#17 Eric Baden – Modeling servant leadership from the helm
Originally from Germany, Eric studied in France at INSEAD, in the UK at Warwick University and in the US at Wharton. His corporate career took him to Asia at the age of 23 with working assignments in Taiwan, India, and Mainland China. During the last 25 years, Eric negotiated joint ventures, established a holding company, acquired and divested business, and multi-site organizations with a few thousand employees and up to a billion USD in sales, all before founding his own boutique consulting company. He now advises small and large enterprises on strategies and organizational optimization.
I can’t change the world alone, but I can do what I can, my little bit, to make it a better place in my sphere of influence.
How he got to China
At the ripe age of 23, Eric was sent on his first assignment in Taiwan. There he met his wife, Jane, and after two years he was called to work in India. It wasn’t long though before Eric was traveling back and forth between India and mainland China to finish up a joint venture negotiation… and he loved it! At 30, he became the general manager of that state-owned enterprise and hasn’t looked back since.
Why he had stayed in China so long
He has loved witnessing China’s rise to a world superpower. He chose to stay even though organizations could have sent him on.
Tips for an in-country move
It’s risky business to make in in-country move, especially with a family in tow, so do your best to make it a calculated risk. Be aware of your own strengths and passions, build a name in your industry and headhunters will come calling. Definitely seek out mentors you trust to help you vet different opportunities. In the end, it’s best to wait for the right job rather than just take one to fill the gap.
What are you doing now
From his experience in the chemical industry, Eric picked up on three major issues, which is dubs the ICU paradigm:
- I – Insufficient understanding of and adaptation to local the business landscape
- C – Consultants who disappear before strategies are implemented
- U – Unhealthy emphasis on just financial results
In 2010, Eric and his took a sabbatical from China’s corporate rat race and that’s when the idea for his new business began taking shape. His mission is to help companies visualize a desired future, help them put plans in motion and for him to stick with them until they have enough momentum internally to see the plans through.
The keyword here is balance: Finding balance, between investing the time needed to build his business, while giving enough time to the family so that he can continue to be the anchor for the family in China. And also alance between driving implementation for clients, while avoiding being sucked into the day-to-day details.
Eric found himself fully entrenched in and playing the corporate games here in China and his greatest victory was being able to push back on that structure. It took a few people being really honest with him about the man he had become. From their honesty, he was encouraged and emboldened to free himself from it and build his consultancy to help companies do that same.
Lessons learned along the way
- His wake up call: he would do anything to make the numbers, prescribing to the supremacy of short-term financial results. He’d use any tool possible, ignoring the effects of his decisions on real people, real families.
- Look up! Don’t focus on the daily mess of work and home life; instead, take a breath and revisit your purpose here.
- On a bad day, remind yourself life isn’t actually meant to be easy! This gives him energy and purpose.
- Don’t come here with a shaky business model. The shear growth of China will not make it work.
- You have to be one step ahead of the curve.
- If you can speak Mandarin, you can choose your employees based on merit instead of English-language ability.
- Family has to be top priority—so make frequent investments into love bank accounts.
The Advantage: Organizational Health (called ‘Clarity’ in interview, book by Patrick Lencioni
Connect to Eric
Search for Eric on Linked In
Email Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org