Book Club Channel
Mother Teresa, CEO: A Book Excerpt
Fifteen years later, I found myself at a similar juncture-disillusioned by my experience with the corporate world, yet still believing in the idealism of my youth. I had done many interesting things, from international marketing to international banking. I was well educated, with an MBA. Most people would have said I was a successful professional. Yet I felt I was living an empty lie. So I started looking for my new recipe for success. As I began exploring and studying different theories and models and speaking to mentors to look for inspiration, I became introspective and looked into my past. As the searching got deeper, I gained a different perspective and developed a different lens through which to evaluate my life. This brought tremendous clarity on the impact of my year with Mother Teresa.
At the end of my time with her, she gave me her greatest personal gift. When I went to say good-bye, she enveloped my hand in hers and looked deeply at me with those luminous brown eyes. (She spoke softly and had a wonderful way of making you feel like the most important person in the world.) "We all have a purpose in life," she told me. "Some people are born to make a difference to their families, and some people are born to make a difference to their communities or to their countries." Then she pressed her hands more tightly onto mine. "You, Ruma, are meant to make a difference to the world. Go find your vehicle, and don't give up."
Wow! I was so afraid of those words and the empowerment they gave me. How could I translate them into something meaningful for myself and the world? I couldn't imagine that someone like me, the daughter of academics from a small town in Canada, could possibly make an impact on the world. I was left speechless, but her message kept reminding me that I did have a purpose, and that if I took the time to explore it, it could manifest as something profound, transformative, and much greater than I was. The ingredients for success were always in my own experience, waiting to be discovered.
That time finally arrived a decade and a half later. A fire ignited in my soul, and I dared to dream again. I embraced the empowerment this time and decided that my vehicle was to start my own company in an industry that served those who were forgotten. I applied all the lessons learned from Mother Teresa and cofounded a floor-finishing company in the janitorial services industry. This began a new journey filled with passion, impact, and purpose. Everyone thought I was crazy-janitorial services? But for me, it was about what 80 percent gross margins could do for people if some of those profits were redistributed to workers. It was about valuing employees in an industry where no one did, and providing them with training and benefits and profit sharing. With passion and determination, my cofounders and I built a team and grew our operations to two hundred people and twenty-three offices nationally. My biggest rewards were watching people begin to believe in themselves and seeing people's standard of living improve. At last I understood what Mother Teresa was saying. The story of the company unfortunately didn't end well, and ultimately, some of our management decisions led to its demise. I learned many valuable lessons through that process that have helped me in my business career.
So why this book?
Almost twenty years after my time with Mother Teresa (where did the time go?), I was conversing over pasta with a small group of people, including Richard Murphy, then the editor of Fortune Small Business. He asked me about my background and what inspired me. My time with Mother Teresa was such a profound and meaningful experience, one cherished so deep in my heart, that I didn't often bring it up in conversation. It was very private, something I could not share until the time was right. That time was between the salad and the ravioli on June 16, 2009. Richard asked me, "What was Mother Teresa's leadership style like?" That question ultimately led me to write this book with my mentor, Lou Faust. Completing the book has proved to be an important part of my purpose. So, thank you, Richard, for shifting my lens to view Mother Teresa from a leadership perspective, which allowed this wonderful story to emerge and be shared.