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Master of Change

Volume 2, 2017

By Charmaine N Clarke

Jimmie Rasmussen is a master at reinventing himself.  He’s not yet 40, but so far he’s played key roles in companies from four different industries, with enterprises from three different countries.  A former member of the Danish military, he later managed a security firm that protected 007 (James Bond actor Daniel Craig). He’s been a guy tai (unemployed male trailing spouse), managed a Chinese company that ran the school where he was learning Mandarin, worked in the food industry, and now he’s in water solutions. The one constant throughout all his experiences has been his willingness to embrace change.

“I’ve been an operations manager, head of a division, a general manager and now I’m in strategy and marketing.  So, not only have I been in different industries but I’ve also had different roles,” he points out with a chuckle.

We’re having a chat in a corner of his very spacious office in The Hub, a swanky commercial complex in Shanghai’s Hongqiao District. He works with Grundfos Pumps, a Danish company that a head-hunter thought would be a perfect match for his management skills. Jimmie didn’t let the fact that he knew nothing about water pumps stop him from taking the job. After all, he had initially known nothing about almost all the other jobs he’d had before, and he had managed just fine.

“I hope that sharing my story about how I was able to succeed in these various roles will inspire others and let them see that this flexibility, this willingness to learn and embrace change gives you an edge,” he says.  “Top managers – no matter what the industry – will need to have a holistic view of business.”

He’s come a long way from his early days in China when he and his wife, both unemployed and with a young child to raise, were wondering if it had been a good idea to spend their savings on Jimmie’s Mandarin lessons and a CEIBS EMBA degree. Now, looking back at those dark days, Jimmie knows he made the right choices. They just weren’t so clear back then.

Read on for more:

How did you end up playing a role in keeping ‘James Bond’ safe?

After five years in the Danish military I felt I had gotten the best that experience had to offer. I was recruited by Group 4 Securicor (G4S), the world’s third largest firm in terms of employee headcount. I started as a supervisor, taking shifts myself working as a security guard. Soon I was offered a promotion and then I began working more on the operations management side. Then after a number of promotions over a six-year period I was heading our division in Denmark.

I tried to diversify our products because what we were offering back then made us very easily replaced by our competitors.  So I looked into the law in Denmark to explore our options at providing security services; and that led the company into providing security to embassies.  Suddenly we were handling the security of the US, Israeli and British Embassies in Denmark and other high-risk facilities. Then we developed a bodyguard section and we provided VIP protection for Daniel Craig on his way to the premier of the James Bond movie in Denmark. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words but the photo showing our company protecting 007 in that crowd was priceless from a marketing perspective! We also had other VIP clients including the Danish Royal family.

The G4S job sounds like a good opportunity for growth, it sounds exciting with movie stars and royalty. Why did you leave that job?

My wife had been very supportive of me over the years so when she got an offer to work in China, I said, “Take it, and I will take my chances there”. By then I was 30 years old and I knew it would have taken me another six years to get another major promotion at G4S.  

What was it like to transition from a management position to being an unemployed trailing spouse?

When I came to China in 2010 I had to somehow rethink, redefine myself again, which was amazing. When we just got here I obviously had a lot of time on my hands.  So I started taking a lot of Chinese lessons because I knew that I needed to be really productive with my time. I had always been curious about Chinese culture, and getting to know the language was the best way to really get a deep understanding of that. I also thought we would likely be here for a while so I thought investing in myself by learning Chinese was a good idea.

After about a year I began to feel uneasy. I wanted to do more. I’d been used to working a lot, to having responsibilities. So I began trying to get back into the corporate scene but that was extremely difficult. Because of my past experience working at a management level I had a lot of expectations of potential career opportunities; but they weren’t being met because my Chinese wasn’t good enough and the job market was extremely tough. What I had learned in Denmark was very difficult to apply here in China.

I did manage to apply my management skills as a consultant for Miracle Mandarin where I was doing Chinese lessons. In addition to Chinese they were teaching best practices and after I kept pointing out ways in which they could improve they finally said to me, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?” I went from being just a student to the company’s General Manager. They have five locations here in China and they were also in Canada and Germany; but they were extremely Chinese in their operations. And yet that was the best learning experience I’ve ever had. It was so tough; but it was probably where I learned the most.

So you essentially critiqued your way into a job with Miracle Mandarin. How did you manage to branch out into other jobs after that? Did you have any specific industries in mind when you were job hunting?

I was open to general management jobs in any industry but those were extremely difficult to get.  So I had to further invest in myself, become even more attractive.  That’s when I started the Executive MBA at CEIBS.  Then while I was doing the EMBA my wife lost her job and suddenly we were both unemployed – and I had invested all this money in Chinese lessons and the EMBA! So we were extremely stressed in those days.

