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Hofstede Obituary

20 Mar 2020 3:23 PM | Anonymous

The intercultural field has lost another pioneer. Over the decades of my connection with SIETAR International and now USA, I have been writing the obituaries for leading interculturalists such as Peggy Pusch, Edward T. Hall, David Hoopes, Robert Kohls, and Paul Pedersen, as well as less well known interculturalists such as Helen McNulty, Don Henderson, Judee Blohm, and Robert Brown. Paying tribute to people who have enriched our field and our lives has been important to me to do. It reminds us that we are not in this business alone, we have had solid support from the research, writings, teachings, and personal example of many. Each death leaves a hole in the fabric of SIETAR. Fortunately, SIETAR is made of strong cloth and we go on without them, while remembering them in an obituary, which means they may be lost but not forgotten. I know that is a cliché but it’s also the best way to describe what I am trying to do. I try to capture the person’s worth and contributions to the intercultural field, and to give it a personal touch as much as possible. Mostly the people are known to me but sometimes as in the case of Geert Hofstede, I didn’t know him as a friend but mostly by reputation. When you hear of the death of an interculturalist, please let me know and if you knew the person, add your personal touch to the message. We can create a tribute together.  (Sandra Fowler)


A very kind man, generous with his time and ideas, Geert Hofstede died at age 91 on 12 February 2020. His son Gert Jan Hofstede reported that he was ready to go and surrounded by family. Hofstede’s research that formed the foundation of his book Culture’s Consequences, inspired much more exploration and inspection of cultural dimensions. Hofstede was trained as an electrical engineer but found that he preferred understanding people to understanding machinery. He joined the Personnel Research department of IBM international where he embarked on his seminal research. 

Geert’s son writes: Under Geert's impulse, IBM collected opinion survey data from across over 50 countries. They were about mundane matters such as salary, tenure, working relationships. What Geert discovered is that it did not matter much whether a respondent was white- or blue- collar, male or female, new or ancient. What did matter was from which country they came. e got a job at a management school in Lausanne and repeated his surveys on the international MBA students there. It yielded the same cross-national patterns. He then put in almost ten years of study. At their end, he offered his fat manuscript to sixteen publishers, who all refused it. Then he tried Sage, and got another refusal letter, followed from an acceptance letter from the highest boss – a woman. She came up with the catchy title “Culture’s Consequences” (1980).

On the IAIR blog Gary Fontaine reminisced about a time when Geert visited his graduate course "INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION AT HOME AND ABROAD" in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii.  “The topic for that day was a continuation of our look at dimensions of cultural difference, particularly focused on "Dr. Hofstede's" famous "power distance," "uncertainty avoidance," "individualism" and "MASCULINITY."  And my opening intro, as planned, to my students was that that dimension that Geert labelled "masculinity/femininity" was--in less “sexist” terms--"work centrality."  And with that critical statement, Geert exploded, I exploded, and most of my students said later it was the most thrilling, live, academic experience in their young lives.  He and I later hugged ... as we do in Hawaii.”

Pawel Boski also wrote: “To me, and to my students whom I teach about Hofstede's contributions, Geert has a solid place in history, as the pioneer of measuring cultural dimensions. I think this is beyond doubt and discussion. And this is much. It does not matter, in my opinion, that with time these dimensions turned out to be conceptually questionable and empirically not valid. This happens often and this is what science means: always in pursuit of improvement and correcting its own shortcomings and limitations. I truly believe, this approach has more virtue than quoting and using Hofstede (1980-2001) without sufficient reflexivity to the fact that the world has changed dramatically since his studies were initiated over 50 years ago…We often say, it is important to differentiate the Person and keeping Him in Good Memory, from the Deed, which may be looking Great at a time, and then may receive criticism, without The Person losing His stature. We are Humans (great and limited at the same time), not saints.”

Gert Jan concludes his memories of his Father: “All in all, Geert’s story is one of remarkable perseverance, acuity of vision, cross-disciplinary endeavour and serendipity. Fortunately, many others have thought to extend or build upon his work. This is how it should be. We need to move on in our 21th century – but Geert’s messages should be in our backpacks.”

Gert Jan and his father, Geert Hofstede (1928-2020)

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