion of Character Education, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Divine Manager Stems the Rot
As a part of His efforts towards a spiritual awakening of human consciousness, He foresaw the need to stem this rot, and set for the world a new, wholesome and ideal dimension in business education. Towards this end, Bhagavan Baba set up the School of Business Management, Accounting and Finance (SBMAF) in 1986, five years after the establishment of the unique Sri Sathya Sai University in Puttaparthi. If the proof of the pudding is in its eating, then the performance, drive, success and lofty standards set by the graduates of the Sai MBA programs speaks amply for the viability of the glorious vision for modern business that Bhagavan Baba has elucidated for mankind.
Alumni Bloom Wherever Planted
In 2006, Bhagavan Baba’s Business School celebrated its 20th anniversary. On this momentous occasion, the Dean of the SBMAF received the following letter from Mr. T. R. Ramachandran, who is currently Business Manager – Retail Banking, Citibank:
“I thought it would be appropriate to let you know of the progress of one of your alumnus Mr. C.D.K. Sai Narain in Citibank.
“After a very successful stint in Citibank India, Sai has now been transferred to work in Citibank Taiwan as the Marketing Director – Credit Cards. Sai has been working with me for over five years. During this period, I have been impressed with him as a professional and also as a person. In his professional capacity, Sai has demonstrated exemplary work principles, a strong focus on doing the right thing and doing things right, and devotion to duty.
"I do believe the grounding he received on ethics and principles have helped shape him as a professional. As a person, Sai is universally liked by superiors, peers and subordinates alike. With respect for the individual, strong family ties, and a desire to improve the community around him, Sai is a role model in this area as well.
“From what Sai has told me about your institute, it is evident that his formative years there have helped significantly in shaping his personality. Our thanks to you and the faculty who help turn out students like these.”
Conviction of Character, Baba’s Gift to His Students
Ask Sai Narain about his success mantra, and he says, “You need to be absolutely selfless and not worry about what you gain or lose, because in the short term it could hurt you…. In a 15 year corporate career, I have had my ups and downs, but I have tried my best to stick to the direction from Baba: ‘ Care more about your remarks than your marks’.
"Today, when I analyse and introspect, I don’t find anyone having raced ahead of me by compromising on their values. In fact, I have more than a handful of names who have had their reputation tarnished and lost out badly for deciding on the wrong side of ethical dilemmas and taking a shortcut to reach their seniority…
“You need to have character to tread this path…Now, such character cannot be easily nurtured within the organisation. It cannot be taught in B-Schools either. This is something that has to be bestowed on you.
And that is what Sri Sathya Sai University and Bhagavan Baba have done to us, Sai students. And this conviction of character in us is so strong that no force at anytime can tempt us to take any path other than the right path.”
Currently, Mr. C. D. K. Sai Narain serves as Head - Consumer Transaction Banking & Strategic Initiatives, Standard Chartered Bank, India.
Taking a Moral Stand Proves a Worthwhile Risk
Probe any alumnus of SBMAF a little and he will come out with a story of how he chose to swim against the tide to stand for his principles, and more importantly, did it with confidence and élan. Citing one instance, Mr. Jitendra Panjabi, currently working as Macro Analyst with the Capital Group in Singapore, says,
“I was once in a meeting with a few very senior industry members to talk about a specific issue leading to an extremely important deal, and one that was being vied by the best in the industry. The decision of this group of three members was meant to have very significant ramifications on how the deal would move ahead and on my future.
"At one point in the conversation, one of the senior persons on this panel started asking me questions to elicit information on the inside state of affairs on a specific issue that was very confidential.
"I clearly refused to talk anything about that particular area. The panel member then tried circuitous means to get the information out of me through clever questions, but I was adamant. Finally, the senior member tried to threaten me. I was told that it would amount to a significant loss in my career if I did not open up.
