Leadership meets Creativity

How can creativity become a driving force in our daily life? This questions runs through Joerg Reckh

How can creativity become a driving force in our daily life? This questions runs through Joerg Reckhenrichs work as artist, visiting professor at business schools (including CEIBS Campus Zurich), consultant working with companies, and as author.

He was interviewed by Robindro Ullah, a coach, speaker and author - and an expert in employer branding, HR marketing and recruiting.


Your approach in personality development is a completely different kind of innovation in this field. How did this project come about and how did you develop the instrument?

The project resulted from a long-standing and intensive collaboration with Egon Zehnder about Transformational Leadership. Out of this situation the new approach emerged. It is, briefly said, the evaluation of potential dimensions inside an art gallery. My topic is transformational leadership and it includes the complexity and orchestration of creativity, which in a sense is the basis for any new project. We asked ourselves how to deepen the potential dimensions, which are, by the way, curiosity, insight, determination, commitment. And we reflected on how to deepen it together with candidates, for example, from family-run companies, in such a way as to recognize what individuals associate with these four terms. We were curious about the stories behind it, and asked ourselves, “Is this possible, taking the ‘way of the arts’?”

Everything started with an impulse. What was next?

It was a very unusual combination. I come from the field of art reflection, perception, and intensive dialogue. These are methods that I use a lot for coaching, for team and organizational development.

I got a whole new approach from the company “Egon Zehnder,” which is the evaluation of potential criteria with a questionnaire and interviews.  For me it was the very first time to find such a dense combination of these two fields—art and personality development.

And how did everything go?

To implement it, Egon Zehnder developed a questionnaire together with Harvard and Stanford to evaluate the potential, which opened the field of the four potential dimensions. We used it to find a common language with clients. The question that we asked ourselves was, “How could the results of the questionnaire be examined and deepened?” In the Berlin gallery, “Gallery Society,” which has a truly interesting program, we had the idea to develop a format by deepening the four potential dimensions along the gallery’s artwork with the participants of the program.

How should we imagine or understand this process or this instrument?

The process starts with the questionnaire. That is the basis. It is answered in a preliminary phase by the participants and then deepened in the gallery based on the four potential dimensions: curiosity, insight, determination, commitment. Each dimension consists of three elements. The main element is a selection of works of art. Here, we looked very closely at how they interact with the respective term. We asked ourselves, “Can we associate and easily approach the subject through these works of art?” The second element consists of quotes from interviews with executives. For example, with Fritz Simon, who has researched intensively the so-called systematic organizational development. This fit the format very well and underlines the systemic aspect. The third part is a brief description and more precise specifications of the potential dimensions.

Are the four potential dimensions in a context with one another?

The order of terms is the tension of a creative process where I want to put something new into the world. This applies not only to art, but also to entrepreneurial questions.

First, I must be curious to find out where I am. What does my company need? For a family business, this can mean that when I am at the end of a product cycle and I, as a manager, take over the store, I must develop extremely high curiosity to create something new. I open my eyes, look very far out, and ask myself if there is something to discover.

Insight is when someone gets its discoveries to the point. I step back and look at what I have come to know and what conclusions I draw from it. It describes the moment when I suddenly say, “it could be,” and that’s the point from which I develop an idea.

What follows is the moment when I really should make a decision. I should go in one direction and leave other things behind. This is the only way that the idea becomes strong enough to be developed further.

The fourth area is commitment, in which the emotional quality is integrated—with passion, I want to develop my decision. With passion for the product, with passion for the people, with passion quite generally for the situation. In this respect, a dramatic tension is established and these four terms counteract very well.

What is the questionnaire?

It is an online questionnaire with about 100 questions. To answer it, it takes about 20 minutes. This is followed by an evaluation of the questionnaire. We use the results in the gallery as a basis for the intensive dialogue.

The results of the questionnaire include, on the one hand, the four potential dimensions mentioned, and, on the other hand, the subdimensions. Thus, a good description and overview, e.g. how to get feedback, or how to establish relationships with employees in dealing with complex information.

