Friday, October 27, 2006

Corporate America swears by the Gita
-- Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: Corporate America is embracing Indian
philosophy in a big way.

Suddenly, says Businessweek magazine in its latest
issue, phrases from ancient Hindu texts such as the
Bhagavad Gita are popping up in management tomes and
on Web sites of consultants. Top business schools have
introduced "self-mastery" classes that use Indian
methods to help managers boost their leadership skills
and find inner peace in lives dominated by work.

BW calls its "Karma Capitalism" -- a gentler, more
empathetic ethos that resonates in the
post-tech-bubble, post-Enron zeitgeist. And where it
used to be hip in management circles to quote from the
sixth century B.C. Chinese classic The Art of War, it
says, the trendy ancient Eastern text today is the
more introspective Bhagavad Gita .

In an episode recounted by BW , young executives from
corporate American gather in a suburban New Jersey
home to hear Swami Parthasarathy, one of India's
best-selling authors on Vedanta, speak about secrets
to business success – "concentration, consistency, and

The 80-year old Indian guru is on a whistlestop tour
of the US, counselling executives on the central
message of the Gita – to put purpose before self. He
has addressed meetings in b-schools such as Wharton
and in financial schools such as Lehmann Brothers,
advising fund managers and venture capitalists about
balancing the compulsion to amass wealth with the
desire for inner happiness.

In one incident, a young investment banker seeks
advice on dealing with nasty colleagues. Banish them
from your mind, he is told. "You are the architect of
your misfortune. You are the architect of your

BW attributes the sudden interest in Indian philosophy
to the sizeable presence of Indian teachers in
American B-Schools. About 10% of teachers at places
such as Harvard Business School, Northwestern's
Kellogg School of Business, and the University of
Michigan's Ross School of Business are of Indian
descent -- a far higher percentage than other ethnic

Indians also head some half dozen business schools in
the US, including Kellogg.

More important, says BW , Indian-born strategists also
are helping transform corporations. Academics and
consultants such as C. K. Prahlad, Ram Charan, and
Vijay Govindrajan are among the world's hottest
business gurus, advising some of the top US companies.

Indian theorists, says the journal, have a wide range
of backgrounds and philosophies. But many of the most
influential acknowledge that common themes pervade
their work. One is the conviction that executives
should be motivated by a broader purpose than money.

"The best way to describe it is inclusive capitalism,"
C.K.Prahlad, who ranked third in a recent Times of
London poll about the world's most influential
business thinkers told the magazine. "It's the idea
that corporations can simultaneously create value and
social justice."

"The key point," adds Ram Charan, a coach to CEOs such
as General Electric Co.'s (GE ) Jeffrey R. Immelt, "is
to put purpose before self. This is absolutely
applicable to corporate leadership today."

BW says Indian business teachers such as Michigan's
Prahlad, Harvard's Rakesh Khurana, Tuck's Govindrajan,
and Kellogg's Jain, are linking some of their theories
or deriving them Hindu philosophy.

"Marketing has tended to use the language of
conquest," Kellogg's Mohanbir Sawhney, a Sikh who
discusses the relevance of the Bhagavad Gita to
business on his Web site, tells BW. Now the focus is
on using customer input to dream up new products,
Sawhney says, which "requires a symbiotic relationship
with those around us."


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