Faculty Focus: Robert Goodwin
The Future in the Far East
Robert Goodwin , Faculty
Graduate School of Management and Technology
Robert Goodwin is UMUC's resident expert on China—one of the world's most dynamic business environments. This is his story.
Robert’s firsthand understanding of Asian culture dates back to the 1960s, when he served a three-year stint in the Peace Corps, doing development work in a small village in rural Thailand. “It taught me how to live in a different culture,” he recalled. “I think my experience there influenced me more than I realized at the time.”
He headed home to study international law, but his fascination with the Far East continued. Though he began his law career with the U.S. government, he eventually founded a law firm with clients who were doing business with overseas companies.
When the opportunity came in 1978 to return to Asia, he took it. At the time, Robert was assistant general counsel for international trade and emergency preparedness for the U.S. Department of Energy. He traveled to China with a delegation led by then-Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger
“I was the legal official on the trip,” said Robert. During the tour, he noticed how focused the Chinese were on developing their country—which was only then opening to foreign business— and how interested they were in new ideas and interaction with foreign companies. “I thought it would be a fascinating place to do business, so I looked for opportunities,” Robert said. Thirsty for knowledge, he studied the country, researching its law and talking to Chinese and international lawyers about the changing nature of the Chinese legal environment. Though unable to speak or write Chinese, he soon made connections in China and other countries like Thailand, Japan and Mexico, where his clients needed his expertise.
In 1981, Goodwin met two New Yorkers—Roberta Lipson and Elyse Silverberg—who shared his passion for China. “They went to China to study and decided to stay and start a company,” he explained. That company was Chindex International, Inc., a medicalequipment sales company. Goodwin soon began handling all of Lipson’s and Silverberg’s contracts and other legal work. As the company grew, so did their legal needs, and Godwin joined Chindex full-time in 1992, becoming one of the four people who managed the fledgling company.
He also served as a board member and was on hand two years later for the company’s initial public offering. At the time, Chindex had $8 million in annual revenues. Today it trades on the NASDAQ and has annual revenues of $100 million.
From his vantage point at Chindex, Goodwin witnessed firsthand China’s evolution from a government-dominated business environment to a private sector one.“They’ve come a long way,” he said. “When I began working there, business was totally state-run.” Though still powerful, China’s government today only runs about a third of the businesses. “I’ve seen a change in attitude, in the social structure, and in how so many of the people have moved from largely rural areas to urban areas,” said Goodwin. “They’ve had to adapt to rapid change because the economy is growing an average of 10 percent each year, and that’s been true for many, many years now.”
Goodwin said that China—where Chindex operates hospitals and clinics in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond—is being touted as the production center of the world.“They produce many of the world’s electronic goods, clothes, and toys. Their next goal is automobile production.”
That makes China a prime focal point of business opportunity now and in the years ahead, and it makes Goodwin a prime asset in UMUC’s Graduate School of Management and Technology, where he accepted a full-time position as program director for international management in the business and executive programs department after serving for 15 years as an adjunct faculty member. He brings more than 35 years of experience to the job, including more than a decade as Chindex’s executive vice president and general counsel (he still works as a consultant with the company).
At UMUC, his goal is to work with his colleagues at the graduate school to help teach business students to think globally and have the ability to flourish in a foreign country. He believes his international experience greatly enhances his ability to teach. “Along the way, I’ve picked up a certain amount of knowledge on the economy, the country, and on the people and how they think and react to things,” he said. That is important, he continued, because “the world is globalizing, and to be successful in business, you need to be quick on your feet and know how to deal with a culture different than your own.”
He emphasized how his various international careers have given him experience in managing a company and dealing with the different regulatory issues characteristic of international business. At the same time, they’ve helped him learn to manage people in a cross-cultural environment.
“When doing business in a foreign country, you often approach it from your point of view,” said Goodwin. “But if you’ve really absorbed another culture, you can see it from theirs.”
Problem-solving for people with different points of view was a daily factor in Goodwin’s work at Chindex. “I could see it in e-mail from employees every day,” he recalled. “The types of problems that arise with 1,000 employees in a foreign country are multiple and very complex. They thought about problems in different ways."