The dialogue focuses on both artwork in the gallery and aspects that have the highest urgency, or most energy, for the candidate.

This sounds like a balancing act. How do you manage to bridge the gap between viewing artwork and at the same time talking about potential dimensions?

This is based on a coaching experience—our coaching.

Initially, the client is intuitively looking for a work of art. For example, from the field of “Curiosity.”

We have always experienced how appropriate this selection is. Then we begin by looking at the work of art. This is an “opening” act.

From a certain moment on, we twist the situation; we ask the client what the aspect—which he sees or describes in the work of art—has to do with his situation?

This makes it easy for clients to enter the field and to discover step-by-step the stories behind it. The depth and openness of such dialogues can be breathtaking.

"Our alumni are our best promoters" - Interview with CEIBS Dean Prof. Ding Yuan

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved t

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved thus far?  Could the engagement with the CEIBS international community be strengthened?

Zhang: The “1+1” program is designed to strengthen CEIBS’ reputation through the interaction between alumni and prospective students in the international community. Each participant is encouraged to bring with them [an additional guest] or ‘plus one’ who is a qualified prospect for our MBA, GEMBA or corporate programs.

Ding: Who better to recommend CEIBS than those who know it best?  Our alumni are our best promoters.  In Europe, however, promoting CEIBS is still a challenge, because the school is not yet well-known here.  Similar „1+1“events have only recently taken place in Taipei and Hong Kong.  Two other events will be held during the coming week in Singapore, and then also in Accra, Ghana.

What feedback have you received so far?

Ding: Taiwan and Hong Kong were very successful. What I have learned is that our name [CEIBS] is a remarkable advantage, but particularly so in the Asia-Pacific region. Even in Hong Kong, where we have strong competitors, we are doing well.  People are coming to the events, and we receive excellent feedback. The participants enjoy the lectures, and they compare these to other business school experiences.

Recently, we had a participant, a lady who was a graduate from Wharton and who was working as an investment banker in Hong Kong.  Out of curiosity, she came to the event—and afterwards, she was convinced that she should join our GEMBA program. One thing I said moved her a lot. I said that our lecturer that evening was great, but that we had thirty more of such top faculty members.  In addition to our top faculty, prospective students also value the relationship the school has with its alumni.

The topic of this „1+1“ lecture is Chinese Foreign Direct Investment, or FDI.  Also, Mergers & Acquisitions has been a hot topic for a couple of years. How can a business school prepare its students for big international deals such as Chem China with Syngenta or the „Dalian Wanda case“?

Zhang: Simply put, in three ways: first, through the textbook knowledge and conceptual framework taught in the classroom. Second, through case studies on previous M&A deals. Third, students may share their experiences and learn from one another in the classroom setting.

Ding: I must add that we did not have any M+A courses before 2012. But even then, there was a demand for such courses.  We then invited professionals as visiting professors, but this attempt failed because there was no teaching structure behind it. Sharing an experience is not teaching.

So, from my own personal interest, I suggested to Prof. Zhang that we develop a course.  At that time, I was involved as a consultant in different companies and in different M+A deals, and we used our experience, went through the books and developed the course from scratch. It was immediately well received. Two years ago, we reached a peak: we taught the course eight times. In the meantime, we have established a research center with a multi-disciplinary approach and have written almost thirty cases.

The cases have been published, and are being translated into English. This September, we will expand the course and include various new aspects regarding cross-border M+A.

Why Chinese companies prefer mergers with European companies

„1+1“ is a new project. Can you tell us something about what this project has achieved t

Interview with CEIBS Dean Prof. Ding Yuan and CEIBS Prof. Zhang Hua


How big is the risk for a Chinese enterprise today if they invest abroad?

