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Business Schools Take On Indian Philosophy

Indian-born management thinkers such as Ram Charan, Vijay Govindrajan and Srikumar S Rao are among the world's hottest business gurus and they are transforming American business schools.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   01-01-2012
Bob Miglani author of Treat Your Customers says the leadership lessons contained in the Bhagavad Gita are being applied widely in management circles because the dog-eat-dog workplace has changed

NEW YORK – Bob Miglani, a senior director in Pfizer and author of Treat Your Customer told BrainGain that the lessons in leadership contained in the Bhagavad Gita were being applied widely in corporate America because the old, dog-eat-dog workplace had changed.

“The principles are being applied because the workforce today requires managers to be more collaborative rather than authoritative,” said Miglani.

“I think American executives are also getting exposed to spiritual values which are most often delivered by Indian management professors, in top American business schools. Indian professors such as Srikumar Rao are ideally placed to be the executive coaches of the next generation of Fortune 500 firms because they manage to balance their teachings with an East-West flavor. These academics are very smart and their message comes across so easily…in a warm and fuzzy sort of way,” added Miglani.

Professor Srikumar Rao, who is also a prolific author developed his course, "Creativity and Personal Mastery," in the mid-90s and has taught it at Columbia Business School, the London Business School and the Haas School of Business at Berkley. Rao hands out eclectic reading lists and his lectures include mental exercises, breathing and meditation techniques and "total immersion exercises." 

“In the Indian tradition, you are taught action is in our control, but the outcome/goal is out of our hands. I encourage executives to invest completely in the process and not the goal.”

He uses Indian philosophy, parables, anecdotes from the Bhagavad Gita and other ancient texts to guide business school graduates to self-improvement and corporate enlightenment.Through his “self-mastery” course, Rao has also helped managers boost their leadership skills. He has coached people on Wall Street and executives at Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, United Airlines, Google and Microsoft. His course is highly rated for helping people balance the compulsion to amass wealth with the desire for happiness.

‘Invest in the process, not the goal’

Professor Rao’s course is highly rated for helping people balance the compulsion to amass wealth with the desire for happiness.

“The West is indoctrinated heavily into achieving goals: good grades will get you into a good college which in turn will get you a good job. If you succeed your life is good, otherwise you are doomed. So everyone is goal-centric and gets set up to face inevitable disappointments,” Rao told BrainGain.

“In the Indian tradition, you are taught action is in our control, but the outcome/goal is out of our hands. I encourage executives to invest completely in the process and not the goal. If they invest every fiber of their being into the process they are likely to enjoy the outcome. It is a paradox. When you become detached from the outcome, strangely enough the probability of achieving the goal rises dramatically,” says Rao.

Rao’s new book Happiness at Work is flying off US bookshelves and provides a unique way of thinking about problem solving.    

About 10 percent of the professors at places such as Harvard Business School, Kellogg School of Business, and the Ross School of Business are of Indian origin. Dipak C. Jain, dean of the Kellogg School, acknowledged, "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."

The Gita Gets Trendy

BusinessWeek noted that while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century B.C. Chinese classic The Art of War, the trendy, ancient, Eastern text today is the more introspective Bhagavad Gita.

BusinessWeek noted that while it used to be hip in management circles to quote from the sixth century B.C. Chinese classic The Art of War, the trendy, ancient, Eastern text today is the more introspective Bhagavad Gita. Times have changed since Gordon Gekko quoted Sun Tzu in the 1987 movie Wall Street. The US magazine pointed out that the rallying cry in the 1980s and 1990s may have been "greed is good" but Indian management thinkers are now celebrating the idea of what you might call “Karma capitalism” by underscoring that executives should be motivated by a broader purpose than money.

“Good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain.”

“To Sun Tzu, author of the once-hip management treatise The Art of War, victory should be the great object. Winning the battle is all about unyielding discipline. The Bhagavad Gita, is more in keeping with today’s zeitgeist, contains the wisdom of Lord Krishna. Focus on your thoughts and actions, rather than the outcome,” noted the US magazine. “Good leaders are selfless, take initiative, and focus on their duty rather than obsessing over outcomes or financial gain.”

The magazine said the Bhagvad Gita was popular because “for both organizations and individuals, it's a gentler, more empathetic ethos that resonates in the post-tech-bubble, post-Enron zeitgeist.” It’s also probably more in synch with today’s concepts such as "emotional intelligence" and "servant leadership."


Uttara Choudhury is Associate Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.   

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