Atul Kumar, Chief Ethics Officer, State Bank of India

‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’ I was ruminating the words of Henry Ford when I hit an oddball. Deep diving the numbers, I noticed that one of my 44 outlets fading in sales. With a new manager at the helm, the first three months, sales soared here, then flattened and now a dipping curve. I wondered, what could be the reason for this worry wobble when all other variables are unchanged? Taking a mental note, I resumed my data crunching. Well boy, it seemed it was a day of analytical jolts and stunners. What a spark of revival in this one. Here too, a new manager at the helm, the rest of the factors unchanged, the first month the sales shows a slight fall, next month a plateau and after that what a spike.

Now, that is what you call a diagnostic dilemma. I was raking my brains but could not make sense of the diametrically opposite trajectories.   A bit baffled, as I picked my flask to pour coffee, a name popped in my head. The great Greek philosopher – Aristotle. Maybe he will have an answer? So, in my cerebral matrix, I worm holed to the ancient town of Chalcis. It was 324 BC. I saw Aristotle, then 60 years old, sitting on a rock in a state of deep intellectual gaze. Thickly haired and bearded, there was a sense of calm serenity in his persona. I could feel its reverberations around. Then abruptly, conscious of my presence, he looked at me with curiosity. A small pause of silence, then he softly asked, “Who are you and what brings you here, my friend?” “Sir, I am a 21st-century entrepreneur looking at the past to improve my present”, I replied and explained my predicament. With a soft crinkled smile, he said, “Your answer lies in UBUNTU”.  I had expected an answer, it seemed I got a code. Sensing my confusion, Aristotle decoded it, “An anthropologist proposed a game to African tribal children. He placed a basket of sweets near a tree and made the children stand at some distance. Then, he announced that whoever reaches first, gets all the sweets in the basket. When he said ‘Ready, steady go!’, do you know what the children did?  They all held each other’s hands, ran together towards the tree, divided the sweets equally among themselves, ate, and enjoyed it. When the astonished anthropologist asked them why they did so, they said ‘Ubuntu’, which meant – ‘How can one be happy when the others are sad’. Ubuntu in their language means – ‘I am because we are.’

I think your manager of the first outlet showed business aggression. The squad too chipped in and the sales zoomed. With accompanying compliments cornered by him and the blames passed on to the team, demoralization crept in and sales declined. The second store’s manager focussed on building the emotional connection. The sales drop earlier was all but a backward arch of a rejuvenated bunch. With praises showered for a smallest of positive deeds and being there to shield from the sharpest of jibes, it was an ‘Ubuntu’ leadership in action. The renewed energy, confidence and the soaring figures reflect the joy and the aroma of a brewed team.” And Aristotle paused. Taking the subtle cue, pouring a cup of coffee from my flask for him I remarked, “Sir, that was so surreal. Great.”. “The greatest management lessons can be observed in the smallest of acts. Just look, learn and live them”, said Aristotle as he finished his cup and stood up. In a flash, he was gone. And I was left with a simple philosophy- ‘Ubuntu’- the virtue of sharing and progressing. Can there be a better definition of ethics?

About the Author

Atul Kumar, Chief Ethics Officer in State Bank of India, enjoys the distinction of being the first Chief Ethics Officer in Indian Banking. Having joined SBI in 1985 as a probationary officer, he served in various key roles for more than 30 years including as the Director (Forex, Treasury & Technology) in SBI Indonesia, Jakarta, and as Chief Vigilance Officer in Union Bank of India. Over the years, he has evolved as an expert in conduct and behavior risk, ethics promotion  & consequences management, fraud control, procurement risk, and compliance matters.