Ding: Just today a paper in Hong Kong published an article I wrote with the title: “The failure rate for cross-border acquisition is 90%. How to become the other 10%?” Failure means you do not reach your goals. The fact is, according to a big survey, 70% of companies could not reach their targets after a merger.  When you consider cross-border mergers, you must add another 10 % to this number.  Considering that most Chinese managers have no experience whatsoever in cross-border M+A, you must then add another 10%.  So, considering this high failure rate—we, as a school have a kind of social obligation to help the companies both for M+As at home and in host countries.

Zhang: I think one risk is also to overpay. Another one is to lose the original management, which in many cases is key to the success of post-acquisition integration.

Since the end of 2016 no state group may invest more than 1 billion abroad. How shall one interpret this decision of the Chinese government?
Zhang: In my view, such a regulation is mainly due to concerns about the outflow of the foreign capital reserve in China. Once exchange rates are stabilized, there will be deregulation. Certainly, the limit will be lifted sooner or later. Regardless of the limit, however, companies will still continue to receive preferred treatment by the state-owned banks, and receive low-interest rates.

Ding: I also think this is a temporary measure. The market was too hot and the government started to worry.  The main worries were the failure rate combined with the currency drain. Of course, if somebody has a short-term view on what happens, the situation might seem critical, but let us consider a global and long term perspective: the global M+A market is worth 4.5 trillion USD. Only 30% of the mergers are cross-border transactions (1.5 trillion). Now you take the Chinese numbers: last year everybody thought that 170 billion USD was a huge number, but it only amounts to maybe 15% of the global cross-border investments. When I read these numbers, I looked at the stock of Chinese overseas investments. The stock is merely 20% of the French stock--and then you look at the size of the Chinese economy. China has just started, and that is the reason why the number is high and that is also the reason why we, as a school, are so strongly committed to supporting companies in this matter.

How would you distinguish Chinese FDI in the U.S. from investments in Europe?

Zhang: I think it is easier for Chinese companies to find good brands and good technology in Europe at a relatively low price, compared to the U.S. In addition, the “one belt, one road” is also a reason.

Ding:  There are two things. One is the complementarity of China and Europe. You see more synergies between China and Europe because the goals in life seem to be similar. Let us look at European entrepreneurs, for example. Many have the dream of their company becoming a legacy. Chinese entrepreneurs have the same dream. In the United States, the affection for the business in general is lower: you make your business big, sell it and become rich. But I really feel that there is an easy relationship between Chinese and European entrepreneurs.

If you bring Chinese executives to Victorinox, a family business founded in 1884, and compare this with a Silicon Valley company which has just recently been founded and sold shortly thereafter for millions—then for Chinese executives the latter is just a boring story. On the technical side, one also sees a lot of complementarity. China is by far a manufacturing place and they do not want to abandon, but rather upgrade their businesses.

That’s the reason why the only place to get inspiration is the triangle of Switzerland, Germany and Austria, where one finds this high-quality manufacturing. There is another place like Germany--and that is Japan--but it does not work for us to bring executives to Japan.  Japan is a closed society and they unfortunately do not want to collaborate that much.

Here in Europe however, people are neutral towards the Chinese and many see the cooperation as something positive. In the USA, the perception is mainly negative because they see China as a challenger. The Swiss do not care about this, but rather wish to work with companies and people with whom they can make a deal.  Europe is an open-minded continent. That makes it a more favorable area for Chinese companies to expand.

Can you make a prediction about the future of Chinese FDI?
Zhang: The Chinese economy will continue to have a high growth rate in the future and Chinese consumers will also continue to demand more high-quality products and services.  FDI, with the purpose to upgrade Chinese firms’ competencies, will grow accordingly. We call it a consumption upgrade: not only consumer goods but also the demand for industry goods will spur continued growth.

Syngenta: a masterpiece of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment

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The planned Syngenta–ChemChina merger gained the international approvals needed to become reality. It is an indication that the Chinese government is looking beyond emerging markets to invest in developed economies.

How big is the risk of job losses as a result of the takeover or is ChemChina’s purchase of the company just to broaden its business opportunities in China?