enormous personal wealth is not all that there is to the great Indian economic
calling for some leaders of Indian business to cut back on "vulgar"
public displays of excess and to control breakaway executive pay, Indian prime
minister Manmohan Singh has had the courage to say in public what is privately
troubling many political leaders in the west. More than that, he bravely delivered
his message to some of the biggest corporate leaders at a Confederation of Indian
Industry annual meeting, hardly a sympathetic forum to such views.
Western media have expressed alarm at the tone of this speech, speculating that
it heralds a reversal of India''s drive for economic reform and growth. Others
have politely ridiculed it as a "sermon" from an "elder statesman"
these attempted put downs, the powerful truth in Dr Singh''s speech is that in
a country where the poor are still waiting to experience the "trickle down"
of prosperity, excess is simply poor leadership and could lead to huge social
this worse, India does not have an entrenched aspirational drive, so dominant
in the West, and the poorer Indian citizens meekly watch the open display of wealth
of the rich, while putting down their own exclusion from it as their karma and
hope that they, too, one day, will enjoy some of that prosperity.
one thing that could derail India''s economic miracle is not the wise words of
Dr Singh, it is the social unrest triggered by the open display of the excesses
of corporate high flyers.
is not a new thing in India. What is new is that this wave of outlandish spending
by the few at the top comes at a time when more than half of the community is
waiting, or feels that it is waiting, to enjoy the benefit of that economic growth.
This simple timing could undermine any collective will to become a modern economy.
the flamboyant and vulgar big spenders, are the many Indian corporate leaders
who have learnt to combine success with humility - leaders such as Narayana Murthy
and his top team at Infosys, which sets out core values as, "One should be
humble, have respect for competitors and a healthy sense of paranoia, else we
will disappear like dew on a sunny morning".
from Infosys, "We would just like to be known as decent, honest and trustworthy
people and then as smart people".
course, at Infosys words and actions go well together - in 1996 it set up the
Infosys Foundation, which since then has funded medical facilities for remote
rural areas, created pension schemes, provided aid for orphans and street children,
adopted a "library for every school" campaign that so far has financed
5,500 libraries in rural government schools and has paid for the reconstruction
of old schools. The company truly "walks the humble talk" and these
corporate actions will keep people united around the drive for economic reform
land of profound truths
As I have written before, India has given the world
Ganesh, Krishna, the Upanishads, Buddha, the spirit of Diwali and in more recent
times the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and others. Western business is ready to learn;
perhaps due to the words of PM Singh, we now realise that many Indian corporate
leaders also need to learn.
Gandhi famously said "there is enough in this world for everyone''s need,
but not enough for everyone''s greed".
was a major theme of social commentary in the West during the years of the ''80s
when corporate excess reached new heights. In the celebrated movie, Wall Street,
the advocate of this corporate greed and excess, Gordon Gekko, tells his audience
"greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.
Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit".
What he failed to say was that greed is also the great divider; greed leads to
social unrest and conflict.
would have had trouble should he have met the Buddha, who would have instructed
him in powerful alternatives to greed - alternatives such as compassion, doing
no harm to others, helping where possible, not clinging to "me, my, I"
and finding happiness by helping others find their way. This is a vastly more
caring corporate alternative to the single-minded drive for personal success and
the ability to spend, spend and spend.
brand experts and advertising gurus tell us that "caring is commercial",
and when inspirational leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi urged us to aim for complete
harmony of thought, word and deed, he was outlining a strongly commercial value
system for business, but this has not changed the behaviour or profile of many
business leaders and Dr Singh has done India a service in criticising excess.
leaders have expressed concerns about the image of business - as Mr Kumar Mangalam
Birla, chairman of The Aditya Birla Group, has pointed out, "The world of
business today is going through a crisis of trust, where the credibility of business
leaders and the legitimacy of business organisations are subjected to questioning."
Mr Birla understands
what he is talking about for he heads India''s first major multinational company,
The Aditya Birla Group, which has over 72,000 employees sourced from over 20 nationalities
and produces viscose stable fibre, cement, metals, branded apparel, chemicals
and is a large private sector insurance company and among the largest asset management
groups in India.
