01 Dec 1996

Meditations on the Bottom Line

Running a Yoga Center


For many managers today, the greatest business challenges are no longer technical; rather, they involve figuring out how to put more "soul" into the workplace. For Belinda L. Bothwick (MBA '77), however, the new executive director of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health located in Lenox, Massachusetts, the problem is just the opposite. Once an ashram - or religious community - for 350 practitioners of a yoga-based spiritual lifestyle, Kripalu has plenty of soul. What it needs now is a business plan that will help it survive a crisis that has shaken the organization to its roots.

"Kripalu is the largest yoga and health retreat center in the country," says the amiable and spirited Bothwick, an expert in organizational development who assumed her position in March. Since its inception as a small yoga retreat in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s, Kripalu residents have served some 15,000 paying guests a year in a wide array of yoga, meditation, and other health and wellness programs. "It's a safe and sacred place where people can come - regardless of their religious background - to unwind from the stresses of the world and experience deep, personal transformation."

But the placid and pastoral environment of Kripalu was shattered in the fall of 1994, when the resident spiritual leader was forced to resign due to sexual misconduct. Many ashram residents left in disillusionment, donations to the center fell off dramatically, and program enrollment dropped by more than 30 percent. "One of the most difficult things about this job has been managing the ongoing emotional trauma of those members who have stayed on," says Bothwick. "This is not a typical organizational restructuring; this is a place where people lived what they taught and had their social as well as their professional network."

"I started looking for a professional avenue that would allow me to express my spiritual values in conjunction with my business skills."

"I started looking for a professional avenue that would allow me to express my spiritual values in conjunction with my business skills."

If anyone is up to this unusual business challenge, however, it's Bothwick. "Most of my career since leaving HBS has focused on the 'people' aspect of business," she explains. Bothwick spent eighteen years at International Paper Company, where she worked in a broad range of functional areas, successfully orchestrating major changes in organizational design and culture.

Then, in 1995, feeling she had taken "values-based management" as far as she could within a large corporate environment, Bothwick began consulting, working on a doctorate in organizational design and development, and exploring her own personal growth by pursuing activities such as meditation and Native American spirituality. "Eventually," she says, "I started looking for a professional avenue that would allow me to express my spiritual values in conjunction with my business skills."

Late last year, when Bothwick heard through a friend about Kripalu's search for an executive director, she jumped at the opportunity - and not a moment too soon. "The search process was almost over," she says. Despite her eleventh-hour bid for the job and a blizzard that nearly prevented her from making the interview, Bothwick - who has never taken a yoga class in her life - soon found herself fully ensconced in an office in Kripalu's main building, a large but unadorned former seminary overlooking the hills of scenic western Massachusetts.

To help Kripalu become financially viable, in a mere nine months Bothwick and Kripalu staff have completely reorganized the center - once dependent on donations and the volunteer services of its ashram members - into a team-based organization of paid staff, volunteers, and live-in members who have taken religious vows. Instituting new financial reporting and management systems, she is helping to develop and market new programs and services, such as certification in "bodywork" (massage and related practices) and holistic health instruction, as well as a new program that focuses on preventive health care.

"This is an incredible experiment," acknowledges Bothwick. "I know of no other ashram or religious order that has survived this kind of transition." Despite ongoing challenges such as establishing cash flow, keeping up employee morale, and maintaining the organization's core spiritual values in the face of fiscal uncertainty, Bothwick is confident Kripalu has what it takes to become a completely successful turnaround.

And when that happens, what will be the energetic executive's next project? "Maybe then I'll have time to take some of the wonderful programs we offer our guests," she laughs.


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