So, what specifically does Indian philosophy offer that the current thought in management doesn’t? Says V. Krishnamurthy, former Deputy Director, BITS Pilani: “The introspective qualities of ancient Indian philosophy are missing in the modern materialistic corporate chase. The latter is always focussed on getting things accomplished (without bothering much about the cost).” It means that the cornerstone of corporate philosophy should be something bigger than money. This is not to say that businesses should stop, or even slow down, their pursuit of profits. It simply means that corporate leaders should adopt a more holistic approach, incorporating the interests of all stakeholders— like customers, employees, society, etc.—instead of remaining focussed only on narrow shareholder value.
C.K. Prahalad, Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor of Corporate Strategy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, calls it Inclusive Capitalism. In this context, he says corporate social responsibility, so popular among companies and their spin meisters these days, is at best a transition phase for a company. “That’s where you learn that there is more to business than just profit maximisation. The final stage will be reached when companies realise that dealing with the impoverished in the world is not something they should do only once in a while. The key lies in thinking differently about the very purpose of business,” he says.
But ISB’s initiative is not really as path breaking as it looks. Ironically, B-schools and management thinkers in India have woken up to the ancient wisdom contained in our holy books only after these ideas were embraced by the West. Leading management gurus of Indian origin such as Govindarajan, Prahalad, Ram Charan and Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune Foundation Professor of Technology, Kellogg Shool of Management, among others, have disseminated this wisdom through their body of works for years now. In an article on the subject in 2006, BusinessWeek had quoted Dipak C. Jain, Dean of Kellogg School of Management, as saying: “When senior executives come to Kellogg, Wharton, Harvard, or Tuck, they are exposed to Indian values that are reflected in the way we think and articulate.”
Business organisations have woken up to the value of Indian philosophy in a big way over the past six years, says Swami Chidananda, Joint Secretary, Rajghat Education Centre, Krishnamurti Foundation India. From a corporate perspective, we have to make decisions based on what is good for the customer and the community—in other words, we have to think from an ecosystem perspective, says Prasad Kaipa, Executive Director, Centre for Leadership, Innovation & Change, ISB; and CEO Adviser & Coach, Kaipa Group. “Then, the Tata Group’s takeover of Corus and Jaguar-Land Rover and its belief that it can turn those companies around, have made the western world quite curious about Indian management approaches,” he adds.
It is early days still, but many other B-schools are looking at this space. IIM Calcutta has a management centre for human values, and the FMS in Delhi and some others are also looking at it.
M. Rammohan Rao, Dean of ISB, feels Indian philosophy is relevant “because business should not just be about one self but about the society and the environment it works within”.
Pai of Infosys has an interesting take on the growing importance of Indian philosophy in management.
“The fact is that we are Indians; so, consciously or unconsciously, the country’s value system resonates in what we do.” And not only does it hold true for the companies but also for individuals leading them. He cites the example of Infosys Chairman & Chief Mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy: his philosophy of simplicity, many will argue, is really a reflection of pan-Indian values.
The Tata Group, which, arguably, practices inclusive capitalism with greater zest than any other business house, is another example. Says Radhakrishnan Nair, Chief Human Resource Officer, Tata Steel: “Wealth generation is important but it should be kept in trust to improve the communities in which we live. The Parsi motto of ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’ is extremely rich in its effort to elevate human suffering. A true Tata person believes in simple living, high thinking and being genuinely affectionate.”
According to Prahalad, the idea is to develop a system that places the individual at the epicentre of corporate strategy. Such a goal, though, looks unattainable in the short to medium term. Can it ever be reached? That’s impossible to answer with any degree of certitude, but if it is, then India would have made a defining contribution to management science. Says Kaipa: “It may be time for what a Los Angeles Times reporter proposed last year—that the US should move towards Dharmacracy not Democracy.”
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