Faculty Focus: Robert Goodwin

The Future in the Far East

By Celeste Ryan |   October 2010

Robert Goodwin , Faculty

MBA Program
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