Mahananda (aka Terrence Sehy) is a long time devotee and disciple of Shree Maa and Swamiji, and lives in Evergreen, CO. He was instrumental in leading a team of volunteers and constructing many of the buildings at the Mandir from the ground up, and is a successful businessman in the outside world. He runs an architectural mill working company out of Denver, CO called Wood Craft Unlimited and has recently invested in an auto and truck services company. He is a man of varied business interests and is a member of the Architectural Woodwork Institute.
Mahananda chants the Chandi Path every day, and does it the first thing in the morning. He says he always likes to do the most important thing as soon as he wakes up and feel the sense of accomplishment upon its completion.
Nanda: Namaste! Thank you for your willingness to share your expertise around the creation and running of a business, and how to do so in a dharmic way. I will structure the interview around the four points that Swamiji outlined as part of the Spiritual Business page on our website, and find out from you how you have applied them in your life and in your own business.
The points mentioned on the site were
1) Making a Sankalpa – Setting Goals,
2) Treating people with dignity and respect,
3) Not applying pressure and
4) Being content with even small gains.
Mahananda: Namaste, I am happy to help.
Making a sankalpa – Setting Goals
Nanda: Let us take the first point. Can you please tell us how does one start a business and how does one create the sankalpa to make it happen?
Mahananda: First, you have to choose a product. Second, you have to test it with a sample set of people to understand whether it is something that they actually need and will use it in the way that you intend for them. Then you have to determine the next steps of where you will be based and how you will manufacture, distribute, market and finance the product. These steps will put together a picture of what you want – your sankalpa.
Personally, I have looked around in the market place and identified people that were successful in what I would like to do. I talked to them and found them amazingly receptive to my questions; how did they get from their starting point to where they were now, and how did they organize to make it all happen?
Basically, you have to have a clear picture of where you want to be and visualize that vividly. You also have to be honest with yourself and start from where you are. Then the problem is reduced to managing the logistics of how to get from your current starting point to your envisioned end state and identifying the intermediate goals to make it happen.
Nanda: How would you apply this to your own business? Can you give an example of something that you wanted to do, and set a sankalpa and achieved it?
Mahananda: I can give the example of how I got the machinery that I needed for my business. I calculated the best price that I could afford for a machine, and also found out its fair price in the marketplace. I would call my suppliers and tell them what I was looking for, what I expected the machine to do and what I was willing to pay for it. Then I would wait until they called me up, which they did. That is how we got every piece of over a million dollars’ worth of equipment. I had pictured exactly what I wanted and the price that I was willing to pay, and in effect created my sankalpa and made it come to life.
There is also another way that I created new goals and sankalpas. I would spend time with my friends that had successful businesses and learn their methods; how they got from point A to point B, and I duplicated the steps until I went past them. Essentially, I was creating mentors that were helping me to get from where I was to where they were, till I got to the point that I was passing them, and then I had to find new mentors and create new goals.
Nanda: How does one find a mentor?
Mahananda: Look around in your area of interest and identify the people that excel in this field. Spend time with them and ask questions on how they got to where they are, and then duplicate the steps in your life until you reach your goals. This has consistently worked for me.
When I was much younger, before I created my own businesses, I apprenticed myself with the masters in my trade; what to do, how to do it and then learned the way that they did it. I was making them money and so they were happy to teach me. I retained and used what I had learned.
Nanda: So it all starts with volunteering in an association or apprenticing with someone?
Mahananda: Yeah! Volunteer and/or apprentice yourself to somebody. These days, most kids intern with companies before they graduate or when they graduate. They learn a lot from it; they find out if it is really something they want to do, and find many quirks associated with the profession that they may not have known existed. They learn before they make the leap.
Nanda: Regarding mentors, I understand what you said from a business viewpoint i.e. if you want to create your own business, and then work with someone that already has done something similar. How would you translate it to apply in the corporate world? Right now, I am working in a company and we have about 20,000 people. Let’s say that there is a person in the company, my CIO or CEO, whose work ethic I really admire. I cannot just go and apprentice myself to them simply because they are too high up the chain, or they may have their own agenda, or simply not have the time for me. How would you suggest that a person like me, working in a corporate world go apprentice herself?
Mahananda: Well, in that particular scenario, I don’t think you will be able to apprentice yourself; they have to be willing. They didn’t get there by themselves, a lot of people helped them, and they know that. A lot of people told them what to do, what not to do and guided them. I think you get to a point in life where it is your turn to give back. That’s kind of what’s going on with me right now; I feel like I have been given a lot of blessings, and now it’s my turn to give back.
