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Mansfield Values at Work

An article published in the Mansfield College, Oxford Journal

Mansfield Values at Work

My year spent at Mansfield College as a mature student in 1980-81 marked a turning point in my life. From an international MBA business executive living in Brussels to a curious student exploring the principles of education among the hallowed halls of Oxford University, the experiences of that period were formative.

My chosen field was the application of computers in education. Believing that a better understanding of the principles of education was necessary for me to be more effective in my field, I applied and was accepted into a programme at the  Education Studies Dept with Professor John Wilson, a Fellow of Mansfield College as my tutor.

As part of the programme I worked with a number of Headmasters, Deputy Heads and educational researchers on a stimulating year long exploration. In addition to the course work we met to discuss the issues relating to the appropriate use of technology in education. One of the most valuable aspects of my Mansfield experience were the fine conversations that developed; not with an aim to convince the other person of your view, but to jointly explore an issue.  It was a marvellous example of learning and teaching.

Between sessions I spent time at the College imbuing the spirit of the institution and its people. It was clear that the fine spiritual principles at the heart of the College in its formation helped to create a fine atmosphere for study and reflection which was still evident. While at Mansfield I was also able to nurture my growing interest in philosophy. I attended lectures on Plato and spent 2 terms studying the Sanskrit language which helped me better appreciate the fine philosophic traditions of India.

My next major decision was to forego the security of returning to my previous employer in favour of setting out on my own here in the UK, as a consultant on the use of computers in training - another step into the unknown.  It was a return to the world of business but on different terms.

After working as a self-employed consultant for 7 years, the time came to put the theory into practice. So I then took another step into the unknown and started a company to provide a computer based financial training product. The business grew and eventually went public in 2001 on the AIM  market of the London Stock Exchange. The company, now called the ILX Group, is still operating successfully. I am no longer the CEO but have continued in a supporting role developing new markets like China and India. 

In parallel with the development of the business I continued my studies of philosophy as part of the School of Economic Science, an educational charity founded in 1937 to promote economic and philosophic education. The practical application of philosophic principles in the running of my business was another  case of putting theory into practice. 

In the late 1990’s a business colleague/ fellow philosophy student and I began to offer lectures and courses on philosophy in business.  In 2005 the MD of a UK publishing company on hearing a lecture asked us to write a book on the subject - which we did. From Principles to Profit - the Art of Moral Management was released in 2006. The interest in the subject seems to be growing in the business world as courses/policies on business ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility have become an integral part of the education of business managers.

It is in this area of philosophy in business that I have been invited to offer for your consideration a brief overview of some of the key issues.

The key question I have asked myself and which is asked today by many people in business, especially young people, is:

Can I work according to fine principles in business and still succeed?

 In order to answer this question I found that you need to clarify some terms:

What is the real role or purpose of business in a society? 

How do you measure success? 

What are the fine principles that can help guide our business decisions? 

What is the purpose of business in society?

Here is the view of someone I respect as a spiritual leader who observed the developments in business into this century:

The purpose of a business is not simply to make a profit, but is found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.

Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business. Pope John Paul II

Business creates wealth but it needs to be directed at not only satisfying one’s personal needs but also the needs of the community which gives it licence to operate. 

This has led us to offer this statement as a fundamental reason/purpose of a business:

To create wealth for the benefit of society.

Note: Society includes  me, my family, company, client, community and society.

The next question- How do you measure Success?

On a company level profit is taken as the measure of success. It is the natural and necessary outcome of providing a useful service that benefits the customer and hopefully employees, suppliers, investors and the community as well. The key is the right measure. Excessive profits mean that someone in the cycle is suffering.

On an individual level the key question regarding success is whether my personal success is enough?

Here is a view from a spiritual leader of the east, who lived in the latter part of the 20th century. He also addresses this fundamental issue i.e. that the business or work should be for the benefit of the individual as well as the society.

When work is for the satisfaction of the individual AND also the society - if both gain from its production and use - then it is righteous.

                        Sri Shantananda Saraswati

Again it seems to be a question of getting the right balance.

Looking more closely at personal success, reflect for a moment and choose one of these 3 options: (You can only select one. )

Money-lots of it!                      OR

Fame – on a global basis        OR

Happiness-deep and lasting

In our courses and lectures this question has been asked of hundreds of people. It will not surprise you to hear that just about everyone selected happiness.

Here is a formulation of the key parameters for the success of an individual and of an enterprise. 

For the Individual

    • Peace and Happiness   
    • Fulfilment of Potential   
    • Fair Return for Effort                       

For the Organisation:

Satisfied/Enthusiastic/Productive Employees who produce:

High Quality & Good Value Products/Services leading to: 

A Fine Reputation & Long Term Sustainable Profitability

These parameters simply demonstrate that short term financial gains, a primary driver for many in business today, does not actually satisfy many of the true criteria for success – on an individual or company basis.

What are the fine principles that can help guide our business decisions?

Here are four moral principles common to all religions and philosophies that are the basis of ethical and moral behaviour:

Truth

Love/Benevolence

Justice 

Freedom

What has engaged me for some time has been an exploration of how each of these principles might be practically applied in business and what guidelines might be offered to others in business. Here are some initial conclusions.

Truth: Speak the truth, be totally honest with yourself and others inside and outside the company and maintain your personal integrity and that of the company in all situations. Here is a story to illustrate the point:

In the city of Baghdad lived Haakem, the wise one. People went to him for counsel which he gave freely to all, asking nothing in return. 

There came to him a young man who had spent much but got little and said to Haakem, ‘Tell me, wise one, what shall I do to recover the most for that which I spend?’ 

Haakem answered, ‘A thing that is bought or sold has no value unless it contains that which cannot be bought or sold. Look for the Priceless Ingredient.’

‘But what is the Priceless Ingredient?’ asked the young man.

Spoke then the wise one, ‘My son, the Priceless Ingredient of every product in the market place is the Honour and Integrity of those who sell it. Consider their name before you buy. 

Love: Show care, service and goodwill to all, which includes employees, suppliers, customers, business colleagues, shareholders, members of the community, society and nation and importantly, your family.

Justice: Justice relates to the allocation of rewards and punishments as well as fairness. Fairness needs to work both ways e.g. management needs to compensate employees fairly who in turn must serve fully; companies must treat suppliers fairly who in turn must deliver on their commitments etc.

Plato, in The Republic, observed that justice means ‘no excess’: the right measure in all situations and at all times.

Freedom: Act in such a way as to be free from fear, pride, selfishness, arrogance, dependence on the opinion of others, weakness and negative criticism. Overcoming these negative qualities requires that you work in the present moment more frequently- free from past conditioning and future expectations.

The essence of the lessons learned so far is that if you do work from true principles for the common good, you will be more effective in whatever you do, you will earn the respect of those who work with you and most importantly you will be happy - which is true success.

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