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Dalai Lama visit: A compassionate look at doing business

Do good, get a ‘positive result,’ Dalai Lama says

Last updated April 14, 2008 10:50 p.m. PT

By ANDREA JAMES
P-I REPORTER

If the Dalai Lama’s theory on compassion in business is true, then the stock of Costco Wholesale Corp. should keep rising.

His message to a closed audience of business and policy leaders at Seattle Center was one of simple karma: “If you do good, you get positive result. Something that creates harm is bad because we do not want to create suffering.”

Costco was one of several examples of compassionate Northwest businesses highlighted during a panel discussion during the Seeds of Compassion conference Monday. The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, is the star attraction of the five-day event.

Issaquah-based Costco pays benefits to employees and limits price markups — which sometimes draws ire from Wall Street investors. Co-founder and Chairman Jeffrey Brotman said that balance is hard to achieve in the business world.

“It amazes me that customers would award bad behavior of our competitors,” Brotman said. “It’s frustrating.”

Addressing him as “his holiness,” panel moderator Eric Liu, a former White House deputy for domestic affairs, asked the Dalai Lama, “How do we collectively change the culture so that every day consumers don’t reward such bad behavior?”

The Dalai Lama shrugged and responded, “I have no such experience.”

While running a ruthless business might lead to more profit in the short term, the Dalai Lama said, in the long run, “we lose.”

The Dalai Lama sat in a red chair flanked by Brotman, state Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, consultant Kevin Washington and former Boeing government liaison Bob Watt.

Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz was listed as a panelist on the program schedule, but a company spokeswoman said he had a scheduling conflict. A spokeswoman for Seeds of Compassion said the “last-minute” change was made after programs were printed.

The Dalai Lama made jokes with the panelists and audience and presented a relaxed and unpretentious aura, feeling free to scratch his ear or cheek while the others clasped their hands in their laps. The spiritual leader said competition in business is OK, as long as it builds up, rather than tears down, the opponent.

“If your colleague (is a) little bit lazy, or something like that, you try to be more competitive. So that is the positive side,” he said. “Negative side — to be causing one trouble.”

When Watt asked how to change the culture to be more compassionate, the Dalai Lama responded that there are three routes: through God, through non-theistic religion such as Buddhism and through a secular or scientific approach.

Later, pointing to his heart, he said, “If you want happy days, happy nights, happy family, take care here.”

Though compassion comes with a price, quantitative research backs up the Dalai Lama’s views, said Rajendra Sisodia, author of “Firms of Endearment.” Compassionate companies tend to outperform the market, he said.

“He has a way of clarifying things and simplifying things,” Sisodia said of the Dalai Lama. “It’s quite extraordinary. What we have done here is tap into some timeless wisdom.”


P-I reporter Paul Shukovsky contributed to this report. P-I reporter Andrea James can be reached at 206-448-8124 or andreajames@seattlepi.com.

 

 

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