Exclusive Interview with CEO of B. Grimm Group, Dr. Harald Link
MillionaireAsia in conversation with B. Grimm's Dr. Harald Link at the Stewardship Asia Roundtable 2017
Love, compassion, kindness, and equanimity; while these are principles often found in philosophy and religion, they are not common buzzwords in the world of business. However, according to Dr Harald Link, Chairman and CEO of Thai-based billion dollar conglomerate B. Grimm Group, these are the core tenants to corporate success. Speaking on the topic of 'Stewardship: Enduring Principles in Changing Times' at the Stewardship Asia Roundtable 2017, Dr Link addressed the vital importance of personal reflection - the practice of quiet meditation that will pave the path for business leaders to internalise and live the ideals of Stewardship beyond Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Speaking to MillionaireAsia after the conference, Dr Link revealed that a major factor in cultivating and maintaining a legacy of success is attention and connection to humanity itself.
MA: We were very inspired by your words today (at the Stewardship Roundtable 2017), about how stewardship should begin as a personal journey of self reflection, rather than a pursuit to meet KPIs. What are your stewardship principles and how does your company practice these?
HL: At B. Grimm, we want to do business with compassion and we use Buddhist principles, which are actually also present in other religions, to conduct business. These principles are compassion, love, kindness, sympathy, joy, and equanimity. These principles serve as the basis to our company, so if and when we become disassociated with what founded us, these values rein us in and keep us grounded. Sustainable development does not only mean producing results, but also refers to values that sustain the company itself.
We also want our employees to be happy - not as a tool to achieve something, but a purpose in itself. When you have happy employees, they can influence people around them and eventually help make society and the world a better place to live in. I think that is all what it is about. Otherwise, what are we all working for? If you are only doing it to make a living, that is not good enough.
MA: Is stewardship something that you grew up with? Or was it a result of a self-learning?
HL: One of my grandfathers was originally from a part of Germany where his family held a 700 year legacy of being landlords in the area. They had a great tradition of preserving things and taking care of the residents in the area. My other grandfather came from a family of pharmacists and in those days, pharmacists had to create the medicines themselves. So prescribing and packaging medicine required a good understanding and relationship with the patients and doctors. He eventually became one of the two founders of B. Grimm with the one primary shared philosophy - be compassionate. B. Grimm became the first company to introduce modern European medicine to Thailand and the King at that time gave them a regular appointment to the court because of the good work they did. This appointment continued down to subsequent reins as well.
My aunt also became the first foreigner to receive a title from King Rama the Ninth, because of her charity work. Both my father and mother's family have always had a very strong emphasis on doing good for the community, something that was not commonly practiced at the time. So I naturally grew up with the idea of stewardship, it is just following our tradition.
The new generation thinks the same but a little bit differently. For example, my son spent many years in Buddhist temples and a Christian monastery because he believes in the importance of spiritual development. My daughter Caroline, who works in human resources in the company, always pushes me do more, rather than to do less. She is also very active in some of our foundations. So I think that the tradition will run on in my family, even after me.
MA: The element of spirituality in business is interesting as they are often seen as two completely separate spheres in the corporate world.
HL: Actually, they work very well with each other. Currently, we are working with the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan and introduced it to Thailand as well. We are also working with 9 vocational schools to provide courses and training on to conducting business management with compassion. Teaching superficial values is easy - but is only when a person internalizes and truly subscribes to these values that he can really make a difference. It is difficult to develop your internal principles, especially when nobody taught you how to access them. This development is what we wish to achieve with these courses, which will eventually lead to a better personal and professional life. The Gross National Happiness Centre has helped us immensely in this mission and we are doing better because of it.
"You should treat everybody like your customer." - Dr Harald Link
MA: During your speech, you mentioned that stewardship goes down to the very bottom of the employee chain. Considering the massive size of the B. Grimm group, how do you communicate these values to them?
HL: As I said earlier on, if you want to do business with compassion, you will have to really practice loving kindness everyday in your daily life. This only works when everybody practices it. Thus, it has to start from oneself. You should be as nice to your suppliers as you are to your customers. Actually, you should treat everybody like your customer. Everybody should be treated like a nice human being. That does not mean you have to love everyone like a parent to child or sibling to sibling, but you can practice integrity in your business. For example, our company has always been known for having the highest quality of products and providing impeccable service. We base all of this on our values of positivity, professionalism, partnership, and pioneering spirit.
MA: What would you consider your greatest stewardship achievement during your time as head of the B. Grimm Group?
HL: I think our biggest achievement so far is the alignment of values between the management and employees. This is not my achievement alone but the founders, my father, my uncle and my aunt, they really wanted the business to be conducted with compassion. It is difficult to conceptualise but new employees are introduced to this company culture from the start. They soon come to understand how the business model works and how our company continues to grow with high profitability when we do business with compassion. When they see that it really works, our employees become fully committed, creating a great company spirit. As a leader, I think that this is a wonderful thing to see.
A few days ago, our company had to submit a big tender and they only gave us 3 days of time for changing things and there are mountains of documents to be made. Everyone in the company joined together to make the tender happen. People from different departments, be it managers or security guards, sacrificed sleep and time to make it happen because they have this loving kindness towards each other and they love the company. They want it to be successful and their efforts paid off. For me, this was extra special as I was not even in the country at the time to oversee any of this. When you talk about stewardship, I think this is a great example because everyone came together to make it happen.
MA: It is an amazing achievement to have created a company culture that is ingrained with Stewardship.
HL: Actually, it is more like I am the steward of the past, holding it for the future. It is not something that I created but rather something that was formulated with the help of numerous people over time. But yes, to see the company growing well, in terms of profit and stewardship culture, is a wonderful feeling of having done some good.
MA: With new entrepreneurs cropping up every other day, what is your advice to them on going beyond the pursuit of profit to stewardship and the greater good?
HL: I think that are two types of new entrepreneurs. The first type is someone who only wants to get rich. That is someone that you can't talk to. The other type is someone who thinks that he has an idea, something great to give. It is much easier to get through to someone like that as they already want to contribute to making a difference. The difficult part comes when the management they hire does not share the same ideals as them. However, if they truly understand the concept of stewardship and the greater good, they can pass on this concept to the management. It is difficult to convey this concept to someone who just wants to be rich as they are just not inspired by doing good and they just want to achieve their goals of being rich. However, once they achieve this goal, they will have nothing to strive for. Unless you undertake a pursuit of something bigger than yourself, you will ultimately be lost. Stewardship is one of the great ways of giving meaning to what you do and the world around you.
People often talk about business as a "give and take". However, I feel that business should be a "give and give" because you don't take things from anybody. It is just people giving and exchanging goods and services with each other. Most people are willing to give. So if you have something wonderful that you are willing to give, chances are, people are willing to give back to you. I think it is really good that so many people want to become entrepreneurs. This is the start of stewardship.