“Nevertheless, I politely continued to be firm on my stand; not budging even an inch, irrespective of anything on offer in return. I remember, the meeting that day, ended pretty abruptly, with some of the panel members expressing anger at my ‘stubbornness’. However, a few weeks later, I was informed that the panel had selected me for the mandate, as the chairman of the panel felt that I was the right person to ethically manage their interests. My strong stance had, in fact, impressed them greatly.”
Ethical Managers Swim Against the Tide
Ethical challenges like this in the corporate careers of SBMAF alumni have been numerous. “There was another situation at work where a senior colleague asked a group of us to produce backdated reports and file them to maintain the files in order,” recalls Mr. Jitendra Panjabi. “Most of my other colleagues complied with this, while I refused to follow it. My stand was that backdating reports by people who had not made the recommendations was not a righteous action.
"I personally felt we have to be honest about our actions, and accept that the processes need to change. This, however, did not go down well with the person concerned. My colleagues, who complied with the orders, were benefited with opportunities, while I was singled out with negative repercussions in the near term.
Dare to be Right: No Pain, No Gain, No Growth
“The pain I went through for taking this stand troubled me for many months, till, one day it reached the ears of the CEO. The big boss immediately came down on the issue, and asked me to bypass formal channels and report to him directly on such matters from thereon.
"A few years later, when the same CEO was looking for a senior person to take charge of the leadership on a couple of new and important initiatives, he chose me, bypassing all the other senior persons in the organisation. The top management wanted someone who could stand up for righteousness against power. My steadfastness to principles was rewarded handsomely, even though it took a while.”
Now, it is no wonder that two years ago the employers of Mr. Jitendra Panjabi sent an appreciation letter to Sri Sathya Sai University thanking the college for producing such a gem of a personality. Signed by Mr. Sunny Oberoi, Managing Director of Capital International, Singapore, the letter addressed to the Principal of the College, said:
“I have observed Jitendra Panjabi (Jeetu) and worked closely with him over the years, and feel the Capital Group of companies (one of the largest investment management organizations with assets under management at US$ 1.1 trillion) has been extremely fortunate to have him as part of the team.
“Jeetu has been a sincere hard worker with very strong capabilities. He has performed very well in the different roles he has worked in over the years, and has adapted well to changing situations. His ability to think laterally and add value through his unique perspective has been an excellent analytical asset for the company.
Jeetu has always been intense in his work and has considered 'work his worship'. He has also exuded strong team building and leadership skills from his early days with us, which has been a big help in cementing the cultural aspects of our organization, first in India and now in Singapore.
“The non-business areas where Jeetu would stand out relative to students from other institutions are: (1) strong character and integrity, (2) trust and dependability and (3) high emotional quotient and the ability to calmly deal with tough situations. These coupled with his spiritual aspects of looking at issues have made him a unique member of the team.
“I might add that he is the only member of our joint venture company in India whom we asked to join our business in Singapore. This speaks very well for his business capabilities as well as interpersonal skills.
“Jeetu has clearly been a solid asset to Capital, and from what I have heard from him over the years he attributes all his success to Baba, who is the force from whom he derives his strength. I believe your Institute has been playing a unique role in creating good citizens for society, and wish it the very best for its continuing success.”
Making a Difference by Taking the Path not Taken
The students of SBMAF have stood apart from the crowd and have made the top management of companies they work for sit up and take notice because of their out of the ordinary and impressive character. And in the process, they have also added a fresh and noble dimension to the whole business of being in business. However, achieving this has not been easy.
It is easy to walk on the beaten track than through the woods, but then you will not get a new and clean way unless someone has the guts to go against the grain. Recalling his early days in the corporate jungle, Mr. Katta Bhaskar, an alumnus now working as Operations and Technology Director, Russia and CIS Cluster, Citibank, says,
Universal Values Hard to Ignore, Even by Die-Hard Cynics
“Four of us, alumni from SBMAF, joined a multinational company immediately after our degree. During those initial days, our softness and empathy awarded us sympathized looks and mocking smiles. In deep contrast, the aggression of my colleagues was admired and rewarded. The long run, however, had a different story to tell. People realised the power of our simplicity and the strength of compassion. Superiors and peers were touched by our concern and we turned out to be glowing examples worthy of emulation. It was then I realised that our MBA provided the impetus for this human face of management. Humility, which once seemed to be a sign of weakness, emerged to be the hallmark of greatness.”