But just when it was our darkest moment, the German company Ireks approached me and hired me as a General Manager here in China. It’s a global company in the food processing industry. It has turnover of about RMB17 billion.  Back then it had been in China for several years but hadn’t really taken off. My job was to basically run the company, to build up the organisation and get it to a level where it was truly a fully foreign-owned-company. Three years went by, we got back on track and we survived.

Then a year ago I was contacted about this current job at Grundfos. I wasn’t interested at first because I had a lot on my hands and things were going well at Ireks. They convinced me to accept the offer and this was actually a good opportunity for me. It’s my first time working for a Danish company without being in Denmark. I get the best of both worlds; I get to work in a Danish environment but at the same time I’m working in a Chinese market, within a Chinese context.

How does your current job compare with your last role in Denmark, with G4S? Do you feel as if you are evolving professionally?

I grew up in the security field, so I was running on autopilot. I’d been moving up the ranks in G4S so I knew almost everything there was to know; there weren’t any real challenges, no surprises. Coming to China, I was blown away! Working for Miracle Mandarin I basically had to start from scratch, learn how to figure things out. I did management consulting, which I knew nothing about other than the practical side of it. So in my role as a consultant I had a steep learning curve.

Then I went into the food business at Ireks and they were excellent at what they do but, again, I knew nothing about that industry.  So I learned a lot about that. Now I am in water solutions, which I knew nothing about before but I am learning a lot about now. In each role there has been knowledge from previous jobs that I can apply, but there have also been things very specific to each industry or company that I had to learn, things that made these companies very good at what they do. Now having knowledge of these four different industries gives me a competitive advantage.

Your leap of faith in moving to China has obviously turned out well for you. What advice do you have for other foreigners working in China?

Avoid getting stuck in your own narrative, in your own background, in your own world. You will need to understand the world around you. You will need to be able to adapt to it. You will need to keep educating yourself and pushing yourself even harder to make it; and the sooner you take action the better. Also, look at every opportunity as a potential learning experience. Don’t dismiss something because it’s “beneath” what you used to do in your country. Focus on your end game. An opportunity may not be ideal, but give it a chance and do everything you can to make it a success.

Throughout all this, what has been the single biggest challenge for you?

Managing this whole experience of working in China with two children has probably been the most difficult transition I’ve ever made.  I have two boys. My oldest is two-and-a-half; the younger one is six months old. 

It’s been a rollercoaster, especially the first couple of years when I was changing jobs. It was crazy, because for each new job I knew nothing about the industry, so I had to catch up on industry knowledge plus the DNA and the culture of the company and just generally finding my way. 

And at the same time it’s a constantly moving target because your peers are getting smarter and smarter, so you need to run faster just to catch up.  Doing that three times in China with two small kids – you feel that seven years in China feels like 15 years in Europe!

I only made it because I have a great wife and I learnt to really prioritise and be productive with my time.
 

 

Jimmie’s China Tips:

For a foreigner thinking of coming to China to work:

Go for it; but be realistic about what you can offer and what employers are looking for.  No company is going to have people standing at the airport shouting at you, “Pick me, pick me!” That’s just not gonna happen. When you land, you will need to very quickly begin to gain that local knowledge that eventually will make you attractive to employers.

For a Chinese manager looking at the resume of a young Danish man seeking a job:

Give him the chance to prove himself, and don’t just use him so your company can have a “foreign face”. Try to extract that special knowledge that he has, and somehow manage the transition with him. This is a great opportunity for you to get differentiated diversity and become a more global company, which you will need to become eventually.  Because if you don’t, you’re not gonna survive.

How important is the CEIBS alumni network in your professional life?

Alumni that don’t join events are missing out, big time. This is our home abroad and they’re missing out on a great opportunity to connect. The pleasure of being at these events is so rewarding.

There are also so many business opportunities during alumni events that you could leverage.  Of course you shouldn’t go to events just for that purpose but when you have this great community, so many opportunities just naturally pop up. I’ve been able to do things for this company and my previous company during those networking sessions that would never have happened otherwise.  As CEIBS alumni we can open doors for each other. That comes when you have already established that friendship and trust that comes with being part of the same events and activities.

How has having a CEIBS EMBA on your CV helped your career?

It’s really about what you learn that gives you this additional value that is sustainable. I got all these different insights from all the different modules, knowledge that you need to manage a business overall, even though you might have a specific function or area of responsibility. That is really what has been valuable for me, that’s how I measure the return on the investment I made in myself.