Creative leadership, inspired by Dharma

Creative leadership, inspired by Dharma

Industrialists have long had a key influence on the economic, cultural and educational development of India – famous names like Tata, Birla, Bajaj, O P Jindal, Sahu Ashok Jain and new ones like Azim Premji, Vallabh Bhanshali, Nemish Shah, Hitesh Doshi (Waaree) and the Firodias come to mind. Their stories, creativity, enterprise and leadership are often seen as elitist by the West or even greedy and expropriative, but the real truth is that they are nationalists at heart and see business as a means to develop society and community. Interdependence is understood and practiced quietly.

It is very important that we study and write their narratives, and also expose Indian business leadership for its distinctiveness in the study of business and finance. The Western model of wealth creation is to celebrate leadership which is highly commercial and market-driven, and the larger and faster the accumulation of wealth, the better. Little emphasis is given to the culture and values of the entrepreneur, and their legacy in terms of social and economic upliftment of society.

Animals and the environment have long been seen as resources to exploit, and consumers are to be sold products through advertising which they may not even need. Finance science is extremist in that it sees in charity and social responsibility a loss to the corporation and a confusion of its economic priorities. None other than the famous Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, endorsed such a materialistic view as scientific.

My research led me to study the Firodia family history and its enterprise story…

Mr Naval Mal Firodia invented the three-wheeler auto-rickshaw, which is now one of the world’s most popular and affordable means of public transport, and creates income for millions of families all over the world. Dr Abhay Firodia is his son and explained to me in detail how the business was built, and the clarity of their public mission and purpose throughout the business history.

In a detailed interview with Dr Firodia, the narrative is very telling in terms of the role of culture and tradition, and the respect given to this in protecting and preserving jobs, communities and society. For example, the auto-rickshaw was invented after his father’s experience of the Indian independence struggle, and his keenness to serve the new India with something practical and affordable. Dr Firodia also speaks about housing, and how developers encouraged them to invest in elite middle and upper class properties, but instead they kept their focus on what will help the masses, and invested in working class housing instead.

In economics and finance, the approach to education is very ‘rational and formulaic’ and this sadly continues to lead to the destruction of many businesses, including large global corporations. When our own students spend tens of thousands of dollars for such elite education, they are also paying to be brainwashed into unethical and irresponsible leadership. Values, culture and empathy often come from upbringing and family traditions and cultures, and when these are denied or ignored, and instead replaced by ‘rational’ economic science, society increases poverty and inequality. Leadership becomes very selfish and greedy, and devoid of humanity and empathy.

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After retiring, Dr Firodia has taken on the challenge to build a highly original and creative new cultural education institution outside Pune, to showcase to visitors from all over India, the rich history, science and wisdom of the Jain tradition. This $80-million project is funded entirely by the family foundation, and is a supreme example of sustainable enterprise, where education about science and values is seen as something worthy to pass on to future generations.

This is an example of leadership which is highly responsible and accountable, and also shows the significant ability of Indian entrepreneurs to mobilise a vast range of skills to build and shape something unique. Opening in September 2023, it will become a model institution for creative ethical education. Put it firmly in your diary for your next visit to India.

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Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

 

*Info: Dr Abhay Firodia Interview

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