Monday, September 19, 2005


Last week I got a call from a columnist of a local business publication, Michelle Gahagan. She had some nice things to say about my forthcoming book, "BUDDHA IN THE BOARD ROOM." It's always encouraging to get reviews like this. It helps validate your mission and purpose. Also, really great to hear from others who share your path and passion!

Business in Vancouver September 13-19, 2005; issue 829

Michelle Gahagan

Luncheon Counters

Buddha needs a seat at your boardroom table

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail letting me know about an upcoming book called Buddha in the Boardroom. No question it's a catchy title, and there's no question that the confluence of the concepts of Buddha and boardroom happens to be of great interest to me. Digging a little further, I talked to the author, Allan Holender, about what's on his mind and how these seemingly disparate notions could ever come together. What he told me surprised me and gave me some hope that the movement that has long been predicted - social entrepreneurship, if you will - might finally have some legs.

I believe that there's a substantial movement afoot where individuals want to be part of something that is authentic to them and their lives. After all, every organization is by definition a grouping of mere mortals, brought together to accomplish something, whether it's operating a Royal Bank branch or installing mufflers. The defiling of corporate America in recent years has made us all acutely aware of the shortcomings of profit without regard for consequence.

At a micro level, we're somewhat insulted. You don't need to be a career lefty to find the conduct of the WorldCom executives disgusting. You merely have to have a pulse.

Holender has had experience in radio, and, along the way, one of his adventures was to interview interesting people in front of a live audience.

One of the people that he talked to was Arren Stephens, the founder of Nature's Path, now the biggest natural cereal vendor in the world. Other interviewees like Bob Rennie and Ian Wilkinson (real estate king and Radical Entertainment head, respectively) gave Holender pause.

What was different about the way they were doing things and why did they seem to be able to bring larger value propositions into what they did for a living?

Due in large part to the inspiration of Stephens and Joel Baken (of The Corporation fame), Holender did some digging and discovered that underneath what some of these exceptional people were doing was something called the Eightfold Path.

I'll confess a healthy interest in all things Buddhist myself, but I'm a bit of a beginner. As such, here is an exceedingly simplistic view of the Path: we all get in our own way but can, on a minute-by-minute basis, make more evolved, more informed choices (resulting in greater happiness for us and others). If we made choices to speak authentically and truthfully as well as act with integrity it would be a great first step to getting out of our own way.

How does Holender relate this to the boardroom? These seemingly minute choices, all made dozens of times every day by each individual in an organization can make a historic difference.

Leaders, by definition, have the biggest responsibility to stand up and make those authentic choices - biggest responsibility, biggest impact. Shout out here to Dave Mowat and Chip Wilson, just to choose two.

There is a risk that this is the flavour of the month. Every company seems to have something to say about triple bottom line, the point of which is to speak to something other than pure profit motivation.

What Holender found is that by necessity much of this starts with the motivation of individuals within organizations to be visionary and show leadership to ensure that the Buddhist principles of engaging in more that pure pursuit of profit get taken seriously.

It's pretty amazing to talk to Holender and hear the desire of someone who, at 64, wants to continue to learn and grow and provide value to others.

Holender tells the story of buying his Tony Robbins franchise years ago. He met the big guy and has some interesting things to say about him and his motivations. What's the difference between Tony and what Holender is talking about now?

The desire to do things other than engage in endless self-interest, which in its simplest form is what many motivational speakers and writers do. Tom Vu just wanted you to get the boat and the chicks, didn't he?

There is no doubt that something is happening here. There is a wide chasm between what the world at large is experiencing (Enron, Worldcom) and what our authentic selves tell us ought to be happening (Vancity, The Corporation, general disgust at corporate greed and people like Bernie Ebbers). Everyone feels the disconnect. The question is: what's the best tool to bridge the gap? If it turns out to be the Eightfold Path (or even a Twofold Path to start) the world can't help but be a far, far better place.

Michelle Gahagan is a Vancouver lawyer who deals with all manner of entrepreneurial issues. She can be reached at

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