There are a couple of ways to consider regarding your specific situation. I joined a couple of trade organizations so that I could be open to people in a social situation, where I could talk to them as friends and as business partners. I have always been open to working with people as opposed to against people. If you create a team attitude, you will create a network for future growth for when you need it or want it. And you also have people who are trying to get to the next step.
Now, in regards to your CEO, I don’t know if he is open to it or not. I don’t know if he is still in that part of life where he is still in the gathering phase. He may not be willing to share the information with others, because they may take his job. That would be threatening. I would just ask them, “Hey, would you mind if I ask you a couple of questions? How did you do this?” and pay attention.
Ask them, “I am having this problem and what would you recommend getting from here to there. How would you suggest that I get through this? With your experience, could you help me with that?” And they will tell you “yes” or “no”. And if they say “no” then you are going to have to try somebody else.
Treating People with Dignity and Respect
Nanda: OK, we had a lot of conversation around making a sankalpa and I want to move on to the next point that Swamiji mentions which is “Treating people with dignity and respect.” How have you translated it into a workable business paradigm?
Mahananda: That is very simple. You treat people the way that you want to be treated.
While most businesses treat their clients very well, it is equally important to respect those that work for you and treat them well. The truth is that, if you don’t take care of the welfare of your employees and keep them happy, then they are just not going to perform their jobs to their optimal ability and you will have a constant battle on hand.
I can walk into any business anywhere in the world, and know just by the way that the salesperson treats me, how the company treats its employees. It is all connected – the treatment of the company towards its employees directly affects the attitude of the employees toward the end customer.
You have to treat your employees with respect and dignity and help them achieve their goals so that they can in turn help you achieve your goals.
Nanda: A business has three categories of people – employees, shareholders and customers. How would you treat each of them and would you treat them any differently from each other?
Mahananda: There is no difference in treatment. You would treat them all with respect, as they are each a part of God, just as you are. No more, no less. You would treat them with absolute honesty and treat them the way you want to be treated regardless of whether they are employees, shareholders or clients.
In my business, our clients like us because we take care of them. When they need something, we make it happen. And when we need something, they respond. It is a wonderful, growing, reciprocal relationship of give and take and a mutual fulfillment of needs.
Nanda: While this is a beautiful, altruistic attitude to adopt towards all, how would you react when people don’t reciprocate in the same way? So how would you deal with a situation, if despite your care and concern, an employee cheats you or does not perform well at work?
Mahananda: I use the three strikes rule; disappoint me thrice and you are out! Let’s say a gentleman is not doing what he is supposed to do. We take him aside and have a talk. We set and reset expectations – what we want him to do, how to do it, what he is doing wrong and how to correct the mistakes. If this happens a second time, we have this conversation again on a more serious note. We remind him of the purpose that he was hired for and what is expected of him in that position. If he does not like what he is doing, then we tell him that maybe it would be good for him to leave and give him the option of saving his face. If despite these efforts, this situation happens a third time, we fire him.
Here is an instance of what actually occurred in my company. I happened to be at the job site where one of my employees was up on a ladder putting up a sign on a store using a ratchet set and he actually broke a socket, something that almost never happens. I looked at it and felt something amiss. I asked him to come down the ladder and talk to me for a minute. Here is how the conversation went!
I asked him, “You don’t really want to be here, do you?”
He looked shamefaced and said, “No”.
“What would you rather be doing?” I asked.
“I want to be a chef”, he said.
Well, we do architectural mill work, and there is absolutely no opportunity or correlation to what he wanted to do with my line of work. And so I told him, “I am going to help you out. I am going to fire you. But I am also going to give you some money so that you can go to a school.”
He went to the school and became a successful chef.
We encourage our employees to take classes, whether or not it directly applies to the job. We reimburse their tuition if they earn Bs or higher. It makes them better people, and keeps them interested in life and consequently they have more to give.
Not applying pressure
Nanda: Can you tell us how you have applied the principle of “Not applying pressure” to your business?
Mahananda: I am not sure if that principle applies even at the Mandir and there is a lot of pressure there (laughs). But there are different kinds of pressure – pressure from without and pressure from within, and I think the principle applies to the former.
We all have deadlines at work and definitely so in a business. In my company, we agree to deadlines and make the commitment as a team. We think it is extremely important to keep our word and to make something happen if we have committed to it. In the 45 years of work, we may have missed the deadlines a couple of times and then only by a few days. Occasionally, we work all night if necessary to meet our timelines.
We try not to put pressure on our guys; they are the kind that put pressure on themselves. We hire people that are the best in what they do and take pride in their work. We want a team that is strong, loyal and know that we will always take care of them. We give them all kinds of perks – financial counseling and a whole lot of other things. In return, we need them to deliver when we need something, and if we don’t get it, we would consider replacing them. I guess we want the people on our team to take care of us the way we take care of them. If somebody is not there for us, they are wasting our time and bring down the team.
