Weekly Local Biography

 Professor Dr. Gunter Faltin

 

In a world where many people cannot even spell entrepreneurship, let alone understand the subtle nuances, Professor Dr. Gunter Faltin has spent almost a complete lifetime demonstrating its benefits to anyone who will stand still long enough to hear him out. Gunter Faltin is as much a visionary as the great prophets of history, but Gunter Faltin is not prepared to wait to see his concepts become accepted in retrospect. He wants it now. He is an agent of change.

He was born towards the end of WWII in a small Bavarian town. His father was an engineer, while his mother was a housewife - but no ordinary housewife. She ran a housewife’s club for the women in the town, organizing tourist vacations to Italy for women that otherwise would have been stuck at home. Her work in the ‘liberation’ of women from the kitchen sink predates many of the big ‘names’ in the women’s movement. She also made an impression on her younger son.

He was no ordinary son either. “I was really bad at school. It was very traditional and it was very boring.” His hobby was economics, but his passion was making practical economics work. He put his hard earned pocket money to work by entering the stock market when he was 14 years old. This was considered ‘strange’ by his teachers, but he persevered. “I was not really successful. I had to gain all my knowledge myself, so I made all the beginners mistakes.”

When he finished school he went to university to study this all consuming hobby of his called economics. “I came to university full of ideas in studying economics, but I was surprised to find that economics at university was dead boring.”

He sat down and examined the situation and came up with another finding. Perhaps the economics was not boring, perhaps it was the delivery of the knowledge. With the proposal that the teaching was, in his words, “nonsense” it is also not surprising that his professors were not enamoured of the young man, but the students were. He was not a rebel, but he became a student leader. He was prepared to question that which was up till then considered to be sacrosanct. “The student movement was not a ‘Socialist’ movement at that time. It was antiauthoritarian,” he said by way of explanation.

Despite this, or perhaps because of this, he continued on at university, determined to get his Ph.D. For his thesis he chose consumer behaviour, again producing debate and dissent. Some of the examiners considered this to be more in the field of psychology than economics, but eventually he was given his doctorate.

Now as a university teacher himself, he continued to criticize where he felt it was necessary. In a seminar in Berlin he gave a scathing discourse on how universities should really be run, gaining enormous support from the student body, and hatred from certain sections of academia. However, there were some who appreciated the winds of change heralded by the young academic, and he was given lifetime tenure as a professor.

Suddenly the 31-year-old professor realized that he would literally have to put his money where his mouth was. “I decided I would have to do things in a different way. In economics I wanted to create a new promising business idea, and that’s how I started. I founded my own company. I wanted to create a company that had a superior approach.”

Even that was not as simple as it sounds. Certain sections of the university complained that this was against the law, but by delving into the constitution he found that universities had been freed from legal constraints. He began a tea company. He was a coffee drinker. He did not even drink tea.

Contrary to the usual practice, this tea company did not offer a range of teas of different types and packs of all different sizes. The concept was one leaf and one large pack size. The concept continued down the line of superior approach and it was decided that only the finest leaves would be sold. “People laughed at me. Even the students didn’t think it would work.”

But it did work. A teaching professor had founded a company that was successful, countering the usual concept that university professors were good in theory, but no good in practice. “We became the biggest mail order tea business in Germany and the biggest importer of Darjeeling tea in the world,” he said with obvious pride of accomplishment in his voice.

Professional academics know each other and of each other, and Gunter had a friend teaching at a university in Bangkok, and so he visited the kingdom. It was 1978 and he liked what he saw. “I liked the nature of the people. A curious child-like approach to the world. This makes the world nicer and more fun. I never got bored coming here.”

He still does not get bored and has been a visiting professor to universities established here, in between his commitments in the Freie Universitat in Berlin.

So does he lecture over a pot of Orange Peko Darjeeling tea? No he does not. The tea business is not what it is about. It is about the concept of the creation of ideas, their development and refinement. “That is my special field.” For our visiting professor, success in his special field is seeing his students put the knowledge he imparts to good use. “I like my students to become enlightened millionaires. I want people to understand the difference between entrepreneurship and business management.” For Professor Gunter, it would appear that the former is exciting and the latter is boring. Professor Gunter works in ideas, not in day-to-day details and tedium, even though it is needed to ‘manage’ the business.

Does he have a hobby now? “My hobby is my work,” he said, just as enthusiastic today as he was 30 years ago. A remarkable man!