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There can be no Sustainability without Following Dharma: Prakash Lohia, Merino

Prakash Lohia, managing director of Merino Industries, says that the success of leadership is measured by fulfilment of the mission and purpose of the organisation. Enlightened leaders nourish their organisations with culture. Collectives which have a rich culture ensure the emergence of next leaders and their own sustenance.

This and more he shares while talking about ‘building an ethical organisation’, in his conversation with Sourcing Hardware’s managing editor Deepak Gupta. Lohia was accorded the India Kitchen Congress Lifetime Achievement Award 2020 this year.

How do we build an ethical lifestyle and an ethical organisation? How important are ethics and values for sustainability?
There is a word related to ethics and values in our Indian history – dharma. Dharma comes from the Sanskrit root dhri, which means to support or to sustain. So, without the following dharma, there can be no sustainability. According to the Upanishads, “Somebody who protects Dharma is protected by dharma, and somebody who destroys dharma is destroyed by dharma.” Whether it is a personal life, professional life, family life or social life, if we do not have dharma then we will have to face the consequences.

My mantra and the message of my organisation is that economy, excellence and ethics go hand in hand. Without values, you won’t have an anchor. People will always have desires, and to fulfil those desires they require resources. In the end, we are here to create as well as spend resources, but the entire thing should be within the system of dharma.

What role do values and ethics play in the longevity of leaders? Can values and ethics ensure the sustainability of the organisation?
I believe that the values and ethics of a leader are manifested in three things – transparency, sense of justice and competency. If you are in a leadership position then you have to be competent, have transparency and have a good sense of justice. One of the responsibilities of leadership is to ensure sustenance. The work of the leader in an organisation is to see that there is the sustenance of the people. Whether leaders are born with these qualities or they inculcate them through experience, depends on a different school of thoughts. But I think it’s a mix. Some people are fortunate enough to have it in them, and there are others who make a lot of effort to acquire these qualities and implement them with conviction.

It is said that one gets a leader one deserves, and society gets a leader the society deserves. Good leadership cannot drop from the sky, leaders have to emerge. The society, organisation and any collective entity should have the potentiality to give rise to leaders or encourage good leadership to evolve. So, all of us need to contribute towards the building of national character and national culture, because these are important aspects which give rise to good leaders.

One gets a leader one deserves and society gets a leader a society deserves.

How do you encourage your team members when they do something commendable? How do you articulate your values to employees and team members?
I have always said that it is better to walk the talk. During this time of the pandemic, we requested all our people to forgo a part of their salaries, whereas the leaders gave up the highest.

The way the leader acts, others follow, and in India, it is very important to walk the talk. We won the Kargil war because our young officers led from the front. In our organisation too we try to lead from the front. This is what works in India, and this is also in line with our ethos and our culture.

At Merino we have a flat organisation structure; we don’t have a very rigid hierarchy and thus we are constantly in touch with each other. According to my experience, sometimes things are spoken less make better sense, and sincerity behind an act is more important than the spoken word. So, it is better to have restraint on your communication and mean more than you say. This had been a tradition in our family and our organisation. That’s why you will find that we are the least advertised company. But we have never suffered because of that, as our stakeholders are everywhere and we have formed a very good contributory relationship with them.

Financial prosperity follows if we are not led by greed; the problem arises when we are led by greed.

How should we measure the success of leadership? Should it be in terms of revenues achieved or market share acquired, or should it be defined by some other matrix?
My personal opinion is that every individual and organisation should have its well-articulated and thought out mission and vision. Leadership should be measured by how successful that leader is in achieving the mission and vision. The other parameters of economic prosperity are part of the strategy, but they do not lead the strategy. A leader is led by the fulfilment of the mission and the purpose of the organisation. If he takes care of this and keeps the organisation economically sound, then the strategies will take care of those parameters. So, a leader or a CEO cannot have a narrow vision.

How do you see growth at Merino? What are your other measurements of growth?
At Merino we don’t measure growth just in financial terms; rather we have our parameters for every area so that there is overall growth. We have started a program called Nirmal, which is based on the four elements – earth, fire, water and air. According to it, we would like Merino to pollute the least among all the organisations.

For example, Canada has more than 5,000 trees per capita, Germany has more than 1,500 trees per capita, and even China has at least 1,000 trees. India has only 28 trees per capita. At Merino, we have decided that since we have around 4,000 people working at our organisation, we will ensure that we have at least 400,000 plants at all our establishments. It means that we would have around 100 plants per head. I see this as a form of growth. My conviction is that financial prosperity follows if we are not led by greed; the problem arises only when we are led by greed.

Indebtedness is a good quality, a perpetual sense of indebtedness and humility saves and invites good qualities in a person.

How would you define the culture of an organisation?
Culture is not natural, the word itself means that it has to be cultured, it has to be practised. Culture lays down a path for others to follow; it is like a baton which has to be passed on. Through culture, you learn to imbibe the lessons, experiences and the wisdom of your forefathers. Culture also gives continuity and brings efficiency. No organisation can function and no organised work can be done without having a culture in place.

In an organisation, it is for enlightened management to decide what kind of culture is to be cultured. And the degree of enlightenment depends on what type of culture the management adopts – a daivik culture or an asurik culture. Asurik refers to a culture that is based on the asuras way of life – borrow, eat, drink, be merry. So, it is the responsibility of the leaders to determine what culture they would like to bring to nourish their organisation. That’s why it is said that culture flows from the top because through the culture you set examples for others to follow.

Things spoken less make better sense and sincerity behind an act is more important than spoken words.

You have said that at Merino you follow the Western work culture combined with Indian ethos. What does that mean?
This is reflected in Merino’s motto – economy, excellence and ethics. Ethics is our Indian ethos and it is based on our Indian values and culture and about the way we look at life. But then again, you have to follow the universal view of ‘never try to reinvent the wheel’. If we see the history of Europe, from the age of enlightenment to the industrial revolution, we see a rich history with the technological work culture. It is a smart thing to adopt that work culture from them, and that’s what we did and mean by western work culture. We would like to synergise the western work culture with Indian ethos so that there is no contradiction.

Talking about Merino’s ethics and work culture, I feel that I am just a link who is carrying the values, ethics and qualities shared by my elders and forefathers. I am just trying to articulate it in today’s situation. This is the inheritance of Merino and I am proud of it.

How is culture helping the Merino family stay together?
According to statistics, 96% of family-owned businesses split up by the time they reach the third generation. The families which can nourish their values and maintain them are able to overcome this problem. At Merino, four generations are working together as a strongly bonded unit, and all members are operationally involved. All of them work 100% for the organisation. So, as long we can follow the ethics and culture of the organization, the blessings of our forefathers will be there.

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