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Swamiji - The CEO of a million dollar company

Posted : ஞாயிற்றுக்கிழமை,   ஏப்ரல்   02 , 2006  14:03:06 IST

Christian R. Fabre a.k.a Swami Pranavananda Brahmendra Avadhuta (SPBA) are not merely two names of the same individual, but are rather two different individuals embodying a single form simultaneously. Christian R. Fabre (CRF)is the CEO of a million dollar garment exports company, Fashions International, & he wears saffron robes, Vermillion & rudraksha in this role, but as SPBA, he happens to be a non-seeker, an enlightened soul, a practicing Avadhut sanyasi of thus also practices nudity.


The Journey
The evolution of Swami Pranavanada Brahmendra Avadhuta from Christian R Fabre has all the elements of a thriller, filled with suspense and drama & his life has been a roller coaster ride.

He had led the life of a normal Frenchman, till he had the opportunity to come to India & settle here, to source-semi-finished leather for his company. He moved to Madras along with his wife, kid & even his own furniture. He blended very well with the expatriate community of Madras & very soon became a regular in all their activities. Thus his private life had all the elements that one would associate with living in style.

But in his business life, he had to deal with uneducated or moderately educated leather traders & this was an education on India to him. He was extremely impressed about the kindness, hospitality & most importantly the patience of the local community. The going was initially tough for him however; the main adversity being communication with his clients. He was shocked by many systems & practices prevalent here, but the caste system shocked him the most especially the way people of one caste related to people of another caste.

He was cruising along smoothly both in his business & personal life until, the Government of India brought on a ban on export of semi-finished leather, like a bolt from the blue. This was to completely change his fortunes. His company was very happy with his performance & was more than willing to accommodate him elsewhere but he was unwilling to leave India. Thus he became jobless overnight & his lifestyle quickly pushed him to dire financial straits & he was forced to eke out a living on just bread alone & had to smoke discarded cigarette bults.

Simultaneously he had to surmount something more painful; his wife divorced him and left him for France & took their only son along with here. His friends among the local expatriate community deserted him very soon & severed all contacts with him whatsoever. But his friends among the local population were a source of great support and strength to him. He says, that he realised that the expatriates were not willing to relate to the local population, and were constantly complaining about one thing or the other, comparing things in India with their homelands, without understanding, or even attempting to understand the problems as they existed in India. He, however decided that he will not leave India despite all the problems, for he did not want to leave India, with a string of failures; failure in business life, love and a broken marriage behind him.

This steely resolve in him, coupled with his efforts at reviving his financial status culminated in his establishing a garment export unit with a local friend of his & they set up shop in his home itself with five sewing machines. In 1974, this was one of the first garment export units of the country. His being French helped in his business as his customers could identify with him and also relate to him & rely on him more easily than on a native Indian. The unit became a flourishing unit very soon & was one of the biggest of export units of those times in South India.

He shifted to Kilpauk & it was here that he acquired the friendship of a few religiously inclined families, which was to prove very crucial later in his life. The business was prospering, the relationship between the partners cordial, (and Christian Fabre maintains that it is cordial till this day) but they split, mainly because Christian Fabre felt more & more that he was the only one who was working.

But this again straitened his finances & he was back to square one. Meanwhile thanks to his new found religiously minded friends he had made steady progress in his spiritual pursuits. He had begun learning Ashtanga Yoga from a Yoga teacher Swami Vedananda, who was offering classes on Yoga free of cost.

He began all over again in his business life, & started garment export Buying House, Fashions International along with a couple of other friends, Jayapalan and Shaana Thiruchelvan. He decided that they will not produce any garments but will only source them.

At around the same time, one day his Yoga teacher took him to a mahant at Ulundurpet. The sight that he saw there transformed his life completely. He saw a man, Swami Sarveshwara with the most radiant face he had ever seen exuding happiness but he neither had legs nor hands, both of which he had lost to leprosy. The room was replete with the energy and aura of the mahant.

This set CRF, contemplating & he considers this moment as the defining moment in his transformation from CRF to SPBA. He calls it as good karma to have met this mahant, whom he took to as his Guru & his Yoga teacher. He also adds that attending bhajans, reading the Mahabaratha, Ramayana, gospels of Ramakrishna were also important milestones in his transformations. SPBA avers that he began thinking, if this man who does not have any future or hope can be happy, what am I doing to my life, persistently complaining about my own problems, which are pale in comparison with my guru’s.

