Interview with Jimmy Rasmussen at Grundfos – about Living, Leading, and Working – The Chinese Way

This is the first article of a two-part series chronicling the journey of Jimmie Rasmussen, Group Senior Marketing Director at Grundfos, who embarked on a transformative adventure in China to immerse himself in the language and culture of the Chinese people.

In this first article (1), we explore his experiences as a Westerner adapting to life in China, delving into the complexities of mastering the language and embracing the cultural nuances.

The second article (2), delves into Jimmie’s leadership role within three international companies operating in China. We follow his story as he skillfully navigates the dynamics of leading a Chinese workforce.

Jimmie Rasmussen is interviewed by former business professor and advisor Kim Buch-Madsen (see end of article for further information about both interviewee and interviewer).

Learning the Chinese Culture Hands-On

Kim Buch-Madsen:  Jimmie, in 2011, you made a remarkable decision. You left behind a successful leadership career in the Danish division of a global company and embarked on a bold journey to China. This journey began without a job, without a source of income, and without knowing the language. You took the initiative to study Chinese, alongside young exchange students, and subsequently spent eight years in China, where you held leadership positions in both Chinese and international companies, including German and Danish organizations.

Could you please share with us the motivations and circumstances that led to this extraordinary chapter in your life and career?

Jimmie Rasmussen: Since my early childhood I’ve been curious about what it would be like to live and work abroad. So, when my wife went to work in Bangladesh for a year, I traveled a lot between Denmark and India and got a taste of Asia. This ignited even further my curiosity for trying something other than the European way of living and learning to see the world through different perspectives.

When my wife was offered a good working opportunity in China it felt right to support her as she had supported my career choices. So, I grabbed the adventure of starting from scratch on a global scale and exploring new opportunities.

I initially anticipated applying my extensive business and leadership experience in the Chinese context. However, I quickly recognized the stark contrasts in cultures and business practices, despite having undergone a comprehensive 3-month course in Chinese language and culture before leaving Denmark. As a result, I made a pivotal decision to embark on a fresh beginning. I chose to set aside my corporate mindset, along with my identity and status as a leader, and set out to explore China from an entirely distinct vantage point – that of an individual, as myself, as Jimmie.

I spent a significant part of my savings and signed in as a full-time student at the language school Miracle Mandarin. I started my new life as a full-time student of Chinese, side by side with young exchange students from many different countries. From one day to another the business suit was exchanged for jeans and a T-shirt. After school, I picked up my wife from work – on a scooter.


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Kim Buch-Madsen: What is your background and what did you leave behind in Denmark?

Jimmie Rasmussen: I grew up in Ishøj, a diverse part of Denmark. Early on, I learned to connect with people from all walks of life, develop leadership skills, and navigate complex social dynamics.

This taught me the importance of building bridges, taking responsibility, and making a positive impact. My time in the Danish Army reinforced these skills, providing practical leadership experience.

Later, as a security guard and supervisor at G4S, I honed my abilities to maintain safety. To balance my practical knowledge of leadership with academic knowledge, I pursued a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration at Copenhagen Business School.

Kim Buch-Madsen: Having you as a student (at CBS), 17 years ago, I clearly remember my first impressions of you. You stood out merely by your physical appearance, baldheaded, big as a horse, and you looked like a bouncer. But even more, I remember your curious, joyful eyes – always asking questions, sharing experiences, and participating in discussions. You seemed like a child in a toy store.

Jimmie Rasmussen: He he, I was indeed a bouncer to pay for my earlier studies. And yes, although it was hard to study for 4 years besides my full-time job, I had a great time building knowledge, tools, and networks.

Kim Buch-Madsen: Several years down the road, you embarked on a new journey as a student, enrolling in a full-time Chinese language school. Could you share your experiences during that period?

Jimmie Rasmussen: I was a full-time student indeed, not only in my language school. Besides the school, I had a private Chinese teacher and practiced my Chinese all the time while shopping, talking to people in the streets, pointing things out asking “what’s the word for that?”, “what’s the meaning of this word?” and so on.

Of course, I made lots of mistakes, I often got corrected, and sometimes felt a little embarrassed. I certainly came to know the meaning of the Mandarin word “bu zhi dao” which means “I do not understand”.

To be honest, in the beginning, it took quite a toll on my ego

To be honest, in the beginning, it took quite a toll on my ego. My identity and status were gone, the same thing with my income. I lived from my savings and my wife’s job. I was a foreigner, not knowing the language. I went from leader to student, suddenly sitting on a school bench and being told what to do by young Chinese. It felt strange and now and then it created quite funny situations.

