Sunday, 30 November 2008

Arab-German Musician and Poet

Live in Concert:

Rabih Abou-Khalil

Many people are working every day to build bridges between the Arab World and the West. One of the most heartfelt undertakings in Germany is certainly that of Rabih Abou-Khalil: as a songwriter, musician and poet, he uniquely combines the manifold expressions of culture and arts in both hemispheres in a truly amazing way.

Rabih Abou-Khalil was born in Lebanon into a cultural family and studied Arabian and Western music. In 1978, he left his home country and came to Munich, Germany, where he continued his career as a musician. Despite new influences, his main instrument still today remains the oud, a fretless stringed instrument prevalent in traditional Arabian music.

Rabih Abou-Khalil (left) with his Oud

© Wikipedia

After having been introduced to his music while living in Damascus, Syria, I finally did get a chance to see him live at a concert performance last week in Landsberg, Germany. As part of the “Jazz & more” programme, he was set to play a solo performance. And he did not fail to win the audience completely over: the experience was simply stunning and overwhelming.

Ticket to his Concert in Landsberg

Rabih Abou-Khalil introduced a very distinctive mixture of Arab-German cultural crossover: he brought together Arabian out compositions with poem recitations by Christian Morgenstern and Joachim Ringelnatz. His pieces of music were beautifully performed and bathed the concert hall into an all-embracing oriental atmosphere. Accordingly, the poems were chosen in perfect harmony: they reflected profundity, expressiveness and humour. And Rabih Abou-Khalil recited them with passion and intonation in such a way that few German native speakers would be able to.

The evening would not have been complete without acquiring one of his CDs – he has sold over 500.000 copies already in his career. And while this is certainly the result of the complexity and authenticity of his music, it is also partly due to the love that he puts into designing the covers.

Cover Design to the CD "Il Sospiro"

For those interested in his music, here are two highly acclaimed and personally recommended CDs:

Rabih Abou Khalil, Joachim Kühn, Jarrod Cagwin
“Journey to the Centre of an Egg”
Link to

Rabih Abou-Khalil
“Arabian Waltz”
ASIN: B000005CC1
Link to

And a list of upcoming tour dates in France and Germany can be obtained here -- an opportunity not to be missed:

Levinson Concerts

Andreas Hauser

Monday, 17 November 2008

International Business: Cultural Dimensions

An afternoon with

Prof. Geert Hofstede

In every day life, interculturalists around the globe work on the basis of models to help explain, understand or simply accept the way the world moves. The most widely known of these models are the cultural dimensions that Professor Geert Hofstede has been developing since 1980.

Last week, the “Godfather of Interculturality”, who with his studies paved the way for many people working across cultures, was in Munich – thus providing the unique opportunity for a personal meeting.

Prof. Geert Hofstede

The TWIST Consulting Group is specialised in national and international personnel development ( For one of their twice yearly Expert Forums, they managed to invite Prof. Hofstede on the basis of personal acquaintance.

On the agenda of the afternoon session stood: a newly produced film on intercultural issues made by TWIST; a presentation by Geert Hofstede on his work; an informal get together; and finally, a session for discussion and questions.
And in one point, the entire audience agreed unanimously: the vitality and the energy of the 80-year old Dutchman was overwhelming.

In the Focus of a Lively Discussion

As a matter of course, Prof. Hofstede gave an overview of the cultural dimensions that he has developed over the past years. With his research for IBM, starting in 1980, he created the first comprehensive approach to identifying national cultures and demonstrating their influence on the behaviour of societies and organisations.

A brief overview gives an insight into Geert Hofstede’s four base dimensions:

1.) Low vs. High Power Distance

Which role play hierarchy and authority?

Is there equality or inequality amongst people?

Examples for Low Power Distance: Austria, Denmark

Examples for High Power Distance: Malaysia, Arab World

2.) Individualism vs. Collectivism

Which social orientation prevails?

Are things done alone or together?

