MIKLOS A. FEHER, ❘ Advantage Group’s managing partner has established a subsidiary in New York and is now engaged by one of the largest American corporations as a management trainer. He believes that people with purpose in life perform better than those who only work to make a living and boost their ego.
Interviewer: You were at the helm of a successful CEE based corporate group. Why did you decide to change and move to New York?
M. A. F.: I had often wondered what was the meaning and the most exciting mission of my life and at one point I realized that I wanted to make a greater impact on the business community and I wanted to do that in business centres where the most important decisions are made. In the meantime, I met with some mentors who were ready to share what they knew without any kind of jealousy. I have been working with Robert Dilts, one of the original developers of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) who is also my mentor. He used to be Apple’s personal coach but he is much more modest than most of the waiters I have met in my life.
I.: How did the recognition turn into reality?
M. A. F.: I have frequently observed in my self-awareness work that perceived limits are often within me and not in the outside world. My mother often cautioned me not to hold too many irons in the fire but it was obviously in vain. So I established our subsidiary in New York. Luckily, we managed to build our business very quickly without any initial contacts and today we run management trainings for one of the largest corporations in the USA.
I.: Do you see an advantage in your work as a management trainer to having been in management positions in several Hungarian companies earlier in your career?
M. A. F.: I originally graduated as a psychologist. Then I received an MBA from a joint programme of CEU and the American Case Western University. Before founding Advantage Group that specializes in organizational development and is currently present in seven different countries, I worked for Invitel as sales director, for Aegis-Synovate as CEE sales director and for Deloitte as senior consultant. Then I decided to do something different and studied NLP and Generative coaching in London, Paris and California and became a qualified coach and trainer.
I.: You are searching for purpose and meaning in management activities. Is there a demand for this among managers?
M. A. F.: Once, I was working with the top management team of a Hungarian multinational company and we were discussing what motivated them, why they were working. Later, we started to talk about goals and the meaning of life and one of them admitted to be doing it for the money only. Everybody froze as it was hardly an inspiration for the others. Somebody else said he did not have “such a purpose or reason” and quickly asked “Is that a problem?”. For long years now, I have been teaching people what I deeply believe myself that living without purpose, a goal is like flying a plane blindfolded which may very often end badly.
I.: I think this is an issue that is not only important for managers…
M. A. F.: Earlier, when we founded Feldmar Institute together with Andras Feldmar and Dorka Buki, we focused on the private sector and private individuals. What we most importantly want is to inspire people to ask questions, to think and to find meaning in life. Hillary Clinton recently said in an interview with CNN that today the world and politics are controlled by business interest groups. If this statement is true, what I want to know is how the mindset of the business sector may be influenced. Does the business sector have a conscience, are business players interested in what is going to happen to the world, our environment and communities?
I.: And? Does the economy have a conscience?
M. A. F.: Recently, the ideas of responsible/conscious capitalism or purpose oriented economy have been developed. Although we like to talk about the economy and the market as abstract ideas, in reality it is the economic players not the economy that have some kind of orientation or conscience. The world was reminded by a psychologist, Viktor Frankl, back in 1945 that people cannot live a healthy life without finding meaning for life but if they find it, they can survive even the worst sufferings. The therapy he developed is called logotherapy; logos (from Greek) means higher purpose, wisdom. Based on my experience as a manager and psychologist, I have long believed this to be true for the economy as well. Nevertheless, it had almost been 60 years before economic players, or more precisely people trying to find the reasons for economic and business success, clearly declared that purpose-oriented employees, companies and entrepreneurs perform and thrive better.
I.: Is there a way to measure that?
M. A. F.: Based on a survey published last November in the USA by Imperative, it is fairly simple as employees can be easily classified into two categories. There are employees for whom work is only about money and personal status and they are non-purpose oriented. And there are employees who also see work as a way to empower others, create value and find personal fulfilment, in other words they are purpose-oriented. This is a principal motivational style, attitude, independent from the level of one’s position. It is strongly affected by the family. Parents complaining every evening about how they hate it at work and can’t wait for the day to end significantly determine the children’s attitudes to work. I was very much delighted to see such proof for my own experience at organizational development. Purpose-oriented employees perform much better contributing to better prospects to become leaders, to remain with the company for a long time, to have better relations with their colleagues and to achieve higher level of fulfilment.