Citing his own experience in the corporate world where the only language often understood is that of the mammon and men can get ruthless and ridiculous in this pursuit, Mr. P. V. Krishna Mohan, an alumnus serving as Head – Spare Parts, Telco Construction Equipment Company in Jamshedpur, India, says,
“Never in my last 13 years of service, I compared my salary with others or jumped jobs for bigger pay packets. I stuck to the same company enjoying my work and practicing the values we learnt from Baba.
“In February 2005, when I was posted in Bangalore, I had tendered my resignation not to budge on a particular moral issue. I was unwilling to compromise on my principles; my self esteem was at stake. On receiving the papers, the Managing Director of the organization sent for me and gave me a patient hearing. He realised the folly of the company, and assured me such events would not repeat. A few months later, in December 2005, when a prestigious project was to be executed, I was picked to head the project overlooking other senior personnel; it was a reward for my sincere and forthright approach in carrying out my duties.”
Value Driven Approach Redefines Evaluation Parametres
Explaining more about this new project and its share of novel challenges which he could overcome because of his values-driven approach to business, Mr. Krishna Mohan says, “This project entailed an end-to-end solution encompassing the entire supply chain spanning the suppliers, partners and the dealer fraternity. The key to the success of this project was a software deployment at the dealers’ end and providing a logistics partner as a link between suppliers and dealers. It was to be completed in one year.
“One of the first challenges in this job was to select a suitable logistics partner. Major players in this area of business had sent in their quotations, and we were evaluating all these requests on a point scale on various Techno, Commercial and Operations related parameters. The top companies were more or less in the same score bracket which made our job even more difficult. I had two days left to present our recommendation in the next steering committee meeting.
"Unable to come to a clear conclusion, I tried a new approach. Taking inspiration from what I had learnt at SBMAF, I used Values as the differentiating factor to decide. Apart from Techno, Commercial and Operations related parameters, we used Organisational Culture as the third dimension under which Level of Integrity, Professionalism and Organisational Value Systems were rated for each of the clients. Surprisingly, a new entrant in this line of business scored the highest.
"Nevertheless, we presented our findings to the steering committee headed by our Managing Director. Most of the members of the committee appreciated our method of evaluation, but a few raised doubts on our choice of a new and inexperienced partner. Confident and convinced about our decision, we went ahead with the new organization, and the subsequent weeks only proved that we were correct in our assessment.”
Setting the Fundamentals Right
The very first course in the management programme offered at SBMAF, Puttaparthi, is not “Management Principles” like any conventional management school, instead, it is “Value-Based Management”. And this remains as the undercurrent in all the other subjects dealt inside the classroom and outside. It is no wonder therefore that when a product of this Institute steps into the corporate world, he is as passionate about values and ethics as he is about performance and progress. Mr. Manoj Gautam, an alumnus serving as Financial Advisor in Sinhasi Consultants, Bangalore, says,
Yearn, not Earn, Command, not Demand: the Challenge of Being Different
“At SBMAF, we learnt not to earn but to yearn, to command and not demand; to be complete and not try to compete. We have been taught to emphasise and empathise; to look at every event and incident in life with the prism of humanness. Elsewhere, students are tutored to be impersonal in the name of professionalism, but we give a personal touch to everything we do, and that is what makes us different from the rest.”
Is it difficult to be different? Manoj explains, “Surely, it is easier said than done. You have to struggle when you stand for a principle. People appreciate what you do, but don’t dare to support you when their personal interests are jeopardized.
