Plenary Session: A noble cause – a key for inspiration, sustainability & best talents?
Transcript of speech by Dato Vijay Eswaran
Today we are here to talk about Nobility…or a noble cause and its effect on business and industry, particularly in these times of crisis. Before we can do that we have to establish what is nobility?
Why do people need a noble cause, because a noble cause is what holds people together in times such as this. It is by no accident that the Chinese letter representing crisis is the same for opportunity.
In crisis while trying to identify a solution for it. I don’t think is possible to do both at the same time. Critics and various economic experts will come forward to say that they know the causes and the reasons for the crisis today. The same experts are the ones who have tried to stop entrepreneurs since the beginning of trade.my own considered opinion, it is essentially impossible to study the reason and rationale for a
There are some essential differences between experts and those who change the world that we live in. The 1% that composes the music we listen to, write the books that we read, makes the films we watch, see the world differently from other…..the 1% that changes the world. This 1% doesn’t have time to critique the problem. They are too focussed on finding the solution.
In our own case, we essentially went against all advice when we started ten years ago. We went into Hong Kong when everyone was leaving after the handover to China in 1997. We started an e-commerce company just as the internet bubble was bursting. As in the words of Mohd Yunus, the Nobel laureate,” I did everything they told me not to do.”
And I can echo his sentiments today. This is a time of opportunity…the golden era.
Because nobility in essence is about attitude and in order to have this attitude you also have to have altitude. You need to take a look over your own walls and fences. You have to care for not just the world around you but for mankind. Hence In my own company, we have a motto that, in its essence comes from Mahatma Gandhi, that we call RYTHM. Raise Yourself To Help Mankind.
How did we derive this? There was a man who once approached Gandhi and said he was prepared to lay down his life in service. Gandhi asked him what he had to offer. “Are u rich? The man said, ‘No’.
“Are u educated? “ The answer was No.
Gandhiji said,” Then go back and raise yourself, then together we can help mankind. “And that is where we found our motto, our raison d’?tre from. Raise Yourself To Help Mankind.
We had our 10th anniversary celebrations just a few months ago and I was made aware that we had 30 people that had been with us for ten years. That may not sound like much today when a few thousand people working in the various companies of the group. But at the end of our first year in business, we had less than 70 people. So that’s nearly 40% of them who have stayed back after ten years. So, we went back to analyse and understand what we did different then, as opposed to now. And one of the main things we remembered is that we used to spend a lot more time with our employees, sharing our ideas, explaining our philosophy, our motivation and our inspiration to them. Also, the fact that we contribute a certain percentage of our revenue to charitable causes that our employees can identify with helped. Hence, we had people who were willing to work an extra hour, deal with an extra customer or come into work over the weekend, because they felt that their efforts would help feed another child somewhere, contribute to another brick for a school, put a roof over someone’s head or pay for someone’s medical expenses for an operation.
So these were some driving points that kept them focussed and vibrant and it was a lot more powerful than any bonus that we could offer. And of these 30 people, we have at least 5 who have gone on to become directors of various companies in the group. And these 5 are those who worked their way up from the clerical level to become Directors. Hence, we have a clear case in point where a noble cause, not only sustained and drove but also inspired a business, during times of crisis.
Nobility is where nothing else changes except one’s vision. It reminds me of a time that I was on a beach early dawn with a friend and as I woke up, it was the first time in a long while that I had seen a sunrise. I was captivated with the splendour of the early morning sun spanning across the sky. And I looked over to my friend who was also awake and I said,” What a wonderful spectacle!” And he turned around, swatting at some mosquitoes and said irritably, “What sight? What sunrise? These damn mosquitoes are all over me! “
Nobility is about being able to see past the mosquitoes to admire the beauty of the sunrise.
Business itself is about having a noble cause. A baker bakes bread for a whole village. And the profit becomes more or less his ability to continue providing the same service, i.e, providing bread to an entire village. The whole point of business itself is that you are providing a service to someone else. The noble cause is the driving force.
Hence, in the words of Adam Smith, who I quote here:
“Trying to do one's best to achieve what one would like to achieve can be a part of rationality, and this can include the promotion of non-self-interested goals which we may value and wish to aim at. To see any departure from self-interest maximization as evidence of irrationality must imply a rejection of the role of ethics in actual decision taking. “
Adam Smith's understanding of moral sentiments also makes it clear why both sympathy and self-discipline played such an important role in Smith's concept of good behaviour. As Smith himself puts it, “ Man, according to the Stoics, ought to regard himself not as something separate but as a citizen of the world, a member of the vast commonwealth of nature and to the interest of this great community, he ought at all times to be willing that his own little interest should be sacrificed.”
Even though prudence goes well beyond self-interest maximization, Smith saw it in general only as being “of all virtues that which is most helpful to the individual, whereas humanity, justice, generosity and public spirit are the qualities most useful to others.”
But nothing illustrates the course of nobility better than this true story of a mine accident that happened about 30 years ago. There were about 40 odd miners trapped underground when a coal mine caved in. All of them were trapped in different pockets throughout the mine and they were able to communicate with each other only by yelling thru the fallen rocks. All of them were miners with the single exception of the mining engineer. And he also happened to be the only one with a watch. Also, he was aware that with the mine collapsed as it were, they had virtually only four hours of air and he became fearful that they would not be rescued in time. Realising his error in sharing this fact with the others, he became the official time keeper. And he would call out every 5 minutes,”…3 hours 50 minutes to go….3 hours 45 minutes to go…and so on. In between the miners would ask him,” isn’t 5 minutes up yet?” And he would ask them to wait till he called out time again.
Finally the miners were rescued pocket by pocket. Upon reaching the surface, the miners were ecstatic and they profusely thanked the rescue & extraction team for rescuing them in such a short time. However, the extraction crew informed them that they were truly amazed that the miners were still alive after being trapped…for almost 2 days without any air!
And the last person to be extracted was the engineer and he was the only fatality of the day. Simply because he was the only one who knew the truth but chose instead to be noble on behalf of his brethren. That ladies and gentlemen, is what nobility is all about.