Examples for Individualism: U.S.A., Australia

Examples for Collectivism: Latin America

3.) Masculinity vs. Femininity

Which paradigm dominates?

Is quality or quantity more important in life?

Examples for Masculinity: Slovakia, Germany

Examples for Femininity: Sweden, Middle East

4.) Low vs. High Uncertainty Avoidance

Which risks are being taken?

Are new situations handled flexibly or rigidly?

Examples for Low Uncertainty Avoidance: U.S.A.

Examples for High Uncertainty Avoidance: Italy, Spain, Latin America

In addition to these, he later added a fifth dimension: long-term vs. short-term orientation. For reasons of better understandability, he meanwhile suggests a renaming according to the findings by Michael Minkov:

5.) Flexumility vs. Monumentalism

What counts: flexibility and humility – or pride and immutability?

Is the culture still underway or already arrived?
Examples for Flexumility: China, India

Examples for Monumentalism: Arab World, Africa

And last but not least, Prof. Hofstede provided an outlook on a possible sixth dimension yet to come: indulgence (or: hedonism) vs. restraint (or: reservation) – but this still needs some more research and refinement in definition.

Get-together with Prof. Hofstede

For all those interested in further reading, three key publications were presented and commented by the author:

Geert Hofstede

“Culture’s Consequences”
ISBN 0803973241
Comment: “This is the academic piece of work, almost impossible to read!”

Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede

“Cultures and Organisations – Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival”

ISBN 0071439595

Comment: “Here we have the reader-friendly edition!”

Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede

“Lokales Denken, Globales Handeln: Interkulturelle Zusammenarbeit und globales Management“

ISBN 3423508078

Comment: “This is the German version of the ‘handbook’ – and also available in 14 other languages.”

All in all, the afternoon with Prof. Geert Hofstede was a truly inspiring experience. It cannot be underestimated what his research and his work has done for intercultural awareness around the globe. Yet, it was great to see a man with his background and his age still so agile and enthusiastic when talking about the topics that have occupied him for so long.

The Audience Was Inspired

And still, his credo is clear and pronounced: Practitioners should not rely on cultural dimensions as the sole guiding norms – in life and interaction, they are always relative.

Andreas Hauser

Monday, 10 November 2008

Book Recommendation: Management

“Hidden Champions”

Hermann Simon

Guest Author: Jan Neumann

“Why are some companies more successful than others?” This is the question that virtually every manager and management consultant tries to answer during his life-time engagement in business. One great way to look at the issue is to investigate the so-called ‘Hidden Champions’ – and Professor Hermann Simon has published his results in two very fine books.

Jan Neumann, a management consultant with IBM and MBA candidate at I-IMC, has read them and drawn up an executive summary of the key findings. Inspired by the ingenuity and the strategic thoroughness of some of the described companies, he consented to have his text published on this weblog:


1. Introduction and Definition

Hidden Champions (HC) are companies, which are relatively unknown - but nevertheless well positioned on their markets and extremely successful.

Normally they have less than 500 employees and a turnover smaller than € 0.75 bn. Due to quantitative characteristics, they belong to the category small and medium size companies (SME). However they are leaders in their markets means No. 1 or 2 worldwide.

2. Strategy and Success Factors

In his extensive studies Prof. Dr. Hermann Simon found out the following success factors:
  • Striving for market leadership
  • Concentration on core competencies
  • Combination of worldwide marketing and specialization in products and know-how
  • Extremely close relationship to their customers
  • Constant innovation and improvement of their products and processes
  • Market and technology driven
  • Extensive competitive advantage in terms of product quality and services
  • Confidence in own strengths
  • Identification and motivation of employees (fluctuation 2.7%, average in Germany 7.3%)
  • Continuity in leadership (average tenure of more than 20 years)

3. Status of Hidden Champions

So far, HC hide themselves behind corporate veils, invisibility, and even secrecy; trying to avoid attracting public attention. Only some practitioners, journalists, or scientists know their names and products.