"In one of my earlier offices, I was heading the account section of a particular state office of a private company. Many malpractices were prevalent there. With strong measures, I could stop and change a few practices at levels below me in organizational hierarchy.
"But there were others happening with the connivances of the higher authorities. I put forth these issues to my higher ups and requested them to change their ways for the good of the client and the company. But my concerns fell on deaf ears. I was told ‘it should be done this way as it has been done that way since long’.
"Now, I had no choice; I wanted to follow what I was taught – ‘If you cannot influence your company to turn into good, run away from that bad company’. When you do not have enough strength to change others, you should have the strength to change yourself and take corrective course of action. Therefore, I quit the job without a second thought.
"It was a difficult decision, and I was persuaded by many not to take this seemingly ‘hasty’ step, including the ones who were instrumental in helping me find a placement in that company. But this decision strengthened my self-confidence and determination to follow my conscience. No management institute teaches these values and instills the same in you, but for SBMAF. This, I believe, is the stark difference that sets the Sai Business School apart from the herd.”
Though small in physical frame, Manoj is big in the eyes of his colleagues and employers today because of his uncompromising adherence to principles. Ask him from where does he derive such confidence and passion to follow the voice of his soul, and he says,
“All said and done, our greatest strength is Bhagavan. In any difficult situation, we, the alumni of SBMAF, turn to Him for solace. He has trained and prepared us for the world as professionals through His management school, set to bring about a change. We begin with changing our own selves, and from there move onto transforming our surroundings, and finally, the world. My alma mater has given me the strength of knowledge and character, which enables me to march ahead in life with confidence and conviction that we are here, for a greater purpose.”
Reiterating the sentiment, Bipin Poddar, currently working as a Manager, Treasury Support at a reputed Telecommunication group in Toronto, Canada, explains,
“My most cherished take-away from the experience was the divine discourses of Bhagavan that showed me the higher things in life… At His University, Bhagavan is the central focus of all students and teachers.
"Because everyone focused on Divinity and shared a similar thought process, the intensity of the teachers and students was magical and could be used to achieve anything…The ambience lends itself to the requisite discipline and determination needed…Being value driven is not enough. A strong value set accompanied by discipline and determination alone will bestow success.
"Without determination, one will be easily swayed by others who encourage you to give up your values and follow conventional methods… I find I am less politically motivated and I consider this as my strength. The objective of the Institute is to develop Love for God and fear of sin. I think we are marching towards this goal.”
Manager Divine Redefines Corporate Success
When Bhagavan Baba inaugurated the Sri Sathya Sai University in 1981, speaking to the students on that landmark occasion, He had stated:
“This College has not been established just to prepare you for earning degrees. The main purpose is to help you to cultivate Self-knowledge and Self-confidence, so that each one of you can learn Self-sacrifice and earn Self-realization. The teaching of the University Curricula, the preparation for presenting you for the University examinations, and the award of University degrees are only the means employed for the end, namely, Spiritual uplift, Self-discovery and Social service through Love and Detachment. Our hope is that by your lives, you will be shining examples of Spiritual Awareness and its beneficial consequences to the individual and society.”
Today, when one looks at the lives of Jitendra Panjabi, Krishna Mohan, Manoj Gautam, and the like, one finds a fulfillment, to whatever extent it may be, of the University’s grand vision. It offers hope of a new world of business where integrity is as important as analytical ability, men and methods are governed by ethics and morality, and the sole objective of business is not to sell to the society whatever it produces to further its selfish interests, but to serve society with whatever it needs, and in a manner that is economically sound, ecologically harmonious, environmentally friendly and humanely driven, for the business of business is not divorced from the business of life.
When the Divine Manager designs the syllabus, selects the teachers, defines the values and exemplifies them in His actions, choices, words and the silence between them, the inevitable net result is the trail blazing School of Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Puttaparthi.
End of Part-1
- Bishu Prusty
Vol 6 Issue 08 - AUGUST 2008
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