To a person who struggles every day just to make the cut, meet someone else’s expectations and earn a name in the future, a man calmly and effortlessly gives assurance that it is no shame to keep on trying and fail in the process for it only humbles that person to reach his or her destination that is success.
For Joseph Bismark, author of The Gem Collection A Compilation of Wisdom and group managing director of Qi Group of Companies, the biggest failure would be not trying.
“Discouragement or otherwise, is purely a matter of perspective,” Bismark said.
He recalled that when he was just starting to play baseball, every time he picked up the bat, he was sure that he would strike out. The realization that each swing he missed was not a failure, but merely one step closer to a successful hit, to a home run, helped him to rise in every challenge. Bismark admitted that though he may have his share of failed attempts in business, there was never a time he thought of quitting. He never sees misfortune as a scapegoat not to succeed.
“So too, it is in business. Some ventures can fail, but all you need is that first home run. The others follow naturally, easily and in quick succession. When you look at your business ventures from this perspective, the question of discouragement doesn’t arise at all. Each situation becomes a learning process, and learning is fun,” he added.
He noted that every day there is a different challenge one needs to face, and for him, not being able to overcome that challenge is a failure.
“Every day I fail,” the humble executive said.
Even in his leadership style, Bismark would give his staff or directors all the rope that they need and when they hang themselves with it that would be their problem.
He gives them room to make mistakes because he believes it is important to make mistakes in order to succeed. “Make a mistake, acknowledge it and learn from it,” he mused.
For Bismark, misfortune is all about perception.
In an interview, he noted that one of his favorite stories in the book is “Maybe or Maybe Not,” which is about how people treat misfortune as negative and fortunes as positive.
“I don’t know if one can be a judge and say that a particular event or sudden twist of fate can be considered good or bad,” Bismark said.
Coming from a broken family, he ended up in the monastery. As a kid, he was overwhelmed by many questions, and he would ask himself why he was so unfortunate to experience this or that.
Looking back, he saw that as a nice blessing because if that did not happen he would not have that opportunity to acquire the kind of learning he got from the monastery.
“Now I never see misfortune as it is. It’s just a question of when do I realize that it is actually a fortune,” he said.
MORE than being a genius or having an impressive résumé, determination tops the list of what makes people successful, Bismark pointed out.
He went on to say that, “Success, I believe, is a very personal attribute, and lacks a singular definition that would be acceptable to all. After all, what is success? And who is really capable of judging another’s?”
Does success imply material wealth? Does it mean a rewarding career? Does fame equate with success? Or is a successful life one that is lived in love and service?
With these questions, Bismark is convinced that the definitions of success are as numerous as the number of people and their corresponding viewpoints.
“I find it important and fulfilling to pursue spiritual growth,” he said.
The ancient saying “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” has always resonated in him, and he strongly believes that it’s a feat for a person to a have balance of both.
He was around 18 years old when he came back to live in the city, and what shocked him the most was the general tendency toward inappropriate associations.
It pained him to see many young people leading a life of excess, of indiscipline, and with scant control of their senses. Drug abuse, intoxication, sexual promiscuity, and violence were so prevalent; it was as if, these were “accepted norms” of society.
Moreover, Bismark observed that urgent things normally consume many people today such as paying the bills and earning money.
“The urgent things are not really important if you look at it. The more important things—health and relationship with people—are not urgent,” he said.
As when urgency takes control of people, they tend to depend too much on technology. Bismark argued that there is a need for technology for it cannot be stopped from happening.
“As long as it would not destroy our environment, I’m not really against technology.”
Many people would use the possessions they have—cars, cell phones, or laptops—as a measure of how successful they are. Bismark pointed out that back in old times people used to walk and accept what they had.
“Don’t make it [technology] or the lack of it a reason why you’re not successful. Rip me off with all the flashy technologies available, I can still make it. That’s what it should be,” he emphasized.
Spirituality and business
ACCORDING to Bismark, there is no conflict between managing a business and being spiritually driven at the same time.
It is but any business’s goal to make profits. He argues that by “being spiritual” implies living a life of poverty, is not entirely true.
According to him, spirituality has never meant penury, nor does it imply living the stringent life of an ascetic.
“To be spiritual simply means to be consciously connected with the Supreme in all our thoughts and deeds,” he said. History, he notes, is replete with accounts of sagely kings and rishis who have ran kingdoms on spiritual values. To ignore this case would be inappropriately to assume that a spiritual person has to be poor, just as it would be to believe that every poor person is spiritual.
“A spiritual person may have wealth, and he would know fully well that he is just a container. He is more likely to take just what he needs, and use the resources at his disposal to help others,” he said.
Leading a business
BISMARK said his business philosophy is no way different from his personal philosophy. Every person’s philosophy applies equally to his or her personal and professional lives.