I.: Do companies pay attention to this?
M. A. F.: Many companies are aware of the importance of having clearly defined values and mission. And there are a lot of companies that see this as a top priority. However, it is a very new idea that all people can be basically classified into one of these two categories and that employers should initially look for purpose-oriented employees as this is something that is hard to change. Education could have an enormous impact on expectations young people have when entering the labour market.
Nowadays, there are many young people who have decided to find meaning in life, who want to be more creative and to do really fulfilling and exciting things. Therefore, the next-generation entrepreneur or the Social Entrepreneur is the man of the future.
I.: It means these values affect their employment and business decisions?
M. A. F.: A study finds that 70% of the employees around the world look very carefully at the environmental and social impacts of a business before choosing to work for that company. Also, 58% of Generation Y employees would agree to work for a salary lower by 15% if the company’s values were in harmony with theirs. And by 2025, Generation Y employees will contribute 75% of the world’s total workforce.
I.: What do next-generation entrepreneurs look for exactly?
M. A. F.: They look for a combination of purpose and clear identity. These entrepreneurs define themselves as explorers, catalysts, networkers and co-creators reflecting the importance of change and creativity. They are purpose-oriented; this drives their enthusiasm and high energies. Interestingly, they have a lot in common with Generation Y in this respect; value orientation is typical for both of these groups.
I.: Which businessmen have all these qualities?
M. A. F.: A number of well-known businessmen have shared their thoughts about this. Richard Branson said: “Taking on massive, seemingly impossible challenges while wanting to live a full life…” Elon Musk thinks we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask and to achieve greater collective enlightenment. Another good example is Muhammad Yunus’ microcredit business or Blake Mycoskie’s one for one model both centred around a system designed to achieve more than private success and to make a difference on community level. Earlier, these statements and ambitions came mostly from people wearing yoga pants and rasta hair or living as hippies. This is the reason why the business community did not really listen to them. It is a real pleasure to see that lately Hungarian companies such as Prezi or Ustream have taken serious action to improve value orientation in Hungarian businesses. An interesting representation of this new trend is angel investors.
I.: Do you mean those well-to-do individuals who directly invest in start-up businesses?
M. A. F.: Few people know that this term originally comes from Broadway in New York. Struggling theatrical productions were trying to find alternative ways of funding to avoid banks and other lenders. Theatres were sometimes saved by these individual “angel” investors who were seen as help sent from above. Later, the film industry in Hollywood also started to use this term. Then, it was introduced in Silicon Valley – and it is currently seeing a huge revival – where it means affluent private investors who make a relatively low investment in businesses they see to have a great potential in exchange for ownership equity. In addition to financial investment, they are often actively involved as board members or mentors. Their contribution to the success of these companies goes way beyond their investment as they help these businesses move forward to the next level by sharing their networks, experience and knowledge making them invaluable assets for start-ups.
I.: Let’s return to your work: how can you teach people to pursue some purpose?
M. A. F.: Together with Robert Dilts, we were working on a methodology to allow leaders and entrepreneurs to find their own identity and purpose, meaning in life and subsequently to develop a routine helping them in key areas. We want to erase the current line of demarcation between psychology and business because these two sides are not communicating and do not understand each another’s language. We want to provide a methodology that is easy to understand, practical and accessible for an increasingly broad audience, in particular young people who are just now starting their careers and thinking about starting their own business. Going back to the original question as to why key economic players should be interested in sustainability, community and purpose. The reason for this may be is that we clearly see that individuals, organizations or the market simply cannot stay healthy if they do not have the will to do so, if they fail to recognize that they are part of a system. If you poison part of the system, that will certainly hit back hurting you or your children. Knowing this, why would you do it?