It took hitting rock bottom for 26-year-old Gian Power to discover the thing that would power his future — meditation.
The founder of Unwind, the UK’s first surround sound meditation experience aimed at helping bankers and corporates relax, Power has always had an entrepreneurial spirit in his blood.
Growing up in Durham, he set up his first business — a DVD manufacturing company — when he was just 13, partly inspired by his counsellor mother and entrepreneurial father.
“I grew up with this go-getting attitude — whatever you want to create, create it — softened by my mum’s calming tone,” he said.
He studied international business and German at Aston University, moving to Frankfurt for a year as part of his degree to work at Deutsche Bank.
After university, he joined the grad scheme at PwC in 2014, working with companies that were struggling or failing.
He had just completed his accountancy exams when tragedy struck in 2015, and he took three months out of work for what he calls “the most difficult time in my life.”
His father, 54-year-old Ranjit Singh Power, an entrepreneur who lived between Dubai and the UK, was murdered while on a work trip to India in May 2015 — and Gian ended up leading the investigation, which is still ongoing.
“I was 23 in the foreign office, with 20 people around the table — I thought, ‘If I can deal with this stuff, then I can deal with anything,” he said.
While arranging a funeral for his father after a taxi driver confessed to the murder, he had the body flown back — but it wasn’t his father’s body that arrived in London. The Independent reported that police in India instead thought his father had been kidnapped and murdered, but his body has yet to be found.
At that point, Power said he thought: ‘What am I going to do with my life? Going back to my Excel spreadsheets isn’t going to make me buzz any more.'”
He told Business Insider it was a conversation with a homeless man near his office that inspired him to leave his job.
“I went back to the office and thought, “I’ve learnt more about myself in the last 20 minutes than I have in years,’ and realised the corporate world wasn’t necessarily the right route for me.”
Inspiring people in the ‘corporate beast’
In 2017, he decided to leave, and he joined an organisation called the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, which provides mentors, life coaches, and access to investors to people interested in working for or founding a startup.
While it was suggested that he become a blogger, he knew it wasn’t for him. “I have personal experience, [but] I won’t share it unless I can help someone,” he explained.
He realised that instead, he wanted to interview businessmen and women and CEOs who have faced adversity and come out the other side.
“I remember speakers that used to come into PwC — they got paid so much and they didn’t always leave an impact,” he said.
Instead, he wanted to create an atmosphere where people could be inspired in the “corporate beast, where we go to work in our suits and ties and don’t let enough emotion come out.”
So, he “made a few calls to more senior people,” lined up some companies and speakers, and founded TLC, or The Lions Club, titled after his middle name – Lion.
He now has 25 speakers across London and New York — and they’re working with companies like Lloyd’s of London, GSK, Sony, and RPC.
“They are not speakers for a living, [just] ordinary people with extraordinary stories,” he said. “One is a Syrian refugee who was badly beaten, filmed his journey, and is now BAFTA award winner.”
He even did his own talk for the first time at a PwC UK Alumni event in June on how to use your emotions as a super-power.
In his talk, he said: “I truly believe that everybody has a story they would like to share, if only we were willing to take the time to listen.”
He told Business Insider: “It’s about letting yourselves out at work, [and] taking time as leaders to get to know our teams, to get to know their problems.
“Employee engagement is a buzzword that goes out in surveys — it’s [defined as] the emotional commitment staff have to a company and its goals. But there’s a lack of emotion going on around the City.”
Finding calm through meditation
Needless to say, Power has been through a lot — but it’s a practice he discovered during the murder investigation that has helped him through.
That practice is meditation — and it’s part of the routines of some of the most successful people in the world.
“I’d be in one room with a client, the police would be next door, and the BBC would be next door — it was just nuts,” he said, describing the time just after his father’s murder. “I was 23 at the time. You know how much you can take, and there’s a limit.”
A friend suggested he try meditating, and sent him a YouTube video to guide him.
“I went into the toilets [at work] to listen to it, and after 10 minutes I came out and I felt really calm,” he said.
At the same time, he also read a book by Tim Ferriss, who interviewed top business people and athletes from around the world — and he claimed 80% of them meditate daily.
He made a resolution in January 2016 to meditate every day for 15 minutes — and it stuck with him.
However, the inspiration finally came to take it further after he had left PwC and was in New York filming for The Lions Club.
He stopped by Inscape, a luxury meditation studio which uses ambient lighting and sound.
“I went by myself. For the first few minutes, there were voices coming from around the room, and I thought, ‘I paid for this. Where is my teacher?’ But after a few minutes, I thought, ‘This is great.'”
He said he loved that it was “a space where nobody was judging you” — and he also knew that, with friends who he said were pulling all-nighters for work and some who had even been hospitalised, he wasn’t the only person meditation could help.
While there were plenty of studios and yoga, he said there was nothing like it in the meditation space — so in March 2018, he started Unwind, the UK’s first surround sound meditation experience.
A surround-sound experience
There is no instructor in a session, he explained — instead, he worked with a meditation teacher to write and record the meditations, which cover a number of topics to suit each client’s needs.
“Every sense has got to be touched into — the smell of the room, the taste of the tea afterwards, the blankets that I’ve chosen,” he said. “It’s all these little things that make such a difference.”
Unwind’s first event was a pop-up, held in a darkened, underground, candlelit room in London’s Finsbury Square.
It saw more than 150 people from the likes of JP Morgan, Warner Bros, PwC, and Linklaters attend across nine sessions.
“I spoke to a lot of partners at law firms and CEOs who said, ‘We love it, our staff need it,'” he said.
Transforming offices across the city
Now, the company is aimed at the busy corporate worker and entrepreneur, and has plans to launch at corporations “where we can transport out candlelit oasis to help people switch off and relax.”
“We’ve now had insurance companies, FTSE 100 companies saying ‘Can you bring this in the office please?'” he said.
In answer to that, Unwind is now working to transform offices across London in under 60 minutes, allowing employees to join in a 30-minute guided meditation to fit in with their day.
Power was recently awarded the Young Innovator Award from CVC Capital for his work on Unwind — and he’s set to be the subject of a BBC1 documentary later this year about his companies, and how he’s looking to transform employee wellbeing and the future of work.
“The shift needs to come from the company,” Power said. “They need to show they care about their [employees].”
He added that there’s often a stigma attached to meditation “where people think you sit there in a certain pose and think about life.”
“Hell no,” he said. “It’s just time out from your phone, just conscious time of appreciating what we’ve got, that’s what it comes down to.”
He added that there’s no spiritual or religious element to Unwind.
“I want it to be cool and sexy,” he said. “I don’t want to go down the spiritual route because it’s [about] switching people off.”
Meditation can be simple
For those new to meditation, Power recommends trying apps like Calm or Headspace.
However, he added: “Don’t think it’s all about going to a session or downloading an app. Some of the people I’ve met do random things.”
He added that one person he met watched the bubbles in a glass of Champagne for five minutes, while another who lives near at airport watches a flight landing every night at 10 p.m.
But it can be even more simple. “Sit, put your phone away, and focus on something you can see for five minutes,” he said. “Just focus on it, and you’ll be amazed how your thoughts align.”
He added: “We walk around with a badge of pride of ‘I’ve only had three hours sleep, I don’t really need much, I’m a workaholic,'” he said. “[But] I’m proud that I meditate every morning and I feel fantastic.
“My goal is to get London meditating in whatever form that takes.”