In India Inc, Gita is the new bible

Rashmi Pratap | Updated on September 12, 2014

Karma connection: Suits in search of divine inspiration. Photo credit Shutterstock

Swati Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Enterprises, encourages employees to apply tenets of the Gita . Photo: Vivek Bendre

Guru Cool: SY Siddiqui, COO at Maruti Suzuki India, encourages employees to apply tenets of the Gita. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Bookmarked by corporates: Timeless Leadership. 18 Leadership Sutras from The Bhagawad Gita was recently handed out to employees across the Tata Group

Krishna is the new guru at B-schools and boardrooms across the country as companies look to the scriptures for management strategies

In October 2013, Tata group chairman Cyrus Mistry and other CEOs had an unusual session at their annual conclave on ethics in Mumbai. An IIM director made a presentation on the relevance of the Bhagavad Gita in management. Mistry concurred.

The result: copies of Timeless Leadership: 18 Leadership Sutras from the Bhagavad Gita, a book authored by this IIM Kozhikode director Debasish Chatterjee, have just been distributed across the Tata Group as the conglomerate looks to move beyond compliance to commitment and conscience.

In the heart of the capital, India’s largest automaker Maruti Suzuki is busy training its leaders in self-management and time management. The two-day course module, also based on the Bhagavad Gita, seeks to improve efficiency, effectiveness and effortlessness. Already, employees are making a beeline for the sessions, believing it will improve personal as well as professional lives.

Not too far away, engineering conglomerate, Escorts has roped in a motivation trainer, and a Bhagavad Gita-specialist, to inspire its 20 union leaders. The leaders have to work with management and workers, aligning their priorities with both. This makes their job tough as the company has one of the strongest unions in India. Teachings from the Gita are expected to ease the task.

State Bank of India, NTPC and NHPC, MMTC are among the growing list of corporates looking up to the Gita to solve management labyrinths. From mind control to value-based management, motivation and leadership, it seems to have an answer for everything.

As things stand, Lord Krishna seems to be emerging as the new Peter Drucker of management in India. After all, he is the one who imparted the timeless wisdom to his disciple Arjuna when he was indecisive about taking up arms in the epic battle of Kurukshetra in The Mahabharata.

What makes the 5,200-year-old text so relevant in today’s business and economic context? “The Gita is old in chronology but contemporary in essence. When basic business principles cease to work and when the rate of change outside is faster than change within, even businesses need deeper anchor points for decision-making not available in contemporary literature,” says Chatterjee of IIM Kozhikode.

Vivek Bindra, corporate trainer and director, Global ACT, says, “Gita is beyond time, place and circumstances. The temporary solutions we are seeking from the West are often inadequate. And that is turning corporates to the Gita.” Bindra started in 2006 with 10 corporate clients. That number is over 100 now.

Vice chairman at Piramal Enterprises, Swati Piramal agrees. “I think the importance of value is being recognised worldwide now.” Her group has, for many years, been following the values of Gita — knowledge (gyan), action (karma) and care (bhakti). “Our partners tell us that one of the reasons they want to work with us is because we walk the talk when it comes to our values.”

Not surprisingly, in 2011, when Vodafone Plc was looking for a partner to meet shareholding norms in its India operations, it sold 5.5 per cent stake to Piramal Healthcare in what was termed as a “strange deal”. To the outside world, the engagement of telecom with pharma was surprising. But to both parties, it wasn’t.

Given the regulatory uncertainty in the Indian operations, Vodafone wanted a partner who not only had the money but also believed in all the values that would allow Vodafone to focus on operations without bothering about the future of its shareholding.

And that is the aim of most corporates — to be able to run their businesses smoothly and effectively. Motivated employees who can improve productivity with a smile are a bonus. “Spiritual texts often contain sound management principles that can provide vital lessons in a corporate set-up. In addition to our regular programmes, we thought we could turn to the Bhagavad Gita for management insights,” says SY Siddiqui, COO, HR, IT & finance, at Maruti Suzuki.

