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Gita is new mantra for US businesses

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 18:38 IST
Highlight Story

Big businessess in the United States are embracing Indian philosophy in a significant but sometimes quirky new trend.

A recent whirlwind East Coast tour by Swami Parthasarathy, one of India's best-selling authors on Vedanta, was just one small manifestation of the new trend, according to BusinessWeek magazine.

Suddenly, phrases from ancient Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita are popping up in management tomes and on websites of consultants, while 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.

More important, India-born strategists also are helping transform corporations. Academics and consultants such as C.K. Prahalad, Ram Charan, and Vijay Govindrajan are among the world's hottest business gurus, Pete Engardio and Jena McGregor write in the Oct 30 issue of the publication.

About 10 percent of professors 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 -- far higher than other ethnic groups.

"When senior executives come to Kellogg, Wharton, Harvard, or [Dartmouth's] Tuck, they are exposed to Indian values that are reflected in the way we think and articulate," the weekly quotes Dipak C. Jain, dean of the Kellogg School as saying.

Indian theorists, of course, 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. Another is the belief that companies should take a more holistic approach to business - one that takes into account the needs of shareholders, employees, customers, society and the environment.

Some can even foresee the development of a management theory that replaces the shareholder-driven agenda with a more stakeholder-focused approach.

"The best way to describe it is inclusive capitalism," the magazine says, citing Prahalad, a consultant and University of Michigan professor who ranked third in a recent Times of London poll about the world's most influential business thinkers. "It's the idea that corporations can simultaneously create value and social justice."

You might also call it Karma Capitalism. For both organisations and individuals, it's a gentler, more empathetic ethos that resonates in the post-tech-bubble, post-Enron zeitgeist.

These days, concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "servant leadership" are in vogue. Where once corporate philanthropy was an obligation, these days it's fast becoming viewed as a competitive advantage for attracting and retaining top talent.

Where the rallying cry in the 1980s and 1990s may have been "greed is good", today it's becoming "green is good".

And while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century BC Chinese classic The Art of War, the trendy ancient Eastern text today is the more introspective Bhagavad Gita, the Businessweek said.

Earlier this year, a manager at Sprint Nextel Corp. penned the inevitable how-to guide: the key message of "Bhagavad Gita on Effective Leadership" is that enlightened leaders should master any impulses or emotions that cloud sound judgment. Good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain, the weekly said.

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

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