Skip to main content

Profiles in Business

This is the New Favorite Pastime of the Business Elite


←  Go back                                                  Next page

By Carolyn Gregoire

Until the very end of his life, Steve Jobs was an innovator. At the tech leader and Zen Buddhism practitioner's funeral in October 2011, friends and family received a meaningful parting gift: A wooden box containing a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda's spiritual memoir, a story of awakening and self-realization.

"That was the message: Actualize yourself," Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who attended the funeral, said recently at the 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference.

"If you look back at the history of Steve and that early trip to India ... He had this incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift," Benioff said. "He needed to look at world from inside out ... His message was to look inside yourself and realize yourself."

More and more business leaders in the tech world and beyond are following Jobs' lead, tapping into their intuition through meditation, a practice that's been linked to lower stress levels and boosts in cognitive functioning, creativity, productivity and even empathy.

Here are eight business leaders who say practicing meditation has improved their work and their lives -- and sometimes led to game-changing innovation. 

Marc Benioff 

While working at international computer technology corporation Oracle, Benioff took up meditation to manage work-related stress. He's stuck with the habit ever since.

"I enjoy meditation, which I've been doing for over a decade -- probably to help relieve the stress I was going through when I was working at Oracle," Benioff told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005.

He gave a nod to his meditation practice again last week at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco during his discussion of Steve Jobs' leadership.

"Meditation is a major part of my life," Benioff said. "It's been that way for a couple of decades and that is something that I am in line with Steve Jobs on."

Mark Bertolini 

After Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini broke his neck in a skiing accident, he spent a year taking painkillers -- until he found natural pain relief through yoga and meditation. Bertolini now practices mindfulness, which he says comes with the added benefit of better decision-making in the workplace.

He introduced a 12-week mindfulness and yoga program for employees at Aetna, which he says resulted in dramatically lower stress levels and increased productivity among participants. Now he says it's his mission to "bring the mindfulness benefits that [he] brought to 34,000 employees to everyone in America."

Jeff Weiner

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner spoke at last year's Wisdom 2.0 conference about the importance of managing compassionately, something he calls his "first principle of management." Weiner wrote in a 2012 LinkedIn blog that the Dalai Lama's book The Art of Happiness taught him the principles of compassion and empathy, and has said that meditation can help boost compassion.

The tech entrepreneur has also said that the "single most important productivity tool" he uses is making time in his schedule each day to clear his mind and do nothing. "As the company grows larger ... you will require more time than ever before to just think," Weiner wrote in a LinkedIn blog in April.

Rick Rubin 

Former Columbia Records president Rick Rubin practices Transcendental Meditation, sometimes with Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons. In 2011, Rubin and Simmons led a group meditation during a book talk at the New York Public Library.

"The more we can get in tune with the harmony of the planet, the more our art can benefit from that relationship," the music producer, who says he has practiced meditation since he was very young, told "The more you understand silence, that's where the balance comes from."

John Mackey 

Every business should have a higher purpose beyond maximizing profits, according to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, author of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating The Heroic Spirit Of Business.

"My search for meaning and purpose led me into the counterculture movement of the late 1960's and 1970's," Mackey wrote in Conscious Capitalism. "I studied Eastern philosophy and religion at the time and still practice both yoga and meditation. I studied ecology. I became a vegetarian."

Nancy Slomowitz

Nancy Slomowitz, CEO of Executive Management Associates, helped to lower her company's health care costs by offering employees classes in Transcendental Meditation, a popular mindfulness practice favored by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Russell Brand, Candy Crowley and Oprah. She's been practicing it herself since she was a teenager.

"TM produced tangible, practical benefits in both their professional and personal lives," Slomowitz wrote in her book Work Zone Madness! Surviving and Rising Above Work Place Dysfunction. "The workplace environment soon grew from toxic to harmonious among other positive changes. And surprisingly, the company’s cost of healthcare insurance actually went down due to a reduction in sick claims.”

Evan Williams 

The co-founder of Twitter's first introduction to mindfulness was listening to meditation tapes by Dr. Wayne Dyer in his early 20s. It was a passing interest, he said at last year's Wisdom 2.0 conference, and during his early days in tech Williams spent his time with his head down in a "constantly computer brain mindset."

But Williams says he came back to mindfulness after launching Twitter as a way to sustain high performance -- both his own and that of his employees.

Soledad O'Brien

CNN anchor and Starfish Media CEO Soledad O'Brien began practicing Transcendental Meditation at the urging of her friend, Def Jam co-founder and TM practitioner Russell Simmons.

"I appreciate very much the opportunity to take the time to focus and meditate and it allows me to experience a state of deep rest and relaxation that can be game-changing; and sometimes a life saver in a crazy world," O'Brien said during a 2012 David Lynch Foundation forum. "It helps alleviate stress and pressure when you’re trying to balance life and being a mother."