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A Business Magnet’s Chase Of Spiritual Wealth

Updated: May 25, 2013 5:24 pm

Alfred Ford, the great grandson of American automobile legend Henry Ford, tells Joydeep Dasgupta why expanding consciousness is more important to him than just growing business

How many people, who are born a billionaire, can mentally detach themselves from the corporate world and balance spirituality and business with ease? Alfred Ford, the great grandson of American automobile legend Henry Ford, is one of the very few billionaires who likes to spend more time chanting the glory of Lord Krishna in the temple than discussing business in the Ford Motor’s corporate boardroom.

Ford has faced many ups and downs in his corporate life, running the company Ford Motors, which his great grandfather Henry Ford had founded in 1903. Now after two generations, he along with his brothers is running the company.

“My great grandfather started Ford Motors with a vision to bring automobile within the reach of the common man’s budget. Then his son Atsel Ford followed in his footsteps, but he unfortunately died at a very young age of 49 years. Later on, my father took over and during his period, Ford Motor Company saw major developments. He made automobile global and bring it within the reach of international customers. Now my brother William Ford is the Chairman,” he informed.

A few years ago, Ford Motors nearly became bankrupt because of debt burden and the turmoil in the European market prompting the company to drastically change its strategy. Ford pointed out: “We immediately changed the CEO and now the present CEO has a new vision and we are fully backing him in his turnaround plans.”

But during all these downswings, what helped Ford to maintain his equipoise was his spiritual bent. It was the Bhagwat Gita and its teachings which gave him a new meaning in life. He was not bogged down by the Ford legacy. Though he was born in one of America’s richest families, the staggering wealth and privileges failed to entrap him into the material world and he constantly searched for a new meaning in life. Despite wealth and opulence, he was feeling a profound emptiness within himself. His search ended when he met a spiritual guru.

“The turning point of my life came when I met my Guru Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupad, the founder of ISKCON at Dallas, Texas, about 40 years ago. It drastically altered my thinking and I began to see life from a very different perspective,” he said. This prompted him to come to India, as he felt this country was a treasure trove of spiritual wealth.

Talking about the challenges in running a company, he says: “In the initial days, it was very difficult to run the company, first to balance the funding and then to give it a proper direction. But now things are a bit smoother.”

Asked about the main qualities needed for an entrepreneur, Ford says: “ Leadership, innovativeness, being first in the market and creativity are the main qualities according to me for an entrepreneur.” About his strength, he says: “Dedication to principles, humility and learning from the mistakes are my biggest strength.”

Ford is a vegetarian, teetotaller and a staunch devotee of Krishna and has an Indian wife Sharmila Bhattacharya from West Bengal and visits this state at least twice a year. He was in Kolkata recently on a mission to set up the world’s largest Vedic temple at the ISKCON headquarters in Mayapur.

Ford is one of the most ardent disciples of the ISKCON movement, which is sponsoring the first phase of the Chandrodaya Temple, the largest Vedic temple of the world, which is coming up at Mayapur. He has donated a part of his wealth for building the temple. The first phase of the 340-feet-high temple will be opened to the public in 2016, when ISKCON completes 50 years of its existence. He is spending nearly $75 million to build the first phase of the temple that looks very different from the conventional Hindu temples with its domes, columns and turrets.

Commenting on his spiritual journey, he said: “Population is rising day by day, resulting in multitudes of problems. We need to seek for permanent solution and I guess spirituality is the only solution.”

About his major achievements, he says: “To establish a Cultural Centre at Detroit is for me the big achievement of my life.” On his work towards corporate social responsibility, Ford says: “Enlightenment through spirituality, I guess, is the biggest social responsibility and by contributing in the building of the temple in Mayapur, people from all walks of life will be benefitted.” About his idea of happiness, he stated: “It is service and connection to Krishna.” His idea of unwinding is to go on a hiking on a hill, chanting the name of Krishna.

For the past 40 years that he has been visiting the city of Kolkata, Ford has been fascinated by its transformation. His wife Sharmila is equally a follower of ISKCON movement.

When asked how she happened to meet her husband, Sharmila said that it was at a rath yatra festival organised by ISKCON in Sydney in 1982 and it was love at first sight for both of them. After initial courting days when they decided to tie the nuptial knot, Sharmila’s parents were apprehensive of it. They wanted her to marry a Bengali boy, but she chose a total foreigner. But once her parents met Ford, their initial apprehension soon gave way to adoration. The parents then gave their consent and they got married in 1984. About his wife, Ford says: “My wife Sharmila is a staunch devotee of Shri Krishna. She is the anchor of my life too. She is a wonderful woman who supports me in all my endeavours.” Sharmila says: “What I like most about my husband is his humility, his dedication, his honesty and his simplicity. Above all, he is so gentle, kind and sweet that I can’t express. The couple has two daughters—Amrita and Anisha.

When asked about his husband’s balance between work and life, Sharmila said: “He maintains both his life and business very well. He is very spiritual person. He wakes up early at 3 am daily and only after completing his prayers and rituals he goes to office.” “His first priority in life is spirituality,” adds Sharmila.

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