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Becoming the China Guy: GEMBA 2012 Dietmar Loecker

Volume 2, 2017

By Janine Coughlin

It was a casual encounter with two Singaporean Chinese in Germany that set Dietmar Loecker on a path to China. “It was the first time I had to practically use the English I had learned in school, and strangely enough it made me want to study Chinese,” he recalls with a laugh. He followed up with an internship in China, then an EMBA, after which he became known within his networks as “a China guy”, recognition of his deep understanding of the country.

The internship came about in 1996 while Loecker was studying engineering at university in Germany. In his spare time, he was a math tutor for the sons of the owner of MENNEKES a family owned company. One of the sons mentioned Loecker’s interest in China to his father, and soon Loecker found himself doing a short internship in the business’ Nanjing joint venture. Three years later he returned to China, spending six months studying engineering at Southeast University Nanjing. He was back in China again in 2005 – this time as Board Representative. He later became Deputy General Manager, and then General Manager for MENNEKES’ China operation. Loecker spent nine years in Nanjing working for MENNEKES, and today he’s based in Germany as the global head of quality for the company. In an interesting twist, the family business is now run by his former math student.  

Although he had many years of experience living and working in China, Loecker credits his participation in the CEIBS Global Executive MBA programme (GEMBA) for his ability to really understand and connect with the Chinese. “Honestly, as a foreigner I found it very difficult to make Chinese friends because you always have a certain role in which you meet Chinese people,” he says. “You are either the supplier, the customer, the boss, or the foreign son-in-law of your Chinese family; whatever it is, all relationships are predefined based on the context in which you interact with others and your foreign roots.” 

Then there are the cultural barriers. “I have a Chinese wife, I speak Chinese. I’m not the expat who just lives in his foreign compound and has only English-speaking people around him. I wasn’t that guy, but I still had trouble making Chinese friends,” says the GEMBA 2012 alumnus. “With CEIBS, it was the first time in my nine years in China that I met Chinese on ‘neutral ground’, because we were all just classmates. It was very open in every aspect. It allowed me to better understand the Chinese way.” 

As he got to know his classmates, Loecker became more open to the Chinese approach to business. “I trusted them, and [finally understood] that their way is just another way of doing business. This is something I had had problems with before, especially as a ‘black-and-white-thinking’ German,” he says.

These days he plays an informal ambassador’s role in trying to build a bridge between China and Germany. During the GEMBA Programme, he invited his classmates to visit his hometown for a couple days before they began their Europe study module. He also tries to help his German colleagues have a better understanding of Chinese business culture. “I recognise that for some of my German colleagues, it’s still difficult to trust their Chinese peers,” he says. “I think that is something everyone has to work on. People don’t understand the situation in China, so they see it from their perspective.”

Loecker is now based at MENNEKES’ headquarters in Germany’s Sauerland region which is well known for its stable of Hidden Champions – mid-sized companies that are world leaders in supplying niche-market products. His company, for example, manufactures various plugs, switches and wiring devices, including the charging plug for the electric car which has become the European standard.

Even though he has returned home, he says his China experience is still paying dividends. “My boss says that my view of things is much broader today than it was at the time I was in China, and before I did the Global Executive MBA,” he says. “He said he likes to talk to me because he can evaluate his ideas with me. I see things differently and I’m very open-minded. He values my broad view and my openness to new ideas and ways of thinking. This, I think, was very much introduced to me during my years abroad in general and my time studying at CEIBS in particular.”

Life in Heinsberg, the small village in Germany where Loecker now lives, is quite different from Nanjing. “I came from Nanjing, which is not the biggest city in China but still huge and fast-paced, and moved to the [German] countryside. The town where my company is located [in Germany] has about 3,000-4,000 inhabitants. The village where I was born and now live has 1,000,” he says.

“With China’s speed, I can see that so many things are happening,” he says. “Germany is just slower. I miss that about China. I miss the speed, the big cities, and how it’s really pushing forward. But I don’t miss the stress which comes with that.”

So which does he prefer, living and working in China or Germany?

“I cannot say which is better,” Loecker says. “It’s just so different; and there are things here that you don’t have in China, some of those are things I really enjoy doing every day. But on the other hand, there are many things in China I miss every day.”


Dietmar's  Tips on Doing Business in China

1. “Try to find a way to meet the Chinese on an ‘eye-to-eye’ level. I don’t know any better way to achieve that other than doing an MBA in China.”

2.    “Language, language, language. Probably after one year in China – at most – you will stop studying Chinese; you will have a very busy life and you won’t feel the need to continue. No matter what level of Chinese language skills you have actually reached, you will surely be able to get along. So whatever Chinese studying you do in the first month or first year, do as much as possible because you will be stuck with what you learnt at the beginning, which will determine the depth of your China experience.”

3.    “Trust your people. I think this is a big problem for foreigners because you always hear these rumours about copy cats and that the Chinese are not loyal employees. I think that if you are loyal to your employees, they try very hard to be loyal to you.”

4.    “Accept the reality. The reality [in China] is just different. Don’t always try to look at that from a broader perspective.”