Apr 13, 2021 in Business Coaching

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Gabor Holch is an intercultural leadership Coach, Consultant, speaker and author specializing in East-West executive assignments and business relations. He supports corporate executives and public-sector leaders in succeeding across national and cultural boundaries instead of getting lost in translation.

Has a passion for cultural diversity and has been an expat since the age of 4. He moved to China in 2002 and became the first foreigner granted a Certified Management Consultant degree in Mandarin Chinese. In 2005 he founded his Shanghai-based business, Campanile Management Consulting. He has coached, advised and trained leaders for over 100 Clients in over 25 countries. Let's get to know Gabor a little better and learn more about this journey as an expat and building a successful coaching business.

WikiExpert: You support corporate executives and public sector leaders across cultural boundaries. Which is great! Please tell us how exactly do you help these people?

Gabor Holch: I call myself an intercultural leadership specialist, meaning that I help leaders avoid their expertise and ideas get ‘lost in translation’. One example is a leader sent to a new job far from his home country. Another is a leader in charge of a multinational or multicultural team. I help such leaders by first assessing the individual temperaments, work styles, and talents, and then help the team develop new habits and work methods that suit everyone—and get results. You can imagine this as a 6-18-month process with the same team over initial assessment, then discussions, coaching for individuals and teams, workshops online or offline, and finally evaluation.

WikiExpert: You also have a passion for cultural diversity. Is this one of the factors that lead you to your current career?

Gabor Holch: My passion for different cultures comes from my childhood spent partly in Eastern Europe and partly in the Middle East, which are both fascinating but very different places. From then on, my life went organically towards a global career. I could even say I am not sure how it happened. I was born in Hungary, lived as a child in Iraq, did some of my studies in Vienna and then saw no reason to return to my home country: the world was too exciting! Now, I have lived in Shanghai for more than 15 years, I do half of my work all over Asia and the other half all over Europe. I never get tired of it. I get bored when I am in the same city for two months, though!

WikiExpert: Tell us a little about your early career? What did you do? And how did you make it to become who you are today?

Gabor Holch: I was one of those kids who are uninterested in reasonable jobs like Engineer or Doctor, but such kids need time to figure out what to do with themselves. So, I stalled for time: I studied philosophy and languages, then diplomacy. When I was working in my graduate thesis in Vienna, the United Nations offered me an internship, and from then on, I had choices. I worked as a junior diplomat for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for a couple of years. But then my teenage longing for Asia re-emerged. That’s when I quit and moved to China.

WikiExpert: What has been the most challenging part of your career?

Gabor Holch: That is hard to tell because I like taking challenging directions. But when the OSCE sent me to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then after half a year promoted me to Head of Field Office at age 29, that was tough. Some of the people I managed were in their fifties, all of them senior lawyers, administrators and so forth. That taught me a lot about leadership and challenge. I felt similarly stressed ten years afterwards when I took my Certified Management Consultant (CMC) examination in Beijing, in Mandarin. But even if I don’t do something every day that scares me, I do follow steep paths if I see the point.

WikiExpert: You have coached over 100 Clients in 25 different countries! How did it feel to Coach people of different cultures?

Gabor Holch: That is the part I genuinely love about my job. I am a kid, and the world is my theme park. I have loved learning foreign languages since childhood. As a teen, I discovered I was good at them and the advantage of being polyglot. The leadership coaching business I started in 2005 partners with worldwide consultancies who do not have experts in the places I visit or the skills I have, so I deliver programs for them. They are often surprised how willingly I do speeches, training or lectures in unusual places, but I enjoy the surprise. For instance, over a few business trips, I got to love cities like Karachi, Phnom Penh, and Manila even though they wouldn’t have been my first choice before I knew them.

WikiExpert: Tell us a little about the corporate events and conferences that you have attended in both Europe and Asia.

Gabor Holch: I attend events both as a participant, to network, and as a speaker. When I am the speaker, they are either training workshops or conference keynotes. My workshops are usually in-house events, specially designed for the business goals and culture of the Client: a big car firm, a global bank, a think tank and so forth. They usually send a dozen people from all over a region (Asia, Europe) or the world to attend, and we work together for 2-3 days. When I deliver a keynote, I speak for an hour or so to audiences of a few hundred people interested in business and leadership topics. To give you a taste, in September I will deliver leadership training to the Asia-Pacific managers of an Italian industrial firm, then make a speech at a public-sector conference in Vienna, then fly on to train the Russia management of the same Italian company.

WikIExpert: What is the biggest mistake you have seen leaders make and how do you help them to prevent that?