However, in terms of macroeconomics they take a very strong position. Even in difficult economic phases they are able to create jobs. They can be described as follows:
  • Competitive strategy based on differentiation
  • Highly focused
  • Create their own markets
  • Narrow product focus
  • Constantly innovative
  • Export oriented
  • Flexible
  • Long-term orientation
  • Team based corporate culture
  • Family-owned

4. Future Challenges for Hidden Champions

Even if they have been established a strong market position, HC are faced with a number of future challenges:
  • Succession strategy for founders
  • Enhancement of strategic flexibility, due to over-specialization
  • Adaption of business model to market changes
  • Openness to practicable management instruments

5. Conclusion

HC produced many success stories, thus providing positive outliers and hopefully valuable lessons for management practice. With some simplification, their management model can be summarized along three key aspects:
  • Family ownership and cooperative corporate cultures combined with outside professional management.
  • Global market dominance through positioning in niche markets, and thus exploiting and enhancing resources and capabilities on a global scale.
  • Continuous endeavour to raise operational effectiveness of all major processes and functions.

HC follow a clear and focused strategy of differentiation. As specialists they can prove superior performance results in comparison to generalists. Prof. Simon states, they offer a very good price-performance-ratio, are reliable, offer outstanding quality and services, and strive for long-term strategies as well as customer relationships.

Beside small things, where HC outperform large scale companies, they set value on humanity, mutual trust and respect.

“Hidden Champions go their own way.”

“Essentially, their only secret success formula
is common sense.”

”So simple, but so difficult to achieve!
This is the ultimate lesson.”

© Jan Neumann


Hermann Simon
"Hidden Champions: Lessons from 500 of the World's Best Unknown Companies" (English)
Harvard Business School Press (May 1996)
ISBN-10: 0875846521

Hermann Simon
"Hidden Champions des 21. Jahrhunderts" (Deutsch)
Campus Verlag (September 2007)
ISBN-10: 3593383802

Andreas Hauser

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Travel Magazine: Article about Syria

"Reader’s Letter of the Month"

in GEO Saison

GEO Saison is one of the most prestigious German travel magazines – and with over 125.000 copies it is also the most widely circulated. Established in 1989 as a monthly journal, it continues to cover a wide range of travel- and holiday-related topics. Cover reports in 2008 included amongst others “India” (November), “The best hotels below 100 euros” (September), “Hamburg” (July) or “Italy for explorers” (March). The high acceptance of GEO Saison is also reflected in more than 40.000 subscriptions that are delivered every month.

GEO Saison

My personal attention was drawn to GEO Saison this past July, when an article about Syria was published. Aptly named “Ton, Steine, Scherben” (= "clay, stones, sherds" in allusion to a German pop music band), it was written by the renowned German journalist Charlotte Wiedemann. Interested of course in a travel report about the country where my wife and me had lived and worked for one year in 2005-06, we acquired a copy and began to read. And we loved it.

The article shows a passionate view on a beautiful country and its marvellous people. A sense of openness, hospitality, friendliness and a genuine interest in other people characterises the inhabitants of Syria, and Charlotte Wiedemann wonderfully manages to bring this notion across in her article. Furthermore, her allusive description of the immense cultural heritage accumulated over more than five millennia evokes a pure and straight longing to pack and discover this country.

For those able to understand German, the article can be found in the July issue of GEO Saison and is also available for download as a podcast:

GEO Saison Ausgabe 07/2008

„Ton, Steine, Scherben“ Podcast

Happy to have encountered an article that painted such a welcoming picture of Syria, the country we have gotten to know and love, we decided to express our appreciation by writing a reader’s comment and sent it to the editor. Additionally, we suggested three more highly interesting cultural sights that we thought were worth mentioning: Apamea with a 2-km long Roman columned street; Bosra with a Roman theatre in black basalt stone; and Ma’aloula, a tiny mountain village where Aramaic (the language of Jesus Christ) is still spoken.

