The corporate world has a reputation for being the realm of the strictly rational, governed by the black-and-white rules of profit and loss. But many business leaders, in both the west and the east, are tapping into less scientific, often far more mystical, sources to enhance their companies' prospects of success. In doing so, they are raising difficult questions about employment law, the use of shareholders' money and cultural attitudes towards decision-making.
Dawn Gibbins is the darling of the UK manufacturing industry. She was voted business woman of the year in the 2003 Veuve Clicquot awards and named "most influential person in British manufacturing" by The Manufacturer magazine in 2006. In 2007 she received an MBE. The company that she founded and now chairs, commercial and industrial floor maker Flowcrete Group, has a presence in more than 20 countries and is set to generate a 2.9m [pounds sterling] profit in 2007 on sales of 42m [pounds sterling].
What is the secret of her success? She puts much of it down to feng shui, a discipline that originated in China 2,000 years ago. Gibbins doesn't simply practise feng shui herself. She has used it to redesign her company's logo, refurbish its offices, restructure workflows, streamline product lines and motivate her employees.
"In 2004 the business was getting a bit complicated--and we weren't really making the money we should have been making," Gibbins says. Profit margins were narrow, product lines were confusing and branding was fragmented.
It was at this point that she turned to feng shui. The first of its principles she adopted was to tidy things up. "We cleared the company's physical environment, electronic network and brands of clutter," she says.
The brands were the biggest task, because the company had acquired a number of different flooring firms around the world. They were all eventually moved to the Flowcrete brand. The product range was also reduced by about half. She then commissioned a design consultancy to come up with a new company logo that followed feng shui principles. "Under feng shui, energy moves from left to right and from down to up," Gibbins says. "The Nike logo, for example, is a feng shui designer's dream come true."
She showed the proposed design to staff and received an overwhelmingly positive response (although a senior business partner was a notable exception). "In the past there was an element of an 'us and them' attitude, but the new logo has helped to create a real team spirit across the world," Gibbins claims.
Other de-cluttering activities included a clear-desk policy, throwing out old office furniture and generally getting organised. "When you invest in the environment, it makes your people feel good," Gibbins says.
Whatever your view of her faith in feng shui, there is no doubt that her business has become more efficient and successful since it adopted its principles. A 20m [pounds sterling] turnover in 2004 increased to 26m [pounds sterling] in 2005. By 2006, turnover had reached 36m [pounds sterling]. Profit margins are improving, too.
Gibbins' enthusiasm for the business application of feng shui is not as rare as you might think, according to Jon Sandifer, a UK-based feng shui consultant whose clients include a wide range of UK companies. But what is rare is her openness about it.
"I won't name my clients for confidentiality reasons, because feng shui is still regarded as a bit 'woo-woo'," Sandifer says. "In larger companies, shareholders would not like it if they got wind that it was being practised."
Most of Sandifer's clients are smaller firms. "Here you're dealing with the directors themselves," he says. "On the corporate front, I've not always been that successful because of the politics of it all."
Having said that, he does claim to work with a couple of "major players" in …