Gabor Holch: It is when people misunderstand the meaning of the word “leader”. Most people I know either admire or hate their bosses, sometimes both. But a leader is just another human being: sometimes he doesn’t know what to do, sometimes he makes mistakes. People must accept this, including the leaders themselves. When I Coach them, I advise leaders to ask their teams for suggestions more frequently. They often think they cannot do that because they would lose their people’s respect. ‘Would you be disappointed with your boss if he asked you for advice?’ I ask them. None of them would. But when they become the boss, they try to look infallible. 

WikiExpert: As mentioned above, you have a passion for cultural diversity, please tell us how this can be beneficial in business?

Gabor Holch: In today’s world, there is diversity whether you want it or not. If you don’t have ‘ethnic’ employees or colleagues, then men cooperate with women, older workers with younger ones or have differences in religion, political views or diet. In addition, every business is becoming international: even national flags are manufactured abroad. People often try to avoid working with diversity because it can be messy. There are people who resist using mobile phones too. You may get away with it for some time, but eventually, you must face changes in the world.

WikiExpert: In your opinion, what are the benefits of online coaching?

Gabor Holch: The biggest advantage is that you can carry your advisor in your pocket. I still remember sending my first email in 1996. It is amazing that today, someone can sign up to my coaching, I can do the online assessment in minutes and we can start a video session in an hour if we want. I can Coach someone I have never met and who is on another continent, or someone who has been my Client for ten years.

WikiExpert: How can Clients benefit from online coaching services? Feel free to share some stories from your personal experience.

Gabor Holch: Business people want to look strong and thus tend to hide their weaknesses or worries. They don’t want to look stupid to their boss and team, don’t want to worry their family and want to forget about work when they talk to friends. That’s why they need Coaches. You can ask you Coach any ‘What if—” question and your Coach can do the same. For instance, when CEOs work far from their home country, they are stressed about the biggest and smallest things: they struggle to get a 100 million investment, and they cannot get used to local food. There are few people apart from a Leadership Coach who willingly discusses both issues constructively. 

WikiExpert: Tell us about how you built a successful business and became a successful Coach as an expat?

Gabor Holch: As I mentioned before, I am not quite sure. I love getting personal with people, even if they are of high authority. Soon after I meet someone, I find myself discussing the ‘real stuff’ with them and they ask me for advice. This turned into a profession, and I find it invigorating. One thing that I am very careful about is being consistent: my coaching, training, keynote speeches, books, and articles actually send the same message in different channels. Ultimately, I am selling a simple idea: that our clothes, food, houses, and temples are different, but the human nature underneath is the same and makes it possible to work together well, and even enjoy it.

Now, let's get to know a little more about Gabor and his plans for the future:

WikIExpert: You had moved to China in 2002, but where are you from, which city were you born in?

Gabor Holch: I was born in Budapest, Hungary. Both my parents live there, while my sister settled down and started a family in Barcelona.

WikiExpert: What made you move to China?

Gabor Holch: I have always been fascinated with Asia. As a teen, I read about its history, philosophy, I did martial arts and found Asian girls mesmerizing. As a student, I studied related subjects, and as a graduate student, I chose a special field called Asia-Europe relations. By that time, it was quite clear I would end up here. But my organization didn’t have vacancies in Asia, so I quit and taught in a college in Shaoxing, China for a year to learn Mandarin and establish myself in Asia.

WikiExpert: Any plans for the future? Do you plan on living permanently in China or is there anywhere else that you'd like to live?

Gabor Holch: I am always full of plans for the future, but I only like sharing mature ones. My wife is Chinese and her daughter has just gone off to college, so we will spend more time in Europe—perhaps half-half. I work in both places anyway, and this way we can enjoy the variety. I miss spending time with family, so Budapest and Barcelona will both see more of us.

WikiExpert: When you're not coaching and helping leaders, where can we find you? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Gabor Holch: It’s easy to find me because there are many people named ‘Gabor’ and many with the surname ‘Holch’, but there is only one Gabor Holch! If you want to see me online, check my TEDx speech or follow me on social media: LinkedIn is my favorite. I am also working on my fourth book, this time about expat executives in China, coming out in 2020. And of course, it can happen that I visit your city to speak. When I don’t work, I read, watch films or do kung fu.

WikiExpert: What is the biggest lesson you've learned from life?

Gabor Holch: I don’t believe in life lessons—wait, is that a life lesson? I know people like coming up with a ‘secret’ or ‘wisdom’, but when they do, they tend to repeat themselves instead of exploring. If I can share one almost-lesson, it is that whatever problem you have, you are not alone with it. Don’t hide it: go out, ask people or (plan-B) go online. You can also get inspiration from people who turned the same challenge into books, music or other art. The bottom line is: the solution is out there not in your head.

Want to see more of Gabor? Book a session with him today!

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