This memorable experience made him return to the mahant as often as possible. The crowded bus, bad roads, the weather, the arduous journey could not be a deterrent in any manner & the frequency of his visits became only greater with time. These visits he undertook, to revitalise his soul. He adds he would have left for France, had he not met his Guru..

One day his yoga teacher & mahant offered him initiation to a life of renunciation (diksha to Sanyas) in the Avadhut tradition of Hindu Philosophy to which an astounded CF, immediately agreed. He was christened SPBA.
The twist to the entire tale were the conditions his guru laid for his interaction to Sanyas.

i) He should not give up his business and should continue to undertake it to serve humanity and
ii) He should not own anything however and should not sign any contract.

The paradox explained:

This rather heretical status of a businessman cum sanyasi is explained by SPBA thus:

The Avadhut lineage, as enunciated by Dattatreya, the original master believes in the unity of God (God being part, in the part and outside the part) and God being omnipotent and undefinable. Avadhuts maintain that if He were to be definable, He were to be perishable too, which He is not.

Avadhuts believe in attaining God through praying to God every second of their life, which is not to conduct poojas, but being aware of who you are, and who you are not (which according to SPBA, is a pre-requisite to know thyself) Avadhuta believes in meditation, but also asks why should one close his eyes too seek, when God can be seen in everything and everywhere.

Unconventional Corporate Strategies :

The CEO of Fashions International alone is not unconventional, but the way it is managed too is in his own words. The Most incredible feature is that all his employees get above their monthly salaries a varying percentage of the companie’s income ( not profit) as their pay packet. This according to him instates a sense of ownership of the company in all the employees of Fashion International and nullifies all chance of internal politics. All the employees get a full paid holiday for a fortnight over and above the annual leave & holidays as laid down by the Government. These features according to him have been the raison ‘d’ etre of the phenomenal success Fashions International enjoys in human resources management, so much so that they do not have much of history of having fired anyone. In rare instances some have quit, probably because they were not good, or did not have good family ties. Today he is in the Fashions International office as CEO, for only fifteen days in a month and retreats to his spiritual retreat in kolli hills the rest of the month. He says he only keeps careful watch over the progress of his company through satellite internet connection, as all his colleagues know what is expected of them and deliver the goods always.

Another mind-boggling proposition is that the company does not enter into any contract, heeding to his guru’s conditions. He agrees that this and the fact that he wears saffron robes, were quite difficult for his customers to comprehend initially, and agree, but once he started interacting with them they understood he speaks their language, he says. According to him a contract is itself a manifestation of distrust between the two signatories and furtively one hopes to get the better of the exchange. He adds however, that if the aims are right and clear, and the partners well chosen one can avoid problems and achieve the desired results.

The practice of Nudity

CF, the CEO of Fashions International wears saffron robes when he is in the cities dealing with people but if he is in his spiritual retreat, as SPBA he practices nudity.
He does admit that it was quite difficult initially to practice, and the Naga Babas at Kumba mela helped him to get over the reservations about nudity by making him perform pradakshana along with them in front of millions. He maintains that overcoming one’s ego is the stumbling block to practicing nudity. He claims that tapas helped him to this end. According to Avadutha, once you understand who you are and who are not in your heart wearing clothes or not does not make any difference. He feels he has reached a point where he is so much at ease practicing nudity, that his attire (saffron robes or naked) do not make any difference to the others.

His counsel to youth

He maintains that to attain corporate success (or) success in one’s chosen field one has to be passionate about their calling, work hard (He says nothing comes for free) towards their goals and be aware of oneself and their action always.
He also adds that if the ego is put to good use and directed properly it also helps, and actually attributes his tenacity to hang on braving the odds to his ego only.
His advice to combat insecurity is pretty much simple; Insecurity is a feeling that stems only from one’s own doubts about their abilities, and if one were to know for certain that they are the best, insecurity would cease to exist. However to attain that state one needs to be passionate about their work, be honest with oneself and constantly hone their skills. It is very important not to be unduly worked up about the results and he cites his personal examples that he started getting everything only after he became a non-seeker.

Interviewed by N.S. & S.E.


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