In his recent keynote speech to Zoho users in India, company CEO Sridhar Vembu addressed audiences beset by the aftermath of the pandemic, the monster bubble, record inflation, the Russia-Ukraine war, the Great Resignation, mass layoffs in Big Tech, and going forward, a looming economic and financial crisis.
The global nature of those business and technology challenges—and the response Vembu advocated—makes his speech germane to all Zoho Corp. customers, not just those of its business software division. The message also resonates with customers of its enterprise IT management division, ManageEngine, as well as any organization seeking a way forward into a stormy, uncertain future.
This article captures highlights of the keynote Vembu delivered at the Zoholics India 2022 user conferences in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and New Delhi. IT and business leaders and professionals seeking even more insight and inspiration will find both in the videos of the complete speech.
The holistic future
At its heart, Vembu’s message is simple: The future is holistic. That should sound familiar if you’ve heard or read his views on spiritual capitalism: A business is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an interconnected, interdependent whole that must be run according to the values held by company leaders and employees rather than the metrics associated with select parts of the business.
Now, you’re encouraged to take the ecosystem in which business takes place—i.e., the world at large—and view that, too, through a holistic lens. To be clear, when he says “holistic,” Vembu means “non-dualistic, not seeing things separately.” Our environment, economics, politics, culture, and every other aspect of our ecosystem is interconnected and interdependent. And we must act according to values that agree with the ecosystem’s holistic reality rather than metrics that are associated with select aspects of the ecosystem.
Adopting a holistic, non-dual worldview may be a stretch if you’re unfamiliar with related spiritual traditions. In that case, quantum theory—and quantum entanglement, in particular—will take you on a scientific route to the same interconnected reality. Regardless of the path taken, the democratization of IT and our increasingly digitized lives make a holistic philosophy hard to reject. The internet is a reflection of our world: Everything is connected. We need to start thinking and acting like it.
“Our philosophy of business, our philosophy of economics..is flawed,” Vembu said in New Delhi, referring to conventional thinking on those matters. “There is a real hunger for some new approach to technology, and beyond technology, a new way of doing business. We’re seeing that hunger worldwide.”
A holistic worldview
As Vembu notes, we can’t know with certainty what the future holds, but we can certainly know the values that will determine our actions in the future. The values below determine the decisions we make and actions we take at ManageEngine and Zoho. For you, these values may serve as an example or a template of holistic philosophy, what it looks like and how it works, including how it balances and aligns values that are conventionally seen as incompatible or in opposition.
Strategy rooted in culture. A company’s strategy must align with its culture. You can’t separate the two. If your employees haven’t committed to your company’s cultural point of view, you can’t formulate an effective strategy. Instead, the strategy will be subtly undermined by cultural issues that diverge from or conflict with the strategy. You probably won’t even be aware of why your strategy is failing. This is particularly true when company leaders develop a top-down strategy that is not supported by the cultural values held by the rest of the company’s workforce. You have to live the culture for the strategy to be effective.
Transnational localism. Localism often carries a negative connotation, implying a close-minded parochial point of view. Globalism or transnational, on the other hand, is typically understood as positive and implies being open-minded, accepting, expansive. However, to be a global citizen—or company—you must be rooted somewhere in the world and belong to some culture. Your local mindset must be informed by what is going on in the world, globally; and your global mindset must be informed by your local culture.
At ManageEngine and Zoho, this union of localism and globalism is called “transnational localism.” We have a strong sense of who we are as an Indian company, unapologetically rooted in Indian culture. Yet we also have a global mindset that enables us to operate around the world.
Confidence born of humility. As values that guide action, confidence and humility are understood as opposites by many other world cultures. In India, however, humility is a foundational part of the culture and spiritual tradition, so confidence can be grounded in humility without diminishing either one of those values.
Regardless, balancing confidence and humility is an essential, pragmatic exercise: On the one hand, you know what you know, which gives you the confidence to take action. And on the other hand, you know your limitations (i.e., what you don’t know), which gives you the humility to reconsider and make adjustments should your actions prove ineffective or counterproductive.
Now more than ever, all of us need confidence born of humility to address unprecedented, undeniable circumstances in the world around us. Long-held conventional wisdom and settled truths in economics, business, industry, politics, and other fields are being challenged by reality.
Prosperity rooted in contentment. This is the most important value we need. Like confidence and humility, India is uniquely suited to teach the world how to balance prosperity and contentment. Contentment is the reason many foreigners travel to India. Yet the world has not learned how to balance prosperity and contentment.
Conventional economic wisdom is based on production and consumption and GDP. We have to produce and consume more stuff in order to increase GDP. And conventional economists say that if we stop consuming, the economy will not run, jobs will disappear, and people will suffer. But their thinking is flawed. Left unchecked, consumption will lead us to consume the planet. We must learn how to balance prosperity with contentment and learn how to be satisfied with enough. Contentment— and humility—must be the foundation of our economic system going forward.
Philanthropic business. You can’t separate your business from your philanthropy. You can’t make your living at the expense of others. You can’t run your business in ruthless, cutthroat ways—abusing markets, violating customers—and then absolve yourself by donating to charity. Your business and philanthropic activities must be aligned and blended.
Welcome to the future
The organizational culture that arises from practicing such a holistic philosophy can survive over the long haul. Of course, that culture can’t be built overnight, and it certainly can’t be built in the midst of an economic storm. But the seeds can be planted now, and the culture can be nurtured overtime, as you prepare for the holistic future.