You are what you are, not what you have

Title: Sein statt Haben
Publication: Sonntag Aktuell
Date: 30 November 2008
Country, Language: Germany, German
Author: Uwe Roth

Hans Martin Schempp, an entrepreneur from Ostfildern, is happy about the financial crisis. It forces people to re-think things. At least this is what he hopes. Every year, he meets people in high positions who agree with him: managers do not need new rules but new ethics.

Managers and ethics. Recently, these terms have often been combined in the titles of seminars. They are juxtaposed like two poles that naturally repel one another. It can be discussed passionately at congresses whether the daily encounter with astronomical sums is bound to ruin a person’s character. You can have a more relaxing time meditating: “Deep breath in…and out…in…and out again.” The Indian yoga teacher is sitting on a pedestal, bent over a microphone, leading everybody into a world of peace with her soothing voice.

Usually, a European representative sits in her place, leading the debates of a parliamentary committee. Today, meeting room A3E2 of the European Parliament in Brussels is hosting 200 managers, business leaders, and politicians from more countries than the EU has member states. Under Puja Handa’s instructions, the conference participants enter a semi-hypnotic zone for about 30 minutes.

They sit as relaxed as the parliament seats allow. Their eyes are closed. Their controlled way of breathing in and out indicates that many people in this room are experienced yoga practitioners and, though sitting between strangers, have no qualms about facilitating their meditation with some bold exclamations of “om”.

Crisis leaves managers perplexed

In many respects, this is an exotic gathering. Many participants have flown into Brussels from India. Others come from various Arab and African countries. Europeans are a minority, but one of them is co-hosting the event: entrepreneur Hans Martin Schempp. Ostfildern, the place from where he operates, is printed in the index on the back of the English conference program.

For a few years, Schempp has been president of the International Association for Human Values (IAHV). This is the fifth year in a row that Schempp and his organization are hosting this international thought exchange with leadership personalities. In talks and meditations they try to find out whether world economy can thrive while respecting human values: whether globalization is bound to yield more losers than winners.

2008 has people perplexed. In recent years, participants warned in their finishing statements to turn back – otherwise the intoxication with growth would result in a massive hangover. Now what they predicted has come true. People had made their decisions and could not turn back, bringing about a huge financial crisis. The speculative bubbles burst worldwide, one after another. Managers with billion dollar company turnovers are sharing this room with politicians responsible for making decisions at government level. They are not going to repeat last year’s questions and warnings. Instead, they are looking for a solution to the present crisis.

But it is not a simple matter. “Ethics is good for business,” claims a professor of economics from Ghent. “Business and values are not a contradictory combination,” adds Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International. Similar sentences can be heard throughout the lectures. Listeners sign them with their good conscience – after all they have traveled many miles with this principle in mind. They do not think themselves part of the gambling management mafia. They think differently, have a sense for spirituality and a more esoteric world view. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is the founder of IAHV. He looks like a guru. In Brussels, we do not get to see him. At the reception, people drink juice. The gala dinner is composed of vegetarian dishes and accompanied by the same drink. Alcohol is available only at the hotel bar, breathing exercises only during breaks.

Real manager congresses are different. They are the real world: “For the young speculators, it has all been a big party, but who would have held the authority to stop the so-called fun on time?” asks German Michael Klein, representative of the World Bank. Neither he nor anybody else can think of a person who could put an end to the madness and tidy up the chaos once and for all. The bubbles will grow and burst again. It all sounds rather defeatist. Here on the podium, we have the good ones. Good entrepreneurs such as Ibrahim Abouleish from Egypt. The 71-year-old chemist and doctor was awarded the alternative Noble Prize in 2003 because with novel methods of cultivation, he had managed to make the desert fertile, to make it bear fruit that fulfill the requirements of organic quality seal Demeter. His exotic brand of organic agriculture is a pioneer for businesses as well.

Dealing with astronomical sums daily, managers forget that inner values also play an important part in achieving peace of mind.

Ibrahim Abouleish represents an entrepreneurial ideal. He invests gains into renewable energy and the education of his employees. He takes no bonus payments for himself. Some of the lecturers at Brussels take the point of view that ethics are a question of clever publicity. One of them is Ludo Bammens. He is in charge of Coca-Cola’s image in Europe. In his opinion, consumer trust can be calculated with a simple formula: T. = P. – E. Trust equals business Performance minus consumers’ Expectations. Jan Muehlfeit, Chairman Europe, Microsoft Corporation, agrees strongly that the crisis can be brought under control with physics and mathematics. “The human mind needs the best computer for maximum achievement,” he says after taking a meditation break. This is an American way of thinking that meets with little understanding at this gathering.

Hans-Martin Schempp does not understand why people should think in such a formulaic fashion. From Ostfildern, he chairs six companies with a total of 280 employees, while keeping a low profile. His public appearances are rare. The only thing flashy about the 57-year-old is the bright yellow Porsche in his garage. Occasionally, he drives it to the nearest airport and takes his seven seat helicopter, or his business jet to visit a customer. Schempp is a pilot so passionate that even his mobile phone ring tone imitates a helicopter turbine. This is one side of the successful manager.

But on the other hand, the man talks about four orphans he has adopted in India, about a shelter he is building in Trichy in the South of India to provide housing for up to 1000 children. Twice a year, he visits the place where a tsunami has destroyed villages two years ago and turned countless children into orphans. By now, Schempp has invested 3 million dollars into his Hansa-Niwas project. He wants to equip the buildings with solar panels and is looking for a partner in Germany that can provide the necessary know-how on solar energy. “India has 350 sunny days a year – this could be an interesting new market.”

Hans-Martin Schempp says: “I have always done what I thought was best.” And in doing so, he has come to place less emphasis on what he has, focusing more on what he is. At the end of the congress, the president of IAHV has penned a resolution all participants have signed. They demand new economic ethics, want decision makers to show more responsibility for their fellow human beings. Ethics and responsibility, they say, are the key factors in controlling poverty and resolving conflicts. “I cannot press my personal hopes into a formula,” says Schempp. What is needed instead is something whose importance we have seen again and again throughout this article – spirituality.