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The American era is over

The American era is over The American era is over

Lecture by Professor Hofstede: hall packed with students

MAASTRICHT. What economic order will arise from the ruins of the 2008 financial crisis? This remains unclear, but in any event, the key is to prevent business leaders from striving for disastrous business goals. So argued professor emeritus Geert Hofstede in his lecture ‘Beyond growth, greed and quarterly results’, organised last Tuesday by Studium Generale.

Hofstede heads to the podium and the lecture hall at the Tongersestraat rings with applause, as though welcoming an ageing pop star back to the stage. Hofstede (Haarlem, 1928) retired from UM’s economics faculty twenty years ago, but today’s students know exactly who he is. This is the man renowned for Culture’s Consequences (1980), which took the academic world by storm. In the book, he introduced his five dimensions of cultures: power distance, individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term versus short-term orientation. Later, he added indulgence versus restraint into the mix.

Today, Hofstede talks about business goals. Around 1998 he collected data from seventeen countries spanning America, Asia and Europe. The extremes appear to be the United States and Germany. In the USA, the dominant goals are growth, personal wealth and short-term results. In hindsight, says Hofstede, these findings predicted the economic crash in 2008. “Yet almost no one saw it, including myself.”

German businesses stress different goals: responsibility towards society and their employees, respect for ethical norms, and the creation of something new. “Wasn’t the USA supposed to be the country of innovation?” Not only Germany, but also emerging economies like India, Brazil and China value a longer term view, are less obsessed with growth and personal wealth, and display more responsibility towards society. “This shows that contributions from other parts of the world are important. The American era is over. I don’t expect a new superpower to emerge. Leadership in global business demands understanding and respect of local values.”

What about the Middle East?, a student asks. “I don’t have data on those countries”, says Hofstede. “But from other sources, they seem to have a short-term orientation, strong national pride and an inclination towards self-enhancement. Meaning: We don’t learn from other people, we know best.”

Who is Hofstede?

Geert Hofstede is by far the most frequently cited Dutch economist. He has seven honorary doctorates and was one of the pioneers of UM’s International Management programme, which was later succeeded by International Business. Originally an engineer and social psychologist, Hofstede was UM professor of Organisational Anthropology from 1985 until his retirement in 1993.

The recording of the lecture will be available on www.talkingbusiness.net as of Thursday

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