Remarks by Farooq
Kathwari at New York University on February 27, 2007. Lecture organized
by: Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West and the Stern School
of Business on the subject “Islamic Ethical Principles and
Globalization: A Path to Partnership Between America and the Islamic
Good Evening. I want to thank my good friend, Mustapha Tlili,
for arranging this opportunity to share my thoughts on the Consequences
of Globalization. By coincidence, earlier this month I was
interviewed on this subject by PBS News Hour. The subject of
globalization has always been relevant and more so today with communication
and information accessible to millions, if not billions, of people. The
accessibility of information and a major increase in global trade
have created great opportunities and also possibilities of major
conflicts. Expectations are being raised and major migrations
of people are taking place, environmental concerns, global health
concerns and regional conflicts are on the rise. More than
ever the leadership of the world has to come together to address
these issues. In the PBS interview I gave an analogy that globalization
is like climbing a mountain and if not paced the result is like to
the climber acute altitude sickness often resulting in death.
While reflecting on this subject, my own journey
from the mountains and valleys of Kashmir is part of the globalization
feels like yesterday arriving 41 years back – a period that
was tumultuous. I left for New York the day after India and
Pakistan announced a cease-fire to end the 1965 war over Kashmir. Being
in Kashmir was a difficult period and coming to New York was a relief,
a new life and an opportunity. I worked during the days in
a printing company on Broome Street, not far from here, and went
to evening school at the Graduate School of Business, now the Stern
School. The school was on Church Street near Wall Street which
led me to get a job with Bear Stearns and later Rothschild Inc. I
was fortunate to learn about finance and management from these great
In Kashmir my main preoccupation at school was playing
and captaining a cricket team and other sports and I majored in compatible
subjects for sports English Literature and Political Science. At
NYU, after taking one class each in Economics and Accounting, I felt
at home in marketing as my major field of study. My other accomplishment
at NYU was to join the NYU cricket team and becoming the captain
six months later.
Growing up in Kashmir was unique in many ways. We were living
in an area of major conflict. Many families got separated,
including ours. My mother did not see two of her children for
10 years and my father was away from home for 17 years. Yet
with all these difficulties we were taught principles of patience,
kindness, charity, discipline, honesty, justice, moderation and reason – all
attributes associated with Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and repeatedly
mentioned in the Koran. For us the Prophet was like a captain
of the team, he led the team, he was a political leader, a general,
a teacher and believed in justice and action. He married his
boss, a woman who was older than him, and in fact she proposed the
marriage to him. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) preached and practiced
that the main responsibility of leadership is to improve the welfare
of the citizens. His example was followed by many leaders and
merchants who went to far away places like Indonesia, Malaysia and
North Africa to develop trade, govern, and also to help spread the
message of justice and fair dealing. The merchants were followed
by many great teachers including many who are referred to as Sufis.
It is interesting that the poetry of the 13th century Muslim poet
Rumi, whose ancestry was from Western Afghanistan is the best selling
poetry today in the United States.
When I arrived at NYU 41 years back, I lived
in Brooklyn and after the shock of the underground subway and its
deafening noise, I observed my new home. What impressed me about America was that people
worked hard, they were honest, and if you showed promise you got
an opportunity to go forward. People treated each other with
more dignity and equality than I had encountered in Kashmir – even
though Kashmir is known for these attributes. I came to realize
the principles of good ethics are universal and in America, a country
of immigrants, its diversity was its strength and created a unique
culture in the world. But America was not without major
faults. I could not understand the treatment of African Americans
or Native Americans and that women had limited rights until recently. Yet
America had hope because of her principles derived from the Declaration
of Independence, the Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights. And
for the first time in my life I was not living under the constant
shadow of pain that a conflict inflicts.
I have had the privilege of leading Ethan Allen,
a classic American brand, for the last twenty years. Ethan Allen is celebrating
its 75th Anniversary this year. The company started as a manufacturer
of furniture supplying its products to independent dealers. When
I took charge in the mid 1980’s, Ethan Allen needed major re-invention. The
product designs were no longer relevant, the marketing and manufacturing
needed a major overhaul. The challenge was to change the image
of this well established enterprise with 90% brand recognition. And
as often happens, the management at the company was comfortable with
their status and felt there was no need to change.
