Some time ago, by one of those happy coincidences that that life sometimes brings, we met Luigi Zoia. We had gone to Babson College in Boston to meet Professor Raj Sisodia [to whom we dedicated this article] and he spoke of Luigi, who in Italy advocates a conscious business approach and is president of the Conscious Business Group that promotes ethics in economics. Author of a book with the captivating title Cadere sette volte e rialzarsi otto (Fall seven times and get up eight) published by Mental Fitness, Zoia former Vice-President at Citibank, now lives with his wife in Santo Domingo, but he still has a home in Milan and is often in Italy, acting as a mentor for entrepreneurs and companies who want to follow the path of conscious business. We arranged to meet up for lunch to get the chance to know him better. The idea for this article came in the wake of the positive vibes engendered by that meeting where we realized just how close were the vision and the values we shared. Let’s see then, what was said at that meeting.
Conscious Business, to work better and make the economy more ethical
Today there is much talk of ethical enterprises and corporate social responsibility but, according to Luigi, we need to clarify these assumptions.
If ethics is only identified with rules, the system becomes rigid, but if we extend the meaning to the process of maturing and taking responsibility at both an individual and corporate level, then you can open up opportunities for evolution.
The pyramid of Maslow, that organizes people’s needs into hierarchical levels that shift from physiological ones, like eating and sleeping, to spiritual ones is, according to Zoia a way of describing the evolution of humanity: each level corresponds to a goal and each step upwards involves a new level of consciousness, and hence growth. The same evolutionary process is applicable to the company as an entity with needs and specific requirements; just like people, organizations that gradually develop consciousness will progress from a mere perspective of survival (corresponding to the physiological needs) to the pursuit of an ever higher mission. When considering conscious business we must therefore speak of a process of maturation, not only of rules of behavior. It’s time for the economy to stop dealing only with basic needs, but also consider the needs of the soul, expanding its point of view from “me” to “us”, from the Shareholders to the new concept of Stakeholders (i.e. employees, customers, communities, etc.).
Leading by example: “if I can do it, so can you”
In his book, Zoia recounts his life, moving from the years when he practiced karate while studying at the university, to his time at the New York Citibank, up to the opening of an asset management company. His story, full as it is of ups and downs, times when he fell and times when he pulled himself up, serves as an example for everyone, proving that you can be successful if you have dedication, if you take full responsibility for what happens to you and you act with consciousness or with the will to make sense of circumstances and events. A powerful case of leading by example that reminds us how if we take on the role of the main player in our lives, and not that of a victim of circumstance, and if each time we readjust our sense of identity and learn from our mistakes, it is possible to become World Karate Reserve Champion, the Vice-President of Citibank’s Atlantic area while still young, and to recover after failures by turning these into opportunities to learn and exercise creativity. Luigi says, ‘if I can do it anyone can, because I have no special qualities apart from persistence!’ The mantra I will not stop until I’m successful has become a part of me.
If something does not go right, I don’t think of this as a failure, but that I have learned something, I have received a lesson in life.
A philosophy that sees difficulties as opportunities for change and learning: opportunities that we can all grasp at least once in our lives.
A lesson in consciousness from the US
Zoia knows both the US and Italian markets well. He believes that Italy has a greater need than other countries to implement a profound change, a significant transformation that goes beyond the introduction of sustainability reports, a code of ethics and corporate social responsibility. What is needed is a cultural change in the direction of conscious business, that can introduce a new concept of what being an entrepreneur is all about: being a leader of an evolutionary process that, starting from the individual, changes the whole of society. We can find important examples of this approach in the United States and universities such as Babson College are already dedicated to creating a new class of conscious entrepreneurs. Certainly, it is not easy to work with this broad vision in a market that is still subject to quarterly performance reports that affect share prices on Wall Street, but it is encouraging to know that there is a vanguard of multinational companies that are thus committed and are gaining results thanks to conscious business (Whole Foods, Unilever to name just two, ed).
Italy firstly needs to regain confidence in entrepreneurs who are capable of expressing that high moral value and sense of service that characterized people like Adriano Olivetti, capable of merging the company’s interests with those of all the other actors involved.
Conscious Italian entrepreneurs need to come together to create a nucleus on which to graft a substantial change in economic policies and in business style.
Our conversation is over, but there is still time for a quick suggestion for the readers of Diario di un Consulente. ‘In a world like today’s, where change is so rapid, always choose growth over security. Our only true security comes from within: our challenge of wanting to continue to learn, and the awareness that we ourselves have the solutions we need to address such changes.’
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