Not only was our feedback warmly welcomed, it also received the privilege of being published in the current October issue of GEO Saison, on page 6, and comes also published below!

And as the selected “Reader’s Letter of the Month”, we were additionally presented with a very nice trolley set as a gift – a treat that certainly will accompany us on any future trip to Syria.

Andreas Hauser


"Ton, Steine, Scherben", 7/2008

Wir möchten der Autorin Charlotte Wiedemann ein großes Kompliment machen für den exzellent recherchierten Artikel über das Land Syrien, seine Menschen und seine Kulturgüter.

Wir haben selbst während eines einjährigen Arbeits-aufenthaltes in Damaskus 2005/06 das Land schätzen gelernt. Stets sind wir mit offenen Armen empfangen worden, in den Städten wie auf dem Land. Die überwältigende Gastfreundschaft kommt in dem Artikel sehr liebevoll zum Vorschein, in den Fotos ebenso wie in den berührenden Erzählungen der Autorin. Auch die Empfehlung zu Hotels und Restaurants sind toll gewählt und zeigen die stets wachsenden Möglichkeiten, das Land touristisch zu erleben.

Drei kulturelle Highlights möchten wir gerne noch nennen:
  • In Apamea, westlich der Straße von Homs nach Aleppo, ist eine zwei Kilometer lange römische Säulenstraße zu bewundern – unseres Wissens nach die längste noch existierende der Welt.

  • In Bosra, rund eine Stunde südlich von Damaskus, liegt das am besten erhaltene römische Theater aus schwarzem Basaltstein.

  • Ma'aloula, rund eine Stunde nördlich von Damaskus, ist einer von drei Orten, in denen noch aramäisch gesprochen wird (die Sprache von Jesus Christus). Der Ort hat eine bezaubernde Altstadt sowie mehrere alte, christliche Kirchen.

Weitere Damaskus-Erlebnisse schildern wir in unserem Blog:


Sunday, 2 November 2008

Book Recommendation: Moorish Spain

“Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets
of Moorish Spain”

Jason Webster

Food, architecture, life style: A lot of modern day’s Spain actually stems from the Arab presence in the peninsula that lasted for over seven centuries. “The Caliphate” – as the period between the 8th and the 14th century is commonly referred to – was a time of unprecedented heyday of creativity, uniting Christian, Jewish and Arab culture.

While the South of Spain, particularly the autonomous community of Andalusia, shows a considerable degree of consciousness of its legacy, large parts of the country seem to have forgotten about one of the main cultural root. Or who is still actively aware of the fact that the capital Madrid was named after the Arabic al-majrit (= source of water), that the typical Spanish name Carmen derives from classical Arabic al-karm (= wine yard) or that the name of the highest point of mainland Spain, Mulhacén, comes actually from a 15th century Sultan of Granada?

Inspired by the hidden secrets of modern Spain, the Englishman Jason Webster undertakes a journey to investigate into a neglected subject. Being married to a Spanish woman as well as a ten-year resident in the country, he believes there is much more Moorish heritages still alive than commonly acknowledged. And he does not only discover it in the language: habits, customs, styles of living and even religious issues do seem to find their root back to the times of The Caliphate.

© "Andalus" by Jason Webster

With the illegal Moroccan immigrant Zine, a modern Moor having traversed the Strait of Gibraltar to earn a living, the author embarks on a trip to the heart of the Arab legacy. His trips takes him along the Mediterranean coast over the hinterland of Andalusia on the Portugal. Wherever he goes, he meets people with distinct character and personality, giving him a kaleidoscope of viewpoints on the subject.

Witty, funning, even shocking sometimes: Jason Webster has a gripping way of narrating his “Tour of Moorish Spain” and shines a light on cultural links that seem to be either simply forgotten or deliberately devalued. The trip is lively and varied, never boring, and taken straight from a day-to-day life experience.

A must for all those that seek the connecting between the Arab World and Europe in its cultural and historical sense!

Jason Webster
“Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain”
ISBN 0552771244

Andreas Hauser