Reinvention means taking a fresh look at the
problems and challenging assumptions of the past. In going through any major reinvention
one must understand and expect that generally, ideas are first rejected,
and then tolerated, and finally there is a chance of acceptance. Reinvention
is key to the continued vitality of any institution and takes place
either unconsciously, which is most of the time, or consciously which
obviously is the preferred method. I also believe it is the responsibility
of leadership to establish overall the environment and guidelines
under which the enterprise will operate. Every institution
is defined by the culture that the leadership creates. Debates
and priorities are shaped by the leadership and if the leadership
fails to take the opportunity and responsibility, the vacuum gets
filled by people with louder voices and often with extreme agendas.
Today Ethan Allen is a changed enterprise and
a global enterprise. As
you know, much has been written about management and leadership principles. I
have been impressed by the Universal Principles of Ethics that are
part of all religions of the world and also enshrined in the principles
that founded this great country. These shared principles inspired
me to establish our own set of “instructions” which we
call the Leadership Principles and can be found on our website www.ethanallen.com
The Ethan Allen Leadership principles have helped
us to create a unique culture which has developed a team of about
10,000 highly motivated associates. Let me briefly describe
these ten Leadership principles which you will recognize are all
associated with common sense, universal ethics, and good governance.
- Leadership: Provide leadership by example.
- Accessibility: Be accessible, supportive, and recognize the
contributions of others.
- Customer Focus: Understand that a manager’s
first responsibility is to the customer.
(And in case of
political leaders to the welfare of its citizens)
- Excellence and Innovation: Have a passion for excellence
- Self-confidence: Have the self-confidence to empower others
to do their best.
- Change: change means opportunity
and do not be afraid of it.
- Speed: Maintain a competitive advantage by reacting to new
opportunities with speed.
- Hard Work: Establish a standard of hard work and practice
- Prioritize: Establish priorities by clearly differentiating
between the big issues and the small ones.
- Justice: Always make decisions fairly. Justice builds confidence
and trust, which in turn encourages motivation and teamwork.
During the last 20 years we have made it a point
that these principles are discussed in large and small meetings
and most of our senior management is asked to write about the implementations
of these principles as part of self-evaluation. A major portion
of our incentive compensation of senior managers is based on their
adherence to these principles.
I would like to focus on the principle of justice.
The word justice is not often used in business enterprises. Yet we know dis-motivation
is a major cause of lack of productivity and negative impact on profitability. I
believe good governance is good for profitability. At Ethan
Allen, during the last fifteen years, we have consistently performed
at the highest profitability levels in our industry and, in fact,
in most industries.
This brings me to the issue of the importance of good governance
and the need for partnerships at a global level. The world is small
and getting smaller. Communication and information are raising expectations
and if these expectations are not reasonably met will cause major
issues and conflicts. We know the universal principle that our performance
is judged by the expectations that we create or are created for us.
Those of us who are running public companies or are working in the
public domain know that quite well. We must understand that our long
term welfare in the United States will increasingly depend on helping
raise the standards of living around the world. We are already confronted
by issues due to migrations of people. The migrations are taking
place due to many factors including political conflicts, rising expectations,
lack of economic opportunities and, in my view, lack of good leadership.
We must reject the notion that globalization means that we would
do well and not pay attention to the welfare of the citizens of this
global village. Migrations are taking place from South to North America,
from Asia and Africa to Europe and from rural areas to urban areas.
The migrations from rural to urban areas in many faster developing
countries are creating major social conflicts, health issues and
challenges to the environment.
One such conflict is displacement. I am
associated with Refugees International, a non-profit organization
that works on advocacy for displaced people. It is a tragedy that
over twenty million people are displaced from their homes and the
number is rapidly growing. In addition, we are just comprehending
the potential impact that global warming can have on populations
living in major coastal cities around the world. If the global
warming continues at the levels we are experiencing there are estimates
that millions could be displaced around the world.
