'Mother Teresa, CEO': The Business Savvy of a Beatified Saint

Jul 19, 2011

Every Tuesday, we work with the deep-thinkers over at SoulPancake to choose a TakePart story and discuss the Life’s Big Question it brings to mind. This week we look at Mother Teresa's management style as a template for corporate CEOs. Look for this week's Big Question at the end of the story, then join the conversation!

Albanian children pray to "the Saint of the Gutters" on the day of her death, September 5, 1997. That kind of rank-and-file loyalty is the envy of every CEO. (Photo: Arben Celi/Reuters)

When she was a small child, Ruma Bose's mother would regale her daughter with bedtime stories about a diminutive Albanian saint in Calcutta.

"These stories have stayed with me to this day," Ruma says. "Stories about saving disabled children in the line of fire, giving dignity to the dying and winning wars over hope."

The woman at the center of these stories was not some fantastical fairytale hero or mythological deity of Ruma's mother's design, but a flesh-and-blood humanitarian named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu—better known as Mother Teresa.

In the early 1990s, Ruma—then a "disillusioned" 19-year-old college student eager to recapture some of her youthful idealism—made a pilgrimage to Calcutta to work with the Missionaries of Charity. 

"I decided one day that I wanted to volunteer with Mother Teresa. I packed my bags, showed up in Calcutta, and knocked on their door. That is literally what happened."

The subsequent two years set Ruma on a course for the rest of her life.

Ruma is now a "serial entrepreneur," investor, and advisor who serves as president and co-CEO of Sprayology, a wellness company that produces vitamins and homeopathic sprays. She's also the author of a new book largely inspired by Mother Teresa's teachings and her personal encounters with the world-renowned beatified saint, who passed away in 1997.

The future serial entrepreneur and her sanctified mentor. (Photo: Courtesy Ruma Bose)

But here's the catch: Ruma's book—co-authored with businessman Lou Faust and published by San Francisco's Berrett-Koehler Publishers—is not a literary biography or a scholarly hagiography, nor is it a faith-based recitation of Mother Teresa's religious precepts. 

The book's title? Mother Teresa, CEO.

You read that right. Ruma's book provocatively but respectfully mines Mother Teresa's good deeds for their "unexpected principles for practical leadership."

Although Ruma, a practicing Hindu, contextualizes Mother Teresa's life's work in the culture of Catholicism, Mother Teresa, CEO does not paint a specifically religious portrait of the late saint. The book is broken down into eight sections, each centered on a different practical (and generally secular) lesson—live a disciplined life, communicate openly and effectively, and so on—drawn from Mother Tersa's executive decisions as the head of an organization dedicated to serving "the poorest of the poor."

Ruma's hope is that these lessons—which she refers to as the "Eight Principles"—will be applied in board rooms and at executive conferences across the world.

In addition to business advice, Mother Teresa, CEO is interspersed with Ruma's reflections on how she applied her experience with the Missionaries of Charity to her own entreprenurial endeavors.

"[During my volunteer work], I was not only in the presence of spiritual greatness, but also executive excellence," Ruma says. That excellence serves as a model for "future leaders," she adds.

Business teachings aside, Ruma ultimately hopes that Mother Teresa, CEO is a "testament" to the woman's basic goodness.

"If you read stories about people who met her, even if they bumped into her at an airport and spent 30 seconds with her, those 30 seconds are moments that people remember for the rest of their lives. And there are very few people who have that sort of impact."

"8 Leadership Lessons from Mother Teresa" (from Mother Teresa, CEO):

1. Dream It Simple, Say it Strong

2. To Get to the Angels, Deal with the Devil

3. Wait! Then Pick Your Moment

4. Embrace the Power of Doubt

5. Discover the Joy of Discipline

6. Communicate in a Language People Understand

7. Pay Attention to the Janitor

8. Use the Power of Silence 

This week's Big Question from the deep-thinkers at SoulPancake: How would you improve your boss?

Join the conversation!

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