The pressure needs to come from within the person. If it comes from outside, it is artificial and will just lead to resentment and resistance.
In the case of the Mandir, the best thing that can happen is that people see what needs to be done and go do it. I watch Shree Maa. No matter what happens in her day, she sees people and gives them what they need – whether it is a big hug or a big slap in the face. Whatever is needed, she just gives it to them with love and you can see the change in the devotee’s attitude. I think if you give people what they need completely; they would give back what you need, as long as they have it within them to give.
Nanda: So, to summarize, external pressure really is the last choice. It is much more preferable to hire the people that set themselves to higher standards as they would push themselves and apply their own internal pressure to get the job done.
Mahananda: That is what I have seen. From time to time, I have had to apply external pressure, but I have seen that it doesn’t give the best results. It is also very important that the company organize itself so that it is not dumping excessive pressure on its employees because of its own lack of planning.
Being Content with Small Gains
Nanda: How can being content with small gains translate to a profitable business?
Mahananda: Well, you have to be realistic. You have to know the market, the worth of your product and the associated costs. Your business needs to make a profit or else it will not last and it will impact the livelihood of its employees. It is your responsibility to price the product so that gives you a reasonable profit and allows you to take care of your employees and clients and give back to your community. Of course, you will not want to profit like a drug company and make a 10000 percent profit because that is neither sustainable nor reasonable.
Nanda: When we say, “Be content with small gains” does it mean that we do not go beyond a certain profit percentage? Is there a certain “ethical” profit percentage?
Mahananda: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as a reasonable profit margin is influenced by so many factors and determined by the marketplace. People pay what they can and get what they pay for – they go to a Wal-Mart when they don’t want to pay more for a similar item in another store.
Some people want a quality product and are willing to pay to get it. It goes back to supply and demand. We are providing a product that not many people can or will provide and it is priced to meet the demands of a niche market.
Nanda: Many people charge less to undercut competitors. While they may be making modest profits by the principle of dharmic business, they are probably causing long term damage in the market. How do you get the profit by respecting the competition and respecting the people around you?
Mahananda: We know what our product costs and also know that it costs a lot more than other similar products, but it takes more time and money to make and lasts a lot longer. We sell it at a price that is worth the effort and energy expended and we sell the service that goes with the product. We take care of our customers and when they need something, we get it for them. We fix the problems – no questions and no whining. So the price is worth it in the long run.
As far as undercutting, we don’t worry about the competition. We know what our product costs to build and also what it is worth, and we don’t need to cut that price down to match that of another. We firmly believe that there is plenty of work for all of us and so we don’t play the undercutting game.
Nanda: What is the next step once you have a successful business? How can you give it away and make it grow even more. You had talked earlier about mentoring and sharing experiences with nonprofit organizations. Are there others?
Mahananda: I look for people that have great attitudes and great products or services, and I try to finance their ventures. I have actually financed a gentleman who had integrity and a quality product in the auto and truck service business that I felt should be given to the community. I don’t do it very often, but I felt very motivated to do that in his case. I knew that it would succeed long before it actually did, as it is based on the infallible principles of success -giving back to the community, charging a fair price and taking care of customers, and working only with certified and qualified people.
Nanda: This is great. I have three questions.
1) Would you be willing to mentor people?
2) And if you are, what are the specific questions that you expect them (mentees) to ask you?
3) How would you expect people to approach you? Are you reachable through email or a website?
Mahananda: Number 1, is YES. It’s my turn to give back. I have a wealth of knowledge of almost
45 years of experience in business. I have done everything wrong that I could do, and I have learned from a lot of wonderful people who were right. So, this is my time to give back. I am happy to do so through the Spiritual Business section of the Mandir website.
The kind of questions I expect people to ask? Basically, when people start a business, they will ask themselves, “What business do I want etc.” But I would ask, “What are your gifts?” and that is the starting point.
If you want to work just for the money, you have already lost. If what you want to do is a part of your gift, then I can help you refine and clarify that goal. We can focus on what you need to do to get your gift out to the world.
Nanda: So do people email you questions? Do you have an email id that you are willing to share?
Mahananda: I do, and I will make it available.
The principles are essentially universal. You can have anything you want, as long as you can help enough people to get what they want first. And you can take as much as you want, as long as you leave more than you take.
My life has been based on a principle that I learned early on and that has worked for me. It is to provide products and services that are essential to the community. If you take care of the community, then the community takes care of you. That’s kind of “it” in a nutshell, but there are lots of ways of making it happen and the implementation depends on the individual’s specific circumstances.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I look forward to the readers’ questions.