Category Archives: World Tour

The Genius of Places

Having just returned from a three week working tour of Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mumbai, London and Marseille (with extra pit stops in Singapore and Dubai in between), the genius of places almost shouts at me.

Dubai’s genius is to offer a modern example of what a flourishing Middle East can look like. Albeit currently in economic doldrums, needing perhaps to make peace with the fact that the bubble is gone and real growth is now needed, Dubai is a tolerant, eclectic, cosmopolitan, visionary city with guts and a measure of class. And from Dubai if you head to Turkey, to Jordan, to Lebanon, you see some of the shoots of the culture of the region that deserve to be watered, supported and extended. It’s a far cry from the raving nihilism of Al Qaeda or the medieval iniquity of the Taliban.

Singapore’s genius is to show how a controlled experiment in democracy can produce a vibrant, thriving, diverse, stimulating country. It is a polyglot of cultures, an epicenter for business, a culinary crossroads, a place where greater expression is becoming increasingly possible.  30 years ago it was a Malarial swamp. Decry the one party rule there as much as you like, but it’s an engaging place to nurture a family, run a business, and be near the most dynamic growth region of the 21st century. Moreover, give them time…the story is far from being fully written.

We were next in Hong Kong, arguably the freest economy on the planet, with a skyline to rival New York’s, and a pace, intensity and energy, very reminiscent of the Big Apple. The Fragrant Harbor is world class in every sense. And whether China comes to more resemble Hong Kong or vice-versa is an open story. It is Asia’s “world city” as the PR tag line proclaims. And while freedoms have been constricted, they haven’t been eliminated. It’s a springboard TO China, and a springboard FROM China…a city where entrepreneurial people built an extraordinary economy from virtually nothing. It is the quintessence of value creation. From the stunning efficiency that abounds everywhere, to gastronomic delights like Roast Goose and 3 star Michelin Cantonese culinary temples, from top-notch IT to world-class cultural events, Hong Kong rocks!

We went on to Mumbai — teeming, a study in contrasts, wealthy ghettos co-existing with abject poverty, a clanging 24/7 set of multi-sensory stimuli. But it is also an important economic engine for the world’s largest democracy — which manages to transfer power peacefully — and for a primarily Hindu country, they’ve had a Muslim President and a Sikh Prime Minister (promoted by an ex-Roman Catholic “Kingmaker” in Sonia Gandhi), and an extraordinary track record to date in creating economic value. They need to deal with infrastructure issues, improve sanitation and more…but there is a genius to this sprawling, cacophonous, vital, human enterprise incubating powerhouse.

We arrived in London — still a showcase for its past, as well as  hub of culture, distinction, sophistication and focused energy. London communicates that delicate balancing act between the gravitas of the past, and the edginess of the present. The restaurants shine, the cab drivers quip engagingly, the theater audiences are au fait with the historical or cultural references and the nuances of bon mots, people are by and large well turned out, and an 5 mile jaunt through Hyde Park throws up the whole panoply of cultures and ethnicities that make London such an intoxicating brew. Hatchards is my favorite book-store to browse in, I love the eclectic Hunan’s restaurant where they scowl if you ask for the non-existant menu but tapas style fiery Hunanese cuisine comes out until you ask them to stop, the whimsy of the Cinammon Club (a wonderful modern Indian) being housed in the old Westminster Library always tickles me, and the Neopolitan tailor (Rubinacci) across from the Connaught whose gusto for your sartorial well being truly underscores “the dolce vita” cannot but help upflit you. And for something quintessentially British (other than Hatchards of course), the fusty but reliable Scott’s is nearby to repair to for oysters and Grilled Dover Sole after perhaps a visit to the Royal Gallery and a Blanc de Blancs in the Coburg Bar of the Connaught. Such is London!

From London for a Leadership Journey to Marseille and then the Languedoc. Marseille, though being one of the great port cities, has a reputation for being seedy. But in the Vieux Port (the Old Port), with the right bouillabase and glass (or two) of Tavel Rose, all that fades away into obscurity. The Languedoc in turn was Roman France, and neighboring Provence as it does, it is replete with Mediterranean Gallic charm, cuisine, artisans, wine, olive oil, and stunning Roman remains like the Pont du Gard (the greatest surviving Aqueduct in the world), the amphitheater in Arles or the stunning Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon. There is a sensuous, elegant, charm and artistic and aesthetic depth to this place, that sends you out stimulated, vital, with your senses questing and alert having been awash in such truly abundant but diverse stimuli. In response, your smile has more depth, your chagrin more poetry, your insights are dappled with that golden Provencal light that illuminated so much of the work of masters like Cezanne and Van Gogh.

Each place has it’s own genius, and while we went to some highly distinctive ones, our ability to fathom what each can contribute to us, rather than a litany of their irritations and shortcomings is the way to underscore and heighten our overall perspicacity. It is also a way to better irrigate our souls.

We landed from all this and headed out for another Leadership Journey, this time in more prosaic seeming Illinois and Wisconsin. But the open spaces, and the beaming countenances, the lack of sophistry and the presence of welcome, the essential characer of pride in one’s work and community, all had their own enchantments, and with those in view, the limitations present were far less…limiting.

Seeing possibility, evoking it, celebrating it and helping to actualize it,  is the essence of  life and leadership.

Wallow in the genius of the places and people you encounter! From that basis, you will be best positioned to notice where to help, and how to help those very people grow.

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THE “INN” PLACE

Here is a fascinating meditation on living our vision of the good life AND taking an imaginative stand for bringing it to reality It was inspired by my birthday retreat, THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON. A follow-up post with some pictures of this marvelous Relais & Chateaux beauty and highlights of the truly exceptional culinary experience will be shortly forthcoming. In this podcast, I look at the improbable creation of his precedent-shattering place, and how it links up to both George Washington and to a lesser degree, even Andrew Lloyd Weber!


© Omar Khan 2009. All rights reserved.

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The Global Author

The principles of Global Consulting are timeless, and involve a deep dive into life and stimulus, ideas and people. In this podcast you can gain some insights about standing out from the crowd, making it about value to life-at-large rather than a petty fascination with my own narrow provincial interests, and most critically about a living brand that can thrive over time leveraged from living a life WORTH talking about!


© Omar Khan 2009. All rights reserved.

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Dragons and Fragrances

I’m in Hong Kong, working with a client bringing together their China and Japan teams. We’re in Mongkok, a corner of Kowloon. “Mongkok” literally means ‘bustling corner’ and for years this was the activity hub of Kowloon. “Kowloon” means 9 Dragons. A visiting young Emperor or Prince (these are abundant in Asian lore!) noticed there were eight mountains here and hypothesized that there would be a dragon living on each one.  Someone in his retinue suggested that the young Emperor because of his royal lineage too was ‘a Dragon’ and therefore it should be ‘Nine Dragons’. And so the name “Kowloon” was born. Kowloon affords a stunning view of the amazing Hong Kong (Island) skyline. As long as we’re digging into names, “Hong Kong” means essentially ‘Fragrant Harbor’.  It may have been so named because of its export of fragrant incense, or possibly because early travellers picked up a very distinctive scent as they came into the Harbor that may have come from frangipani trees. Today it is is still ‘fragrant’ though arguably for less savory reasons.

In the midst of stating a vision, identifying key sponsoring goals, agreeing on their most critical daily focus areas, re-imagining ways of working to enable that, these delegates have built the beginnings of a real community. They’re thrilled to meet each other, to feel connected as part of a larger region. They’ve gone Dragon Boat Racing together, and as I write, are out on a discovery adventure of Kowloon.

During the Dragon Boat races, watching from the beach it was clear to us who would win. One team was working in unison, utterly disciplined and wonderfully driven. The others were splashing and thrashing about, out of synch, and arrived over 13 seconds later. However, as both teams were galvanized again for the second race and the results were shared unromantically with clear feedback given, a marvelous transformation took place. This lagging team rallied and coordinated their efforts, had a clear renewed objective, and put everything into it. What happened was a virtual photo finish, and while the other team still won, this time it was by a mere .07 of a second! The rate of improvement of this second team had been amazing, and virtually immediate.

There was much gentle ribbing of each other, celebrations, high fives, self-deprecating humor. It was a healthy, inclusive culture…but one where performance had , in the case of one team been strongly sustained, and in the case of the other team, significantly improved.

People coming together, pulling together, focused together…there’s real power there. This is a team with both talent and a hunger to win in the marketplace too. If they take the will they’ve generated while overlooking the Fragrant Harbor, and build on the relationships forged in the shadow of the dragons, I believe they’ll pull it off.

The waters of Hong Kong have witnessed over their history, one of the greatest examples of entrepreneurial success and initiative the world has seen. There is certainly much here to take inspiration from.

PS. Our hotel for the event, Langham Place in Mongkok, while not from a globally recognized brand, is run with real heart and often great style. Their distinctiveness is reflected in the whimsy and yet utter appropriateness of some of their art and sculptures.

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Making a Value Choice

I returned home yesterday, after three weeks between Dubai, Singapore, Bangkok and London. We left London on a relatively balmy day and landed in New York on a dazzlingly sunny day, with what seemed like almost spring weather.

A few hours later London was deluged in snow, more snow than any time in the last 14 years. Heathrow was closed, over 250 flights were canceled, and airport hotels suddenly found themselves enjoying a non-recessionary few days as everyone clamored for a room at the proverbial inn.

A week ago, in Dubai, we had days of rain, and in the nearby hills, snow! It’s a desert…talk about shifting times and definitions!

It’s a strange time in the world…climatically, economically, geopolitically. But then is it really that strange, or is it just that we are facing a real inflection point in many ways, as we move from one sense of ‘normal’ to another?

I do know this, that while we can’t control some of the world’s transitions and transformations, we can certainly influence our place in them. Stranded passengers at Heathrow seethed not because of snowfall but lack of information or apparent care for their plight. This could have been a moment for Heathrow to in one fell swoop renew their global service brand image by providing the type of attentiveness, concern and care that would have lingered long after the snow had melted and passengers were safely on their way. Instead it seems, they may have confirmed the perceptions (fair or otherwise) people have of the sterility of airports in general and the obtuseness of Heathrow in particular, in human terms.

If the airport hotels were sane, they went out of their way over this period to provide empathic service and additonal value wherever possible, rather than exacerbating people’s stress with their own obliviousness and disdain. I have to say other than the Regal in Hong Kong (which consistently wins awards for best airport hotel in the world), I have yet to find an airport hotel that doesn’t seem awash in pro forma and quite insipid service…on a par with say bank lobbies and doctor’s waiting rooms.

Much is afoot in the world, and as we travel, and as we serve our clients, when unprecedented storms strike, we have to provide unprecedented responsiveness, care, empathy…and value. We should in fact be trying to do that anyway. But it’s needed now more than ever. People will still purchase services, make trips, choose business partners. But I truly believe they won’t make their choices on the equivalent of a Superbowl commercial — full of sound and fury as the Bard wrote in another context, signifiying nothing. People will be more discerning, more substantive in what they’re looking for. For those of us willing to be the right choice, that’s great news.

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