George Renwick: A Great Friend and Mentor From Aperian GlobalAug 21, 2022
Ted and I have sad news to share with you. Our great friend and mentor George Renwick has passed away. As those of you who came into contact with George over the years experienced first-hand, he has been a leading light and mainstay of the intercultural field since its beginning, playing a key role with SIETAR, the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication, the Intercultural Press, and other groups while serving clients as a noted China expert.
George was also incredibly generous and supportive in our early days as a company and throughout our more than 30 years together, including his participation in our all-company retreat in Tiburon. The song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” We knew George but didn’t always fully appreciate or honor his qualities: modest, unselfish, generous, original, kind. If the intercultural field ever has a pantheon, he will surely be in it. Here are some personal comments from us in tribute to George:
Ted Dale’s Comments
I am in this field because of George; his integrity, wisdom, and kindness made a profound and lasting impression on me, and I wanted to be like him. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had to collaborate with him on our early products, and later when he consulted with us on how to improve the Aperian Global organization.
I will never forget his energy and intensity when he worked with us on one of our early products, the “Working with China” video series. The film crew would all be exhausted by late evening after working 12 hour days, with most of us barely able to keep going, and around 11pm George’s eyes would light up as he talked excitedly about what we should do next, and how the script could be edited, and what the actors could do differently to better demonstrate the key concepts we were trying to convey. And we would gradually pick ourselves up off the floor and do one more take…, and of course, the last take was always better :-)
George’s passion, his inquisitive mind, and his global mindset were truly an inspiration. He gave so much to so many of us in the intercultural field, and I believe the best way we can repay our debt to him is to “pay it forward” as he would say - to do our best to share with others even just a little of the many gifts he shared with us.
Ernie Gundling’s Comments
George is often described as a wonderful mentor. There is a word in Japanese, “Sensei,” that means far more than mentor. When used in the most heartfelt way, it means respected and beloved teacher, a benefactor and a role model who sets the highest standards, and a person to whom we feel a deep well of gratitude. This is how I feel toward George. It was astonishing to watch him in action at the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication, which many people attended over the several decades of its existence because they knew George would be there. His schedule would be packed every day with either meetings or seminar delivery from dawn to midnight over all three weeks of the Institute each year; he was willing to meet with anyone, regardless of their background or level of experience. I’m sure that literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people would say they were inspired by a conversation with George at one point or another over the years.
George was also amazingly skilled as a professional coach and in delivering services to clients. His approach to communication and social media was old school – he didn’t have a personal email address (we communicated through his long-time assistant Irene). However, when he shared his thoughts with clients or seminar attendees, his level of preparation and insight was stunning, and you also felt that he was listening carefully, open to new information, and actually present and fully engaged in a way that few of us have achieved. Whenever I requested his feedback on a book draft, I quickly realized that he had not only read the contents from front to back, but had written down many pages of notes and often understood the topics better than I did. His feedback was always thoughtful and generous but also challenging, and his suggestions improved everything we did.
Here is a sample quote from George regarding change management. In his pithy fashion, it holds more wisdom than anything else I’ve ever heard on this perennial topic while crystallizing the spirit of the intercultural field, and can be applied well beyond the realm of international assignments:
“Many managers go into an overseas assignment thinking, ‘How much can I change, and how fast?’ Big mistake. Let me suggest a better question: ‘What can I change, when?’ Still better is, “What can we change, when?’ But the very best question is, ‘What must I not change?’ What is going on here, in this organization, that deserves to be preserved? The local employees have been here, many of them, for years. They’ve been doing some good work. What is going extremely well? So I start, not with alteration, but with affirmation.”
The first time I met George 10+ years ago I remember being quite nervous. I had heard so much about him and his influence on the intercultural world. It felt like meeting a celebrity. But when I finally spoke to him, my nervousness quickly subsided due to his graciousness and warm, welcoming energy. Reflecting back, I can now see that George was a natural at creating a safe place (what we now label as “psychological safety”) for those in the world around him.
I was honored to see George in his element during an intensive course at SIIC, very early on in my own intercultural career. His ability to guide a group of people representing 12+ countries in a small intimate setting in a way that was productive, engaging, and safe was awe-inspiring. He set the benchmark for what a humble, generous, skilled facilitator and thought leader could be.
Early in my career at Aperian Global, I had the good fortune of attending an intense summer course at the Summer Institute. Everyone that I told that I was going to SIIC said, “You HAVE to take a class with George Renwick!” I took their advice and, as a green Global Account Manager, it profoundly affected how I viewed the intercultural field, coaching, and the importance of our work. George was just so inspiring and extremely generous with his time and talents inside and outside of the classroom. His ability to challenge, coach, and counsel with compassion was unparalleled and he will be sorely missed.
I had the good fortune to not only meet George early in my Aperian career, but to also keep in touch with him through client work. I remember him visiting me in Chicago for a work trip to Kohler, Wisconsin. Those two days together, including the 6 hours we spent riding in my car, were like getting a global masters degree. George wasn’t just a titan in the intercultural field, he was keenly aware of the business side of our work, and was a much sought-after consultant by some of the largest firms in the world. You would not know it from talking with him; he was incredibly humble about his experiences. But just listening to him talk, you felt his gravitas and intellect. The world doesn’t have that many George Renwicks, someone with humility and kindness paired with worldly talent to help others. He will be missed.