Birla knows that "caring is commercial" and he puts it this way "Once
again, people are searching for the soul of the corporation." As the Indian
economy unleashes immense opportunities for business growth, it is important that
beacons like Mr Birla shine on the leadership and values opportunities that can
grow at the same time. In fact, these can underpin long-term success for Indian
could Mahatma Gandhi offer to the modern debate about leadership, excess and values?
First he would be a strong advocate of applying your ethics to all parts of life,
with no exceptions. That is, business is no different from your life in community
or family, so apply the same ethics.
would stand today for complete honesty in business, for generating good profits
but at the same time giving back to the community in which you operate. He would
regard business very much as a service to the community, not merely a generator
of windfall profits.
would also urge business to bring people together and to foster community. He
would probably be suspicious of many multinationals and you could imagine him
campaigning on contemporary environmental issues, pointing out with great passion
that business needs to be a friend of the earth.
caring approach to leadership is often criticised in the West as being too soft,
but it can have commercial outcomes a survey of 7,500 workers by US firm
Watson Wyatt found real dollar benefits within caring organizations. It found
highly committed employees produce a 112-per cent three-year total return to shareholders,
whereas those with low employee commitment returned 76 per cent.
to that research showing that when businesses lose customers, in 70 per cent of
cases they loose them because they do not like the human side of doing business
evidence for caring goes further and lends more support to the Gandhi approach;
the Gallup group is the leading researcher into what makes up a strong brand,
and their findings highlight the value of human qualities. Gallup looked at customer
loyalty and brand advantage, finding people want a brand that:
to me, cares for me
delivers what it promises
always interesting by being different or innovative
up our dealings smoothly and simply
happy, and projects this happiness
training leaders and managers to improve their communication, I often say, "nobody
cares how much you know until they know how much you care".
Birla has explained the extent of his commitment to values: "Great businesses
are never built on the quick sands of opportunism. I reiterate that if living
by our values means, perhaps, growing at a pace slower than we would otherwise
have liked, so be it. For us, leadership lies at the heart of knowing what we
call to leadership from former US President Bill Clinton sums up this mood. "We
all need to find as few demons as possible - and as many dreams as possible".
Gopalakrishnan, executive director, Tata Sons, who addressed the search for leadership,
has also outlined four features of ethical leadership:
leadership has a sustained impact on people
leadership is institutionalised, not personalised
is never proven, it is tested each day
public-life flaws of leaders affect moral purpose
concludes that the gap between the demand for leadership and the supply of leadership
is huge, and warns, "The greatest mistake leaders can make is to assume that
results alone matter, that morality and goodness do not count."
sums it up well, "Like human happiness, leadership is easy to recognise but
difficult to grasp."
and the Indian ethos
Through the Bhagavad-Gita, India gave the world the
doctrines of "karma-yoga", selfless action performed with an inner detachment
from its results. With this view, corporate leaders would primarily see themselves
as custodians, maximising the benefits for everyone, not just for a small elite.
Indian philosophers have long seen the seeds of destruction as being found in
self-centredness and ego, so Dr Singh is echoing this long held philosophy.
of the most popular of Hindu deities is Ganesh, the chubby, roly-poly god with
the elephant head who is the remover of obstacles, and who is venerated at the
start of journeys, in new homes or in new business ventures. In sculptures, the
position of Lord Ganesh''s trunk is highly meaningful - to the left, is the direction
for success in the world, while to the right it represents "moksha",
good for renouncing the world.
those who have been lavishing small fortunes on themselves
should choose a Ganesh with the trunk to the right, and thereby find that happiness
is not a matter of money alone.
Manallack is a communication consultant, professional speaker and trainer. His
training programs include creating a corporate communication culture, and how
managers and leaders can create engaged employees. Stephen is the author of You
Can Communicate (Pearson 2002). He is a member of the committee of management
of the Australia India Business Council.