A View from the Top: Gian Power on meditation and motivation in the face of family tragedy

Business

The last time Gian Power spoke to his father was the day before the general election in 2015. Ranjit Singh Power was 54 at the time and heading to India on business. The two men spoke on the phone before Ranjit boarded the plane. 

Gian had frequently travelled with his father, who lived between Dubai and the UK, in what he thought of as their “father-son time”.

“It was a real privilege,” Power says. “As I grew up he wanted to expose me to as many cultures and different ways of thinking, so we would travel.” He learned about his father’s childhood, born to Indian parents who had moved to England, sharing fish and chips in the evening when times were tough. 

Ranjit Singh Power was an entrepreneur. He started with petrol stations and moved into hotels, eventually owning property in Dubai. “He never worked for anyone else,” Gian says. “I always admired that drive to succeed.”

Just a few weeks after their final phone call, Gian, aged just 23, found himself in a room at the Foreign Office leading an investigation across two continents into his father’s murder.

“For years, there has been no time to grieve,” Power says, “I’ve just been in fight mode. I had to find out why this had happened to my father and find out about my own self.”

The family spent two years trying to find out what happened and bring a body home. Power was a young graduate at PwC trying to run the murder investigation while holding down a job in financial restructuring. Recently, he made the decision to focus on himself and to leave PwC to start his own company.

“I made a decision that life is for living,” Power says. In February he launched The Lion’s Club, a collective of 25 speakers with a mission to share their stories and encourage others to do the same. 

Speakers include George Bullard, a world record-breaking explorer who walked the longest unsupported polar journey, aged just 19; transgender rights activist Jacqui Gavin; and Lis Cashin, who speaks about mental health and overcoming adversity using her personal history of growing up with emotional abuse and a tragic accident in which she accidentally killed a friend, aged just 13.

Power recruited each speaker to provide memorable moments at corporate events. He says: “It motivates the employees, helps put things in perspective and creates an environment to tackle workplace issues.”

Corporations hire motivational speakers to shake employees out of their routines, to inspire new ways of thinking and to increase productivity. Power believes that the right speaker can also increase employees’ resilience, making them better able to cope with difficult moments in their lives and give them different ways of viewing things. 

“We get employees and their bosses thinking about the people and the diversity in the teams they work with and what people might be dealing with outside of work,” Power says. “As a byproduct of that, they want to get to know each other more.”

The Lion’s Club comes as corporations are increasingly looking for workplace schemes to promote better wellbeing and mental health among employees. The UK government estimates that poor mental health costs employers between £33bn and £42bn a year. A global industry of workplace schemes has emerged to address this issue, worth $43bn (£32bn) in 2017, according to the Global Wellness Institute. 

Power learned the hard way how to keep his head above water. In July 2015 the Indian authorities arranged for the body to be flown to the UK, and Power arranged a funeral. But when the body arrived, DNA testing confirmed it was not Power’s father. He was trying to balance the murder investigation with his consulting job and his accountancy exams.

“At this point I just needed to get away,” Power says. “Someone suggested meditation and it really worked. I thought, wow, I’d never known about this and it really balances my mind.”

In New York he discovered Inscape Meditation, a luxury centre described by its founder as “a cross between fourth century monasteries, the temple at Burning Man, and the feeling you get when you look at the horizon”.

Power loved the space, which uses ambient lighting and sounds to create an immersive experience for those meditating. “It was a cocoon that smelt amazing,” he remembers. “You didn’t feel like you were on 24th Street.”

He came back to London and searched for something similar, but there was nothing. So he launched a multi-sensory meditation space in the City called Unwind London. The idea is that people can drop in for sessions, rather than signing up for long, expensive courses. 

“I have had friends at financial companies who have been hospitalised in the last few months from stress and exhaustion,” Power says. “The UK mindfulness and meditation market is a billion-dollar industry.” 

He’s testing the market with Friday and Saturday lunchtime sessions at Unwind, to see if London is ready for meditation that feels like the fourth century crossed with Burning Man.

While the two companies keep him busy, Power has adopted his own travelling ritual to make sure he remembers what’s important in life. Every month he takes a trip – this year he has been to Berlin, Milan, Hong Kong and Toulouse – and on his way home he asks himself four questions: how happy he is, how well business is going, whether this is the life he planned when he left PwC, and what changes he needs to make.

“It’s important to stop and reflect on life,” he says. “I’ve never felt closer to my dreams than I did jumping out from PwC.”

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