For him, it is not possible to differentiate the two as it would be absurd to live by two sets of differing philosophies at the same time: one governing our personal conduct and the other, our business.
“A leader has to be in constant touch with his inner being. In my opinion, there can be no other way,” he said.
As an example, nonviolence is a philosophy he firmly believes in and this translates into both his personal life and that of his business, as the practice of vegetarianism.
The Qi Group from its very inception has abided by this fundamental rule of all life being sacred and has remained vegetarian in all of its events, be it a corporate lunch, press events or feeding thousands at a convention.
Vegetarianism is not a food choice nor is it a lifestyle statement or even a health preference; it is simply a statement of our philosophy that all life is sacred, Bismark said.
According to him, leadership is all about stepping up and taking charge. To do this, one needs to be clear about the direction he or she needs to be headed in. This clarity comes only from connecting with one’s inner-self, with one’s core values.
The importance of connecting inwards pushes people to realize their potential, in searching for qualities that every good leader must have such as strength, humility, determination, purpose, passion and confidence.
Part of leading a business is the opportunity and responsibility to work with a lot of people. And for Bismark, there are really no “difficult” people but only people who “differ.”
“We tend to judge people as difficult merely because they hold opinions that differ from ours. If a difference of opinion was enough to classify a person as difficult, wouldn’t we be equally guilty of being ‘difficult’ to someone else, by extension of the same reasoning?”
Rather than criticizing the person, he tries to focus on the issue that is being debated upon. By doing so, it helps him to keep prejudices in check and opens doors to finding areas of commonality and mutual agreement.
“It forces us to look at the issues objectively rather than through the colored lens of personal bias,” he said.
Surprisingly, Bismark noted that he has always appreciated people with diverging viewpoints as he feels how they act as sharpening tools to his own intellect. An appreciation and understanding of other’s viewpoints generally makes for good personal and professional sense, he added.
Beyond the dollar value of CSR
ONE of the most striking lines from book reads, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” When asked why is this so, Bismark willingly offered his thoughts.
According to him, gratitude is the greatest virtue because every other core value springs from it. Gratefulness comes from a deeper understanding of the truth of the “Supreme.”
Gratitude results in humility, from which springs appreciation and thankfulness. From humility alone is borne the realization of our blessings and gifts.
Perhaps, humility is one word that never runs out of Bismark’s system as he wrote in the book as a dedication, “Humility is courage.”
A humble man is naturally appreciative of all that he has, and unconditionally thankful for the same. “How else can one be appreciative, if one is not even grateful for what he/she has to appreciate?”
As the front man of a multimillion-dollar company, Bismark believes that corporate social responsibility (CSR) cannot be limited merely to providing resources to the indigent or mitigating the negative impacts, if any, of their business operations on the communities they operate in.
It is the mindset of “social responsibility” that matters, he said.
Funny thing is, Bismark and his company are already into social initiatives even without them knowing that there is an existing term for that.
“We don’t want to be seen by other people as a company who is just there to help a few people and pose in front of the camera, get the photo published and declare we are a socially sensitive company.”
The Singapore-based executive never liked the idea of getting attention in order for people to notice them. But he was advised that it’s a good move for the company to do more initiatives in the future.
Bismark said that Qi’s foundation is very active in helping communities in different parts of the world including his native country, the Philippines.
After the onslaught of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, a dedicated group of company employees extended their help. According to him, the foundation partners with local organizations in the country to carry out their projects.
Bizmark pointed out that respect for all living entities and the absence of a mentality of exploitation is the key.
“The social structure that we operate in is not confined to just people and communities. We share the earth with other nonhuman life forms and we must be mindful of the effects of our actions on them,” he said.
Bismark argued it has been proven that practice of nonvegetarianism contributes toward an unsustainable strain on our ecology and resources. “How then can we claim to be environmentally conscious, yet practice nonvegetarianism at the same time?”
He lamented that an organization must attempt to see beyond the “dollar value” of its CSR activities and focus on the micro impact.
“In my opinion, an understanding and appreciation of the broader issues that concern the societies we live in, would be the first step for organizations toward better corporate citizenship,” he pointed out.
ALTHOUGH he is based in Singapore where he mainly oversees the company’s business operations, settling in his own native land will always be an option for him and for his family.
As the founding director of the Qi Group, he has the tall task of managing the company operating diverse business lines ranging from e-commerce, direct marketing, property development, telecommunications, lifestyle and leisure in nearly 180 countries.
Given this responsibility, Bismark still flies to the country quite often together with his family as he proudly describes Philippines as a country that has very dynamic combination of talented, diligent people and abundant natural resources.
With the two mentioned assets, he argued that the country lacks the optimum management of these two, which is a key to any economic growth.
“In the coming years, political intent, public will and an attitude of accountability are what will make the tell-tale difference between the Philippines emerging as a powerhouse in Asia or struggling to play catch-up with its counterparts,” Bismark said.
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