Resettling is a shoe-in if you watch your soles
Harald Liedtke came to Dubai's Jebel Ali Free Zone last month to take over as regional managing director for Bayer, the German conglomerate that clocks in annual sales of €35.1 billion (Dh186.1bn) in medicine and plastics. He talks about setting up in a new country and keeping the soles of his shoes to himself.
How are you learning about the Middle East?
The first thing I've done is one of these cross-cultural trainings, to get a kind of outside look at what cultural differences I might expect between here and Germany, where I have a bit more experience. It was kind of a crash course. It was with a person who had lived in Germany many years but had roots that were Iranian.
What did he tell you?
Only good things. (Laughs). One of the points which I wasn't really aware of was the importance of the shoe soles, and that you should never show them to someone. There was this one incident where this one journalist threw a shoe at [the then US president] George W Bush, and at that time I thought he had just grabbed the shoe because it was the only thing that he had to throw. But obviously there was a much deeper meaning behind that, and I didn't get the meaning from the German media because they were reporting on this incident, but not on the cultural background.
Are you planning on using this technique here?
No, not at all. I'm not intending to show anyone the shoe sole. But it's good to have this kind of information before you come here.
How do you manage a diverse set of employees who come from all parts of the world?
One of the things is to be open and listen more than I say. That is important and obviously to be sensitive to other cultures. For me this overall mentality is very important - not just that the walls here are all glass, but that the door is never shut so that people can easily access me. We don't have this hierarchical thing. It is not that you have to go through the layers if you want to talk to me. Whenever somebody has an issue and wants to talk, they can.
The Middle East represents a small portion of Bayer's business, with a little more than 1 per cent of its healthcare sales, for example. What's holding sales back?
It is because we don't have our own production here. I can anticipate your next question: there are no plans for the time being of investing. From a company perspective, we are highly concentrated on Asia and specifically on China. There is tremendous potential here. And when you see what happened here over the last decades - and still to come - is that the prosperity level is increasing. With that, there is a lot which we might be able to develop together with the region.
Published: August 28, 2011 04:00 AM