Spirituality Is New Religion in the Boardroom

Article excerpt


HE was the mastermind behind the cynical marketing ploy that gave the world Death brand cigarettes. Now BJ Cunningham is lighting up the soul of business.

He is among the young entrepreneurs bringing religion back to the boardrooms, with executives keen to prove that profit and principle can mix.

The trend has taken root in the US and there are signs that a wave of spirituality is spreading to the UK.

Cunningham, 34, said: 'The Eighties were about having, the Nineties about doing, and this millennium is about being. Companies need to build marketing strategies that reflect their internal soul and culture.

'He is managing partner of Kunde & Co, a new London-based marketing firm.

It is a subsidiary of a Danish business set up by Jesper Kunde, author of the book, Corporate Religion, which urges firms to contemplate their 'inner selves'.

Cunningham and likeminded UK entrepreneurs are following in the footsteps of American mentors.

Spirituality is strong among the new dot.com entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes from internet businesses. Alternative religions are mushrooming in California's Silicon Valley.

Californian hippie Walter Crut-tenden, who runs E*Offering, an internet business that brings ethical companies to the stock market, is one example of the new spiritual entrepreneur.

A follower of mystic Parama-hansa Yogananda, he gets up at 4.30am each day for meditational yoga, which he believes accelerates the path to cosmic consciousness.

Cruttenden, a 49-year-old investment banker, said: 'This sort of thing is becoming increasingly popular in cutting-edge business in the US. I come out of mediation with a clear idea how of to solve a business problem.' On this side of the Atlantic, former investment bankers Mehmet Golhan and Martin Kannengieser, both 37, were inspired by ethical concerns to quit their jobs to set up drParsley.com, an internet business that plans disaster relief and organic food supply projects. They hope to float it on the stock market this year.

Golhan, who gave up jobs that once earned him [pounds sterling]600,000 a year, said: 'I was not alone in not feeling fulfilled, but now I really enjoy what I am doing.' Non-believers may find it hard to accept that yoga or conventional prayer is good for the bottom line.

But business and belief have been closely linked in the past and a number of UK companies have religious roots. Barclays was set up by Quakers John Freame and Thomas Gould in 1690 and the bank was joined by co-religionist John Barclay in 1736.

Similarly, confectioner and soft drinks maker Cadbury Schweppes was set up by Quaker John Cadbury in 1824. It was among the first to offer worker benefits, establishing the new suburb of Bournville in Birmingham for employees. Food and toiletries giant Unilever was founded in the 1880s by the Congregationalist and social reformer Lord Leverhulme.

Modern devotees argue that far from being a distraction from business, spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation and religious retreat lead to greater efficiency and productivity because employees are happier and more balanced.

Conventional religion is also enjoying an upsurge in popularity in the business world. …