In addition to the environmental and other issues
relating to globalization, we have another major issue to contend
with: the perceived conflict between the U.S and the religion of
Islam. This perceived conflict theory is largely based on the assumption
by some that the Judeo-Christian and Islamic value systems are
violently opposed to each other. It is important to note that this
belief is held by a vocal section of the populations of non-Muslims
and Muslims. This assumption of inherent conflict is misleading
and inaccurate for several reasons. First of all, the religion
of Islam is a continuation of the messages that came with Judaism
and Christianity. It is the third Western religion in the Abrahamic
tradition, and it is based on the same fundamental principles as
Judaism and Christianity. Secondly, we cannot ignore the role that
political leaders play in the pitting of “us vs. them.” Throughout history, various religions
have been used to justify all sorts of violent actions – including
slavery, genocide, and colonialism. Let us not forget that promoting “Islam” as
opposite the “West” is a political tool that is all too
easily manipulated. We must all reject the view that Islam, as a
religion, is not compatible with democracy and rule of law. The fact
remains that the underlying ethical principles of Islam are in conformity
with the principles on which this great nation was based on. I again
refer to the common values of mercy, charity, social justice, living
peacefully with the various peoples of the world, and the use of
reason. I would further argue that people all over the world
want to improve their economic conditions and to live with better
governance. With access to information these demands will increase.
Furthermore, I am deeply concerned by the increasingly confrontational
and narrow attitude of the leadership in many countries of the world,
both eastern and western. In most instances, ego, arrogance and lack
of common sense is determining the course of action causing great
harm to millions of innocent people. No individual, enterprise or
nation can prosper with major unresolved conflicts. The main responsibility
of leadership is to end such conflicts in a peaceful and honorable
manner and this, sadly, is not happening.
Despite the current conflicts and perceptions
I believe that the U.S is in a unique position to take the lead.
Not only is the U.S a major economic and military power, but we
are also situated to be a model of constructive pluralism, because
the United States is a microcosm of the world community in its
I believe that in order to confront the major issues that the world
is faced with, there is an urgent need to create partnerships.
- Western Muslims particularly the American Muslims can and must
play an important role in facilitating dialogue on the common ethical
values we all share. We must help to form networks that encourage
meaningful involvement in the political process. In this regard
I am co-chairing together with former Secretary of Agriculture
Lynn Martin a task force called the American Muslim Task force
organized by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs. After about
fifteen months of deliberations the Task force report is due this
June. This report will outline a number of initiatives that can
be taken by and for American Muslims to get more involved in domestic
political processes and also to be a bridge in projecting the common
- Global Enterprises, especially those based in the U.S have an
opportunity of helping many communities domestically and overseas.
In this regard partnerships with enterprises in Muslim majority
countries will help improve relations. Global enterprises have
the resources and can-do attitude. Yesterday, I had the opportunity
to participate in a relatively new initiative called Committee
Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. This Committee has a membership
of the Chief Executive Officers of about 150 major global, mostly
U.S based corporations. We recognized a number of enterprises,
including GlaxoSmithKline, for creating partnerships in many developing
countries. GlaxoSmithKline has over a long term created partnerships
and in 2006 donated in cash and kind over $650 million.
- There is an immediate need for the world’s leaders, representing
different regions and religions to meet. These leaders should include
those we agree with and also those we disagree with. These leaders
must clearly state that challenges faced by our global village
should be resolved under the umbrella of our shared ethical principles. I
believe this group should meet regularly and the process institutionalized.
- Similarly, a special meeting of the senior-most religious leaders
of various faiths needs to be organized. These leaders should focus
their energies on areas that unite us.
I would like to add here that for fruitful discussions,
dialogue must be characterized by three features. One is the absence
of coercion, with all parties agreeing to treat others as equal.
A second requirement is for participants to respond with empathy,
to think someone else’s
thoughts and feel someone else’s feelings. The third requirement
is that dialogue must be concerned with bringing forth peoples’ deep-rooted
assumptions in order to overcome misunderstandings. There must be
genuine desire to work together in partnership.
Thank you once again. I am delighted and
touched to have had the opportunity to re-visit the University
that played an important part in my early life and has so graciously
welcomed me back.
Back to Appearances