Business IQ

How meditating changed the life of Origin Energy Chairman

Anneli Knight
Smarter Writer

Anneli Knight is a journalist, writer and academic with a background in law and finance. She lives in Byron Bay

Anneli Knight
Smarter Writer

Anneli Knight is a journalist, writer and academic with a background in law and finance. She lives in Byron Bay

What do Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Kylie Kwong and Bill Ford Jr have in common? They all practice some kind of meditation. Even Rupert Murdoch has tweeted about his interest in transcendental meditation! Gordon Cairns, non-executive chairperson of Origin Energy, says mindfulness helps business

And he is not alone, Huffington Post president, yoga and meditation practitioner, Arianna Huffington has said on her blog, "Stress-reduction and mindfulness don't just make us happier and healthier, they're a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one."

It’s not often a corporate leader comes out of the spiritual closet but Gordon Cairns, previous head of PepsiCo, Lion Nathan, and David Jones, explained that he became a workaholic but was lucky to get feedback from his employees.

“They disliked that I was competitive with myself, autocratic, and a perfectionist,” says Gordon.

Speaking at the Mind and Its Potential conference in October he said his work compulsion led to depression. “All things are driven by one fundamental fear: that’s a fear of failure.”

Origin Energy chairman, Gordon Cairns

The opportunity for change

“I was fortunate because I was given feedback at an appropriate juncture; I had a chance to change it,” Gordon admitted.

Gordon Cairns was invited to join a small group that included some of Australia’s most senior corporate leaders, to learn meditation and mindfulness under the guidance of Tibetan Buddhist master, Sogyal Rinpoche.

“I found the principles and precepts I was learning in meditation classes were first of all common sense, and secondly very similar to the values we wanted to espouse [in business],” says Gordon.

“The teachings on interdependence is no more profound in business than teamwork. The teachings on mindfulness is no more profound than focus. The teaching of impermanence is no more profound than change. The values of business are what you take from the teaching.”

What will be your epitaph

Gordon says it is important for all business leaders to reflect upon their definition of success.

“What do you want written on your gravestone? If it’s: ‘I made a load of money, had a huge house and a very fast car’, that’s fine. But the people I know who have all those things, they don’t want that written on their gravestone,” says Gordon. “They define success in terms of happiness.”

Meditation and mindfulness teachings focus on happiness and living an enriched life, which all leaders should have an awareness of, not only for themselves but also for their staff.

“People who come to work just to make money end up very unhappy. The role of the leader is to get extraordinary performance from ordinary people.

“People spend most of their lives coming to work. In order to make that meaningful you have to provide a sense of purpose – a vision of where you want the organisation to go, agree the values the organisation will adopt and define what leadership is about,” he says.

“Those are much more profound, interesting and important questions than, ‘How are we going to make money?’”

It is possible to be tough on the issues and still have compassion for individuals, says Gordon.

“And all the psychology tells you one compliment is worth 1000 criticisms.”

Gordon says what he has learned from meditation and Sogyal Rinpoche’s teachings have made him a better human being and a better business leader.

“People want to work for me and work with me, and they enjoy it.”

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