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Ethical Business at Work – A Personal Experiment

By om at May 12, 2008 6:42 AM

I would like to take you back to 1972, to a far away place called Tinsukia in Upper Assam where I had already completed a decade of my career as an engineer in a tea machinery company employing 750 people.

My management colleagues, our union leaders and I watched helplessly as—after almost a decade of bitter conflict—the situation with our workmen was turning into an all-out war. Production became a trickle; go-slows and tool-down strikes were the order of the day. Effigies of management men were burnt. Home life was affected. All our armchair criticism got us nowhere—the darkness kept getting darker. We were in the grip of a crippling crisis.

FROM CRISIS TO CURE

The idea of turning the searchlight inwards—and getting connected to something higher—came to me as a weapon against helplessness, at the hour of my deepest Arjuna-like despondency, from an unexpected source. A sixteen member Moral Re-Armament (MRA) team had come to our town and presented their own personal stories of change starting with themselves, triggering off wider change in society. I was deeply stirred. Soon after this exposure, I apologised to an ailing worker for my callousness. This liberated me from my glib self-centredness, widened my horizons and empowered me to step out of my cocoon as the Technical Director of the company. Once my outlook (drishti) changed, the world outside (shrishti) changed—then and there, instantly. I then realised that the problem was never out there; it was in here.

I began to see for the first time in my business life, our men as people no different from me. Confrontation gave way to cooperation; foes became friends. Each crisis that came in our way became a stepping-stone for a higher level of awareness.

A HURRICANE OF CHANGE

Once our relationship was healed we jointly started mending things around us. A hurricane of change was unleashed. What we were unable to do in a decade, we achieved in a few months. We obtained a housing grant-cum-loan from the state govt. to build new houses for our workers, started a consumers’ cooperative stores a primary school and a farming cooperative. We even began to tackle corruption in some govt. departments with whom we had dealings. We also enlisted students in a cleanliness drive in the market area. We had learnt from MRA to put people before profit and were pleasantly surprised to find that profits actually soared!

ON THE ETHICAL PATH

The long and arduous journey on the Ethical Path started with genuine introspection and an honest apology. It is not the easier path but—for a businessman—the only path to bliss, as life has taught me.

Let me share with you some of my experiences of this ethical journey:

• Refusal to bribe led to a breakthrough to a higher level of fabrication at our Guwahati factory.

• Unwilling to bribe for getting faulty steel castings passed, I had to close down our unviable Ranchi foundry unit, which freed me for more rewarding ventures.

• By invoking in an executive engineer of TNEB the urge to participate in building a clean India, I was able to secure power for our new factory in Coimbatore without bribing.

BLISS OUT OF BUSINESS

Three decades later, the journey continues. Bliss is said to be Man’s Eternal Quest. Is it possible to derive bliss out of business? I believe it is. The mantra is:

Yogah karmasu kausalam – Skill in action is Yoga.

There is an Arjuna in each of us. Krishna is always there; only we have to become His flute.

Wherever is Krishna, the Lord of YOGA, wherever is Partha, the archer, there are prosperity, victory, happiness and firm (steady or sound) policy; this is my conviction. (Concluding stanza of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta)

It is my conviction too—born out of a lifetime of experimentation—that the Ethical Path, the Yoga of Business is our highest calling and greatest fulfilment.

(May 2007)

Om P.Bagaria, now 66, a mechanical engineer from IIT, Kharagpur, has been avidly involved in tea machinery R&D for over three decades. Upon coming in touch with MRA (now Initiatives of Change, www.iofc.org) in 1972, he experienced deep inner transformation and has been associated with its worldwide work ever since. An exposure to Vedanta first through the Chinmaya Mission, then Swami Sahajananda and now Maa Purnananda, (www.satyavrat.org) has furthered his spiritual quest. As a Vanaprasthi, he has acquired a new name: Pranav.

During the last fifteen years, Om and some of his friends have come together to create Navadarshanam (New Vision), a spiritual-ecological exploration of practical ways to come out of the cycle of wanton destruction and alienation by changing our thinking, actions and lifestyle.