The teachings become even more relevant in today’s economic environment where businesses are saddled with debts and losses while employees are uncertain about their future prospects. “You need internal cohesion, external resilience, ability to deal with stress and an ability to operate beyond the ego. And the Gita helps in all of this,” says Chatterjee.

At public sector undertakings, the crisis today is somewhat different. Under pressure from ministries as well as regulators, PSUs are suffering from a fear of decision-making. To motivate decision-making is a challenge at these companies.

Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) has opted for motivational soft skills programmes to improve their decision-making abilities. “When employees become push-start managers, learnings from the Gita help them become self-start leaders,” says Bindra. “This is precisely what Krishna did — he guided Arjuna to decide why fighting the battle was necessary.”

At India’s largest bank, State Bank of India (SBI), it is the managers of SME branches (specialising in lending to small and medium enterprises) that require motivation. And so, the bank has started a course for them based on the principles of Gita.

While the focus of these ‘spirituality in business sessions’ may differ from company to company, their impact surely goes beyond professional to personal level. A Maruti employee, who has participated in the course, says it helps draw a great parallel between the shloka Karmanye vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana in corporate life and real life. “Often we lose our cool over petty issues at work or at home. Practicing the mool mantra eases out things everywhere, gets things done fast and reduces stress,” he says.

An employee at SBI, who has participated in the course, says the content is very relevant for today’s lifestyle. “We are seeking return from every action. The Gita helps us understand the spirit of Karma and focus on doing rather than expecting immediate returns. It taught me to listen to others and take their perspective into account — something I had forgotten to do,” she says.

Bindra adds that lives today have become stressful and every day is like a battle. “Krishna trained Arjun to overcome depression and indecision in 48 minutes. Those similar questions are visible in today’s life and can be answered through the Gita.”

B-schools are also going all the way to increase the spirituality quotient in their courses. Corporate honchos as well as aspiring managers are now making a beeline to management courses to understand the importance of spirituality in business. IIM Kozhikode, for instance, has started a course on ‘Timeless Leadership and Self Incorporated’, based on insights from the Gita. “It is an open-ended course, which runs through the year,” says Chatterjee.

Mumbai’s SP Jain Institute has made compulsory a course on ‘The Science of Spirituality’ under its executive MBA programme. IIM Indore too has incorporated sessions on the Gita as part of the course module on ‘Ancient Oriental Philosophy and Spirituality’.

Despite Gita being an integral part of the Hindu culture, managers don’t look upon it as a religious text. “I clearly believe that this has nothing to do with religion or faith per se. We all recognise that the programme is management -focused and not on religious dimensions. It is about identifying the universal principles contained in the Gita and applying them to a corporate setting,” says Siddiqui.

He is quick to add, while the classic management texts provide valuable insights for people, the Bhagavad Gita and other sacred texts offer fresh perspectives, contributing to the body of management knowledge.

At the Piramal group, it is not only the values that are based on spirituality, but the group’s logo as well. The logo is the Gyan Mudra, the universal sign of knowledge. It is the sign of the hand when one is trying to gain knowledge — the tips of index finger and the thumb join to make a circle. “We have left the circle open as a symbol of humility. We believe that the circle of excellence is incomplete and that we want to learn more and keep an open mind,” says Piramal.

She has translated the teachings of the Gita into practical action. The group’s partnerships are based on values and quality is paramount — so much so that even the manufacturing facilities that don’t require approval from the USFDA have been designed in compliance with those norms. “Sometimes, it leads to delays. But we prefer long-term benefits over short-term gains,” she adds.

As things stand, spirituality in business seems to be here to stay. After all, when the economy is down and all else fails, many do turn to the ancient texts for sustenance. And the trend is catching up outside India too. Chatterjee is busy packing his bags for a conference in Hawaii. He is going to address Japanese CEOs on the relevance of the Gita in today’s fast-paced world. After 5,200 years, the wisdom of Gita is going global.

Published on February 21, 2014

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