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Vivian Norris Headshot

When the CEO Sets the Tone for Transformation in Business

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That's the thing, the paradigms are changing, people want to be well-balanced. It needs to be built into the business model itself and you cannot let Wall Street pollute that, trying to tell you what to do. You need to stick to your principles like Blake Mycoskie of Tom's shoes and the man who created Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard do. The employees like it..."

"In life, we have to do everything at the same time as a whole... work, love, doing good... Some people work hard and later give back like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett... but who knows many people die young, so we really need to built it in parallel all the time. -- Bernard Mariette, CEO of Lole

Recently, I have been meeting with CEOs of companies who are focusing on how to balance work, life, and giving back to society. This used to be the way things were, that as you became enriched and prosperous, you gave back. You made time to honor important relationships with family, loved ones and friends. But during the past few decades, it feels as if business leaders felt the need to make their own huge nest egg first, and then and only then begin to give back. In other words, workaholics who sacrificed in an unhealthy way, only to try to make up for it later. Often there are those who are damaged by the workaholic, those who are not honored along the way. But there is a better, more balanced way to live and create businesses. And intelligent, conscious CEOs know how to grow a business in this way.

I had a conversation with the head of the Lole yoga and sportswear company, Bernard Mariette, whom I had met last year and whose conviction that one must balance work, growth and life appeared to me to be so authentic that I paid attention to the company and how they were reaching their audience. I found it unusual in the best of ways. Before I became a customer, I was approached as a human being who was looking for balance, physical, spiritual and mental well-being. From that came the desire to want to understand more about the philosophy behind the business, and how it was expanding in an extremely organic way. When I walk into their store, I don't have the feeling of simply being a customer, but of someone who is looking for balance and thus has certain needs and desires which may or may not lead to me buying something. But whatever I do, I know I will be back soon because of the ambiance they have created and the opportunities they provide for me to experience different kinds of relaxation and well-being techniques.

Lole in Paris, in Canada and elsewhere, holds what are called "meet-ups," or events to which they invite yogis, meditation and massage therapists to their atelier stores -- which double as relaxation spaces. They also hold large events outside and all summer I attended yoga sessions with up to a hundred people in a beautiful space in the Eastern part of Paris, overlooking the Seine, called Wanderlust. DJs, coconut water suppliers, women and men from across the city, all met up on Sunday mornings to do yoga with different instructors, trying out various breathing techniques and simply enjoying a communal well-being experience. At two of the larger events they created in Canada and Paris over two thousand people showed up to do yoga! It's inspiring, people of all ages, children -- all calmly helping hectic city life slow down.

This reminded me of Muhammad Yunus' social business concept in which the goal of a company is not only to sell something, but also to give back, be it through creating jobs, providing nutritious food for the poor, or helping a village have a clean water supply. In this case, Lole gives back through providing many people an introduction to yoga and a healthier lifestyle while living in big cities. They also are about quality, and not consumerism. The idea is that you do not need three kinds of sports shoes, but one well-designed sport shoe which lasts. It is about thinking of business as more than just money -- making and bottom lines. In this case, the bottom line is also spreading good will, educating people about how to live in a healthier way and reaching out to encourage people to be proactive and increase the quality of their lives.

Each Sunday morning when I was in Paris this summer, I headed to the Wanderlust yoga provided for free by Lole and was always pleasantly surprised, even when it rained, by the quality of the instructors, the sense of well-being shared by the participants (the number of which grew so much over the summer as the word got out, that we filled the space next to the river), the music and the fact that I always came away feeling so good.

When a company really gives back in a deep way, like Lole is doing, it builds trust and a desire to think first of going towards such a company, whose positive philosophy extends to its employees and throughout its management, when I do want to buy something. These days, when people are cutting back and really thinking about how and where and if to spend, why would you want to support a company that does not make this world a better place?

Lole promotes an attitude which is the opposite of the more selfish, profit-at-all-costs model Wall Street has advised companies to follow. If you listen to the Wall Street advisors you can end up losing the soul of your company, perhaps firing that one person who embodies the heart of what your company is about simply because some money men think he or she is not needed. You need to remember to honor the message and the integrity of what you are doing with your company, even if it does not always make sense on paper, it is an intuitive knowing.

Maybe it is because I live in Europe where not everyone but, I would say, the majority, do buy less and tend to focus on better quality which lasts longer. We don't have as much space to fill up with stuff. Priorities force us to choose what we surround ourselves with, which clothes we buy, how we spend, and if the return of value for our money is justified. If you add to that a company which makes it a pleasure to support their products because they give back so much, you have a win-win situation.

When I asked the Director and Photographer of the Lole Winter '12 Campaign what she loved about the project and working with Lole, She answered: "More than anything, I love being part of this peaceful revolution. The one that shows women in a confident light, the one that lifts the human spirit towards the eternal sky. Everything in the film is authentic, the light, the locations, the crew. The lead model is a real yogini, in fact we practice Bikram together at the same studio in Paris. It's not enough to promote wellness, one has to live it."

If everyone who has been suffering in some way from this financial crisis went out and did yoga at least once a week, and learned to breathe deeply, sharing well-being in a communal experience outside in nature -- be it a city park or beach -- we would all feel a heck of a lot better. Because this kind of good energy spreads, and helps all of us to make better decisions in our private and professional lives, it helps us keep the perspective on what out true priorities are and should be, and it makes us physically healthier.

More and more people are doing yoga around the world. The increase is frankly astonishing. But people are not stupid, and I would say to CEOs and marketing executives, treat your potential customers with respect and better yet, give back, take the first step, and it will pay off in ways you never imagined.

Check out the beautiful video by Debra Kellner showing us the spirit of Lole... I want to be doing this! www.lolewomen.com