Yet, as I decided to grab the adventure of it, to throw away all my expectations and roles, and just be open, have fun, and discover different personalities as well as different people, it soon became an exciting experience. I ended up having a terrific time. Besides learning the Chinese language, I made new friends from all over the world and attained insights into different ways and various cultures.


READ ALSO: What is Psychological Safety and How to Create it?


While being much younger than me, I soon socialized a lot with my fellow students in the language school, hanging out together, inviting them home for dinner and drinks, and so on. After an intense year, I achieved a HSK6 level in Chinese in 2012, signifying fluency in one’s daily life.

During this year I became friends with the Chinese owners of the language school;  both highly competent female entrepreneurs. Although just another language student at their school, I couldn’t resist sharing my customer perspectives on their business along with ideas and suggestions for its improvements.

Entering the Chinese Workforce

One day in 2012, a year after I arrived in China, they offered me the position of General Manager of the language school. This was not my goal in any way. Yet, I grabbed the opportunity to use my business capabilities, the Chinese language, and cultural insights.

I was entrusted the keys to a chain of language schools operating in China, Canada, and Germany, with the responsibility as the daily leader of 86 employees; the majority were Chinese and many didn’t speak English.

Leadership – the Chinese Way

Kim Buch-Madsen: You invested time, money, and effort in learning the Chinese language. Can you share your experiences regarding the returns on this investment?

Jimmie Rasmussen: The returns were immeasurable and so much worth the effort. I learned the language because I did not want to lead like a tourist, rely on a secretary or interpreter, or appear like just another “white tiger” – a foreigner in charge.

I wanted to lead in Chinese, to communicate and interact directly, to understand and feel what is going on, to know whether I created real followership, commitment, and motivation – or if I just created a “yes boss” nod and a hierarchical acceptance. I wanted to cut the layers and build relationships based on genuine human connections.

That proved to be a good strategy. You gain respect in any country if you make the effort to learn the native language. Even more so in China as the Mandarin language is difficult to learn for Westerners. It’s so different from the Indo-European languages and you need to recognize, understand, and use thousands of signs in the Mandarin alphabet.

Chinese people highly appreciate commitment, patience, and respect, and learning the language is a vital part of it

My commitment to learning the language and culture was seen by the Chinese as commitment and cultural respect. It earned me a huge advantage, not only in building trust and relationships, which is so vital in Chinese business and leadership but also in a personal way. I made great Chinese friends and we’re still staying in touch on an almost daily basis.

Chinese people highly appreciate commitment, patience, and respect, and learning the language is a vital part of it.  Besides that, when working with the Chinese they want to know you beyond the formal roles. You need to invest more of yourself as a human being and of course, it’s a great help to master their language.

Kim Buch-Madsen: You mentioned that you did not want to lead or appear like just another “white tiger”. What does that mean?

Jimmie Rasmussen: One late evening in the office, my local sales director made the following reference.

As we grew geographically and my relations deepened, I became increasingly aware of how foreigners can be perceived as white tigers, hunting for new business opportunities.

History has shaped this perception of Westerners in China. Initially, it was associated with low-cost production and export, but as China’s purchasing power has increased, the focus has shifted to meeting local demands.

This is in contrast to the peaceful giant panda being one of the national symbols.

There are 12 zodiac animals representing a cycle of 12 years rooted within the Chinese culture. They are celebrated throughout the year, as we celebrate New Year’s eve. While the tiger is only one of these animals, learning the deeper meaning of all of them helped me earn more respect and lead more effectively in this complex market.


Read the second interview with Jimmie Rasmussen, to learn more specifically about leadership and being a leader in China – including the importance of understanding the Chinese culture for being an effective, good, and respected leader.

About Jimmie Rasmussen – Group Senior Marketing Director at Grundfos

Jimmie Rasmussen is a senior executive and an adventurer within global business. After more than 14 years within the security industry, he lost and found himself spending the last 11 years in different leading industries on various continents, working now truly global from the headquarters of Grundfos in Bjerringbro, Denmark.

He holds a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School, as well as a global executive MBA from CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai. Moreover, Jimmie Rasmussen speaks Mandarin and enjoys the local dialects, and he pushes the boundaries mentally and physically through freeride skiing, diving, mountain climbing, and enduro motorcycling.   


About Kim Buch-Madsen

Kim Buch-Madsen is a former business professor, teaching leadership, strategy, organizational behavior, and international business.

He is now working as an independent advisor, consultant, author, and censor for the Danish Ministry of Education, doing quality assurance at business universities and MBA studies.

Kim Buch-Madsen is the author of several books and articles and thereto a featured contributor at ManageMagazine and Bizcatalyst360. He has worked with the Chinese, traveled Korea, and holds a black belt degree in the Korean martial art Hwa Rang Do. He has thereto won 8 Danish Championships in billiards.


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