By Tala Strauss

As I wrote in Friday’s piece on the obstacles and opportunities that the current state and future prospects of global business presents emerging leaders, I sat down for lunch with Edwin Keh, formerly COO for Global Procurement at Wal-Mart and now CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel and a lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, on one sweltering Friday afternoon in Hong Kong this past summer.

View of Hong Kong from my summer apartment

View of Hong Kong from my summer apartment

Tala: What trends do you see that offer hope for global business today?

Edwin: The whole concern with sustainability is a positive trend, that people are becoming more thoughtful about consumption –  asking, ‘where does stuff come from, why do I use the things I use, where does it come from, how do my choices impact the world?’

The other thing that makes me a little more hopeful is that there isn’t a single-minded focus on materialism, that more and more this generation, your generation, realizes it’s not about the accumulation of things, that it is about being useful, doing good, being reasonable and responsible. That gives me more confidence, that at least you’re not going through the same road of despair. For materialism, there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and you end up despairing.

Bonsai in Kowloon walled city

Bonsai in Kowloon Walled City

Another trend, globalization, is good and bad. I hope to be positive about that. We become a lot more broad as human beings. The world is so diverse, wonderful, different. There is such great complexity out there. I think globalization allows all of us to be less parochial, to think of ourselves more as global citizens. Globalization brings all sorts of good things, like stability and world peace; territorialism and colonialism, all that imperialistic thinking, going away.

Also, everywhere I’ve gone everyone has a hunger for something spiritual. Everyone is looking for meaning and purpose. That makes me more happy, more hopeful. By people being aware there is this vacuum in their lives, this connectedness that we have with the world, it’s good news, it’s an opportunity for the gospel, for the Kingdom of God, for salvation, which really is the answer for what ails this world – it’s just a matter of how effectively we are able to communicate that.

Dragon boat race in Hong Kong

Dragon boat race in Hong Kong

In view of his experience as an executive and these reflections on trends in global business, I asked Edwin Keh about his survival tactics for sustaining a spiritual life as a globe-trotting executive. He has been highly mobile throughout his career. Among other experiences, he has lived and worked around the world, from a refugee camp in Africa to a research center in Hong Kong. He has worked for companies like Perrier, Donna Karan, Payless ShoeSource, and Wal-Mart. His work has involved frequent and extensive travel, as well as a number of relocations for himself and his family. What advice, I wondered, might he have for other global nomads about cultivating Christian community?

Edwin admitted that maintaining a healthy spiritual life had been difficult over the years, partly because of his high level of mobility. The key for Edwin has been to focus on long-term sustainability, rather than being anxious about some sort of perfect devotional life in the short term. One of the ways in which he pursued such long-term sustainability has been to meet with a group of close friends once a month. Not surprisingly (but nonetheless rather amazing, for a young traveler like myself), this group meets wherever in the world they agree to meet in a given month. (I imagine a group of executives flying in to Rome to meet over cappuccinos one month, then for sushi in Tokyo another month, to share their lives and their walk with God.) A requirement for this group has been complete honesty with one another about their lives. Participating in local churches whenever he has been able has also contributed to Edwin’s “long obedience in the same direction.”

While executives like Edwin are further along in their journey and have access to different resources than a recent college graduate like myself, I nonetheless benefited from his practical wisdom and the implications it has for mobile twentysomethings. I felt challenged by Edwin’s example to pursue authentic community despite the obstacle of distance and the disruption caused by moving frequently. Finding a way to maintain face-to-face relationships with a close group of real friends, living their lives before the face of God, seems to me to be crucial for nurturing life-long commitment to faith.

I am excited to be part of a global generation of young adults participating in a global economy in which sustainability is a widely shared concern, materialism is not the only guiding worldview, cosmopolitanism may transcend nationalistic fervor, and a yearning for the spiritual is not viewed as intellectually naïve or politically dangerous. I am glad for the example of people like Edwin Keh and his friends, and hope that my generation will offer a similar example to those who will come after us.

Tala Strauss recently graduated from Gordon College and now teaches high school students in Los Angeles. She spent this past summer in China.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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