Tom Werner can rarely clear his schedule. Instead, he clears his mind.
“When you’re the CEO, you’re always thinking about the next thing,” the chief executive of solar energy titan SunPower said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “I have an interview for X time, then I’m going to that meeting, then I have that dinner tonight, and then tomorrow I’ve got…”
He said just 10 minutes of mindful meditation every night helps him stay present and subdue distracting thoughts or emotions that prevent him from paying attention during each of his obligations in a given day. That, he said, makes a huge difference in how he leads the San Jose-based company’s roughly 6,300 employees.
“When I meet with people all day, especially internal people, they usually prepare a lot, because it’s an important meeting for them,” said Werner. “If I’m thinking of something else, and I’m somewhere else, it makes the meeting less productive and it doesn’t treat their time with respect."
Regular meditation and healthy amounts of sleep essentially work to drain out toxins -- such as molecules associated with the degeneration of brain cells -- that build up during waking hours. This, in turn, can help decrease stress and improve concentration.
Werner also says that meditation makes him a more empathetic, respectful boss -- and empathy has been lauded as the "most valuable thing" taught at Harvard Business School. After all, a boss' management style tends to trickle down to the rest of the company, for better or worse.
With that in mind, it's probably not surprising that Amazon's Jeff Bezos plummeted in a ranking of the world's best chief executives this year, after The New York Times published an exposé of the e-commerce giant's Hobbesian work culture. One might draw a line from Amazon's "bruising workplace" to Bezos' early days on Wall Street, which is notorious for its cutthroat culture. (Amazon, for its part, denies the characterizations made in the Times' story.)
At home, Werner meditates in front of a mandala -- a type of diagram used to represent the universe in some forms of Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism -- given to him by his daughter. The flower-like geometric image, which emanates from a dandelion-yellow center, helps him to focus on the purpose of his meditation.
“Mine was, at the core, about how to make the most out of every second,” he said of the meditation recommended with his mandala. “How does it all influence my family? People at work? The eco-system? The economy at large?”
Werner can vaguely approximate his personal effect on the environment and the economy -- he does, after all, serve as the chief executive of a company producing clean, sustainable energy -- and he sees his mindfulness having definite effects on his colleagues.
SunPower is a 30-year-old firm, but it offers some perks usually associated with flashy, cash-flush tech startups. There’s a meditation room. The office is set up as a large, well-lit open space, framed with private huddle rooms.
“We want you to come in and feel the photons,” Werner said of the window-ensconced headquarters, which is lit by energy-saving bulbs. “It’s open, with a lot of light -- and those LED lights, by the way.”