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Mother Teresa, CEO: A Book Excerpt

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.

Lou's Story: I was working late one night when my telephone suddenly interrupted me. Before I could finish saying hello, an excited voice yelled out, "Lou! Lou! You'll never believe the conversation I had today! I was at lunch with the editor of Fortune Small Business and..." I don't think she stopped to take a breath before she ended with, "He asked me if I'd be interested in writing an article on the management secrets of Mother Teresa! Can you believe that?" It was clear to me in that moment that a great idea had been born. I let her finish her story and catch her breath, and with a smile, I said, "Ruma, don't write the article. Write the book."

"Really? A book? That's a great idea! But I don't know the first thing about writing a book! Well, if I write this book, then you have to write this book with me. Deal?"

Her enthusiasm was so contagious that I didn't realize what I was signing up for when I said "Yes." But almost two years later, I'm glad I did. The result of that conversation is the book you are holding.

I have more than thirty years of business experience, including ten on Wall Street at Salomon Brothers. I've worked in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and many places in between. I have held management positions in large companies and have made my own photocopies in start-ups. I've been the CEO of three institutionally funded companies. I only wish I had had the leadership principles you are about to learn when I started my career. They would have made my life and the lives of the people I was trying to lead a whole lot easier and better!

This book will give you a leadership framework that you can use every day as you confront the challenges you face, both personal and professional. When you commit to these principles and apply them consistently, they will make a positive difference in your life and to your organization.

This book is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of how Mother Teresa ran the Missionaries of Charity. That is a very different book and one we will leave for others. Instead, it is built around simple stories that we hope will inspire you and demonstrate the eight leadership principles that led Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity to build one of the most successful organizations in the world.

You, the reader, will now have the opportunity to hear the story that Ruma shared for many hours at lunch that fateful afternoon in answer to the question, "What was Mother Teresa's leadership style like?"

Enjoy the journey.

Visit the Mother Teresa, CEO Book Club at Patheos for more about the book and its authors.

7/1/2011 4:00:00 AM