A proud Peruvian
I was born in a beautiful country where rugged terrain stretches from the Pacific coast to the towering peaks of the Andes. I didn’t live in the jungle or near Machu Picchu; I was actually raised in Lima, where I attended a British school with nearly all of my teachers being either Scots, Welsh or English. This early experience introduced me to the endearing peculiarities of British culture that I have come to admire, embrace and be a part of.
My father was an accomplished international businessman, he represented many foreign companies with business interests in Peru, so I grew up seeing him welcome foreigners to our country and even into our home to conduct business… and these exchanges captivated me, fuelling my desire to pursue an academic career in international business in America.
Whilst in the US, I wholeheartedly applied myself to my studies, not only because I loved the subject, but because I wanted to repay my dad in his most valued currency: outstanding grades.
I fulfilled my end of the bargain: in 1993, I was awarded a full scholarship to complete my business studies in Japan, (which was a dream in itself). To study International Business at Sophia University, Tokyo, in the early 90’s, would be the equivalent of studying fashion design at Istituto Marangoni in Milan or law at Harvard nowadays…
…a pretty big deal!
Moving to Japan to study was probably one of the most influential experiences of my early days. The innate pragmatism, efficiency and spirituality of Japanese culture really spoke to me – I just loved it. Japan had this amazing quality of being an economic powerhouse with a strong and magnetic spiritual streak that really juxtaposed with the modern developments of everyday life.
Japanese culture planted the seed for my interest in the wisdom traditions of the East, and it extended my passion for business and technology. Whilst attending lectures given by CEOs of companies like Seiko and Nissan, I was taught that alongside biotechnology and new material sciences, information technology promised to be one of the most vibrant and dynamic industries in the world.
Given that I was obsessed with technology early in my life, upon my return from my Japan, I embarked on a career in IT that led me to spend 15 years working for both Microsoft and Motorola. The experience of doing work in literally every continent on the planet and engaging in business with people from such a wide array of cultures has become embedded in my DNA.
Although I was on fire doing what I loved, I wasn’t paying any attention to my lifestyle and workstyle choices. I was working 70-hour weeks, not getting restful sleep, not eating properly, not exercising regularly and I wasn’t really spending any mindful time with family and friends. Although I loved my work, I wasn’t observing the rules of performance science and as a biological entity beholden to the rules of biomechanics, my choices finally caught up with me.
It’s all a blur
One afternoon, I came back from a business lunch and went into the reception area of the office, picking up a copy of Newsweek on my way. I noticed that the cover of the magazine was blurry. To validate my experience, I turned to the lovely receptionist Elizabeth and I said, “Hey Ellie, how’s it possible for Time Magazine to distribute a copy of their prestigious magazine with a distorted cover?” and she said, “what do you mean? There’s nothing wrong with the cover…”
I started to look about the room and saw that everything around me was blurry; my colleagues’ faces, the office furniture, even my own hands. In all the wisdom of a young man in his 20s, I headed for my car to drive myself to hospital but when I tried to put the keys in the ignition it dawned on me that I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t actually see where the key slot was.
So, I swallowed my pride and called my mother… “Mum, can you come and pick me up? I can’t drive”, and she came back with, “are you crazy? It’s 4pm, have you been drinking already?”
We made it to the hospital where I had my first MRI, a series of tests, and my first ever diagnosis of acute stress, and the advice I was given was a standard combination of: don’t work so hard; get some rest; and take it easy, which wasn’t massively inspiring to me at the time.
I had been reading a lot of literature on Eastern wisdom traditions, particularly the work of Dr Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor who is very well versed in these traditions, and is considered by Time Magazine as one of the most renowned experts in wellbeing. I decided to visit Dr Chopra in person in his wellbeing centre in Carlsbad, California, where I was taught yoga, meditation and the basic principles of Ayurveda. To say that this experience blew my mind would be the understatement of the century.
I immediately asked Dr Chopra how I could deepen my understanding of these practices, and he told me to become a certified instructor for the centre. While I wasn’t hugely interested in teaching, I did want to continue my learning, so I spent four years going back and forth between Peru and California, attending seminars, lectures, sitting exams and reading, (I didn’t date much during this time, as I’m sure you can imagine) but it was worth it because by putting into practice what I was learning, I started to feel better.
Unexpectedly, I also started to perform better at work; I was more alert; more focused; better able to prioritise tasks; more creative; more energised; and more productive. I was working for Motorola, which at that time ran an advanced leadership development programme aimed at fast-tracking key talent to general management and/or senior executive positions.
So, 25 people (out of 140,000) were selected every year based on stringent criteria, and given the influence that focusing on my wellbeing had on my work performance, my name was put forward and I was invited to officially take part in that development experience. And that is how I landed in England.
Time for a career change
When the wellbeing organisations I trained with found out I was in England, they asked if I could deliver keynotes and workshops on their behalf across Europe. During these sessions, business leaders from companies like L’Oréal and Aer Lingus would come up to me after my talks and invite me to help improve workplace wellbeing in their businesses. I remember quite distinctly thinking to myself: there actually is a market for wellbeing in the workplace!
After returning from one of my workplace wellbeing trips in Vienna, I remember telling my wife that I wanted a career change and that I wanted to become a workplace wellbeing consultant. The look on her face was one of those “priceless” Mastercard moments, but far removed from joy, bliss or excitement. Her expression was the embodiment of dread, confusion and panic.
Against all sensible advice from family and friends (although they still rooted for me behind the scenes), I slowly but surely began making the transition from seasoned IT executive to the enigmatic world of workplace wellbeing. Although I had been delivering keynotes, workshops, coaching etc. since 2010, in April of 2015 I decided to register my business, Dharma Centre for Wellbeing, and devote my every breath to this new endeavour.
In 2017, my speaking engagements were taking on a life of their own. I was averaging about 18 countries per year and 200 days away from home almost every year. Although there was a part of me that really liked the “Ricky Martin” experience of travelling the world doing what I loved, I had this feeling gnawing at me that the impact and influence of my speaking was very limited.
Aside from the major events (kick-offs, conferences, etc.) where I addressed thousands of people, the majority of my deliveries would centre around 10 to 30 senior leaders at a time. I kept holding on to the romantic notion that these executives would share the knowledge and practices I was teaching them with the hundreds and thousands of people they led, but that was not always the case.
So, I shifted my attention towards helping companies at an organisational level so that everyone in the business could benefit and not just the senior leaders. This eventually materialised as a plan to give a greater degree of focus to the workplace wellbeing consultancy side of Dharma Centre for Wellbeing.
This shift in focus not only resonated with me, but with the market as well, which welcomed my mission to help businesses achieve higher levels of workplace wellbeing with open arms. Dharma has since grown four times in size, operates worldwide and is establishing meaningful partnerships across the globe to help drive performance, retain and attract talent and win additional business through improved workplace wellbeing.
Now we’re coming towards the end of 2023 and the future holds some exciting new chapters for Dharma’s story, so stick with us to stay up to date with our news, information and insights by visiting our website or following us on LinkedIn.
- Translation: Little by little, one walks far. This proverb is used to express the sentiment that if you want to do something well, you shouldn’t rush it. ↩︎