Chairman, CE Group of Companies
How do you apply Buddhist management in your personal and professional life?
I follow Buddha’s teachings and practices. Buddhist management too is a part of these practices. I always try my best to accommodate the teachings in both my professional as well as personal life. To put it simply, the essence of Buddha’s teachings “Bahujan sukhaya, bahujan hitaya" or “well-being of all” is what I practice in my daily life. I work and live for my benefit and for the benefit of many. My actions are mostly based on reality and not on perception. I try to overcome any perceived fear which might have been conceived due to ignorance, selfishness and cravings. These ideals fall under the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha’s teaching. The Eightfold Path is divided into three parts of Sila, Samadhi and Paññā. Sila is about abstaining from telling lies, killing, cheating or stealing, sexual misconduct and indulging in intoxicants. These precepts can be applied to one’s professional and personal life, which helps one avoid committing unwholesome actions; eventually, little by little, they will ultimately help reduce stress in our lives.
I try to avoid causing intentional hurt or harm to others through my vocal, physical and mental actions. I also do share the knowledge I have gained through many years of experience in the shortest possible time with whoever I come across. Mentoring and counseling people from different walks of life and age groups is a passion of mine. I have great respect and compassion for elders and love for those who are younger who come into contact with me. I express gratitude to all who help or facilitate me and my intentions, my family, staff, friends and people known to me. I try my best to forgive those who cause me pain, intentionally or unintentionally.
I do not believe in doing business that brings harm to others, for example, I have not engaged in businesses regarding poisonous products, liquor, poultry and arms and ammunition because they result in the direct loss of life. I carry out my responsibilities and deliberate on issues with awareness and give value to accountability. I try to meet all my commitments and carry out business practices with the best interest of all stakeholders in mind.
When I was younger, I had difficulty in controlling my anger. This inability to control my anger caused my staff a great deal of stress, which in turn did not yield good results. My behaviour dramatically changed after I began practicing Vipassana meditation. Self-realisation helped me to observe and understand the moments I got angry. In time, the more I absorbed my anger, the weaker its hold on me got and my actions. I learned to absorbed it completely as I realised the reasons behind my anger and learned to let such instances pass without reacting.
I make time to meditate for an hour each morning and evening. This relieves a lot of stress. I face tremendous amounts of desired and undesired situations during the day. Meditation both provides me with a clear mind to assess these situations and also provides me with mental relief. We rest to relieve our physical body but our subconscious mind is always working. In order to purge the mind of the impure thoughts that arises in our subconscious mind, meditation is necessary. Personally, these practices have helped me to bring positive changes in my health and character. Professionally, these practices have helped me manage CE and its associate ventures during their growth from a small, one-roomed office 26 years ago to the complex network of 26 ventures in diversified fields.
How do you ensure best Buddhist practices in everyday activities of your organization?
One requires honesty and credibility to run a successful business. We at CE try to strive for this as much as possible; we avoid taking any bad action against anyone. There is no unhealthy competition between us and our competitors nor do we have any negativity towards them. In fact, our competition treats us more like their colleagues. We focus on providing service without compromising on trust. It is our desire to provide the sincerest of services which is what draws our clients to us and makes them prefer to work with us.
While CE appreciates and strives to follow Buddhist practices, it is neither mandatory nor necessary for our staff to follow Buddhism. We are a non-sectarian company, however, we encourage the practice of Buddha’s teachings to uphold a high-level of moral conduct. The practice helps to improve concentration and sharpen the mind by teaching one how to best control one’s equanimity while maintaining awareness to a possible extent. I too follow the Buddhist code of conduct and try to set an example for my team by being someone positive to look up to.
CE is an organisation with 800 employees and a workforce of 2,600. Yet, we have created a structure, a network of understanding among all working with us. Our honest, sincere desire for service does not end with our clients but extends to our employees in the form of a ‘sense of belonging’ where we strive to meet everyone’s working environment, financial benefit, career growth needs. CE’s staff feel a sense of ownership extending beyond mere loyalty as we believe in working together, earning together and dividing the profits. We are firm believers in coexistence. This understanding within our organisation exemplifies our mantra of trust and transparency, which are integral parts of Buddha’s teachings.
How has Buddhist management made an impact in the daily operations of CE? What changes have you seen in your employees by applying such management strategies?
We make sure that our staff take care of their mental as well as physical health. Our goal is not only to provide a healthy work environment but to make sure our staff are satisfied with their personal lives as well. This promotion of a wholesome lifestyle ensures our staff can dedicate their work to the company without having to worry about anything else. Our employees do not hesitate to work overtime when needed, as they know they will be compensated for it when they require it. We at CE also have a Quiet room where our staff can go and spend as much quiet time as required in order to relieve the build-up of mental stress. I also teach Vipassana meditation in a quiet room every Monday. Anyone of the staff is free to join but it is not mandatory. We also have a group sitting every week.
I have often been asked how I manage to work efficiently throughout the day. I credit meditation for my ability to focus and right judgment. Besides meditating two hours daily, I also go for annual meditational retreats. I encourage my staff to do the same and we at CE provide 12 days paid leave for anyone who wishes to attend a Vipassana course. Besides my work ethic, I try to set myself up as an example for my staff in terms of food habits, money management, philanthropy, transparency and trust. I do believe, directly or indirectly, that my staff and people in my organisation are influenced by these factors. CE has, over the years, developed into a company with a culture of peaceful co-existence and knowledge sharing. Our management and ideology has ensured a high retention rate. Moreover, our staff work sincerely not merely for pay but rather because the work environment encourages a stress free, productive and friendly workplace.
How are you ensuring that your team follows ethical practices in business in human resource and conflict management?
We encourage honesty and encourage our staff to consult us regarding any problems they might face in their work as opposed to hiding them from the higher authorities. We have fostered an environment where there is no fear of authority; our staff feel comfortable discussing any serious issues that may arise. As no one is restricted from coming to talk with me regarding any problem, the bond between us colleagues has become quite strong.
According to Buddha’s four noble truths, if there is an issue (conflict) there must be reasons for the conflict. Reasons for conflict must be completely assessed and understood to find the cause and solution, as for every problem there is a solution. Once the cause is known, the best solution is sought and a methodology devised and implemented in order to resolve the conflict without hurting those concerned.
There is no company that exists without conflict. However, we can try to change antagonistic mindsets through Vipassana by observing the reality as it is. Whenever there is conflict at the company, we first assess the issue, and then we talk to those responsible and listen to what they have to say. We approach such issues with compassion and generally find the cause of such issues is rooted in miscommunication. Our first step is to deal with the individuals involved, then with their colleagues and then their supervisors and subordinates. We then help everyone come to a compromise that shall benefit all. As of now we have only had to face relatively minor disputes in the workplace - we are a very professional company run through the system with a human touch.
How is mindfulness and philanthropy being reflected as a result of such practices?
CE is a worker-based company. Everyone is a worker here including me. It is necessary to understand that employees will lose their mindfulness and focus if they are stressed by their work-life balance. An employee performs significantly better if the company makes an effort to provide a good work environment and takes care of certain stress inducing issues for its staff. To promote better mental health, our employees have access to our Quiet room to de-stress or take a Vipassana course with paid leave. The company shall no doubt eventually benefit from satisfied staff as their productivity and efficiency improves. CE assigns jobs to its employees as per their mental and physical capabilities for as long as they wish to work. When our employees turn 40, we encourage them to get involved with any social activities they are passionate about so that they can develop a good reputation in that sector by the time they retire. This way, even after retirement, they can be actively involved in the betterment of our society.
CE carries out a number of CSR activities. Our philanthropic beliefs are reflected in our scholarship schemes for visually impaired students, blood donation drives we have conducted, and donations for old age homes and orphanages. Our staff volunteer their services and donate their desired amount, which are utilised as funds for these aforementioned CSR activities.
As part of my own CSR activity, I personally present Rs 1,000 to all the children of my staff who secure high grades in their exams; there is no cap on the number of children who receive this award. I believe this provides further encouragement for our staff’s children to work hard without creating competition amongst them. I conduct a 24 hour residential programme called “The Coach” once every three months which helps participants upgrade their professional, and spiritual lifestyle. I mentor, council and help entrepreneurs during the startup phase as well as whenever they come across a crisis. I also conduct a 12 day residential Vipassana meditation course twice a year and sit for a course myself.
Buddha has stated that we give alms to others not just for their benefit but for ours as well. Giving to others dissolves the craving and promotes a detachment from materialistic things. While there is no limitation to how much one can give, one should not forget to care for one’s personal livelihood and family.
Why is it necessary for a company to be ethical? How is Buddhism and ethics in business related?
Any individual who practices Buddha’s teaching has no option but to be ethical. Being unethical brings harm to both self and others. However, in reality it is important to understand how ethical one can be. If I say that I am a 100 percent ethical person, no one is going to believe it, so we need to be reflective of our verbal and physical actions. If the company practices ethics, in the long run it pays off. CE’s identity as an ethical company is highlighted by the sheer number of strategic partners we have in our diversified ventures working in tandem with our team. We at CE believe our employees are less stressed and are more humble primarily because they are not forced to engage in unethical practices.
How is your group using the ideas of Buddhist teaching for marketing in the modern context?
Marketing and promotion need not mean exaggerating one’s product value or services in order to lure customers. CE Construction has gained the trust and confidence of its clients as we are true to our word. I assure my clients that CE shall provide them with the best service, best materials and best workmanship but also make them aware the product will fall short in terms of quality when compared to certain international standards. We are both honest and transparent with our clients, which engenders trust. We deliver goods on time which further aids in forging and maintaining a good relationship with our clients. This is how we have built our credibility. Our honesty, transparency and work ethic has rewarded us with good will, recognition, and several awards including the Frost and Sullivan’s award last year. Our working modality has helped set us apart from others. We don’t see any need for marketing tactics that may cause us to stray from our company ideology, one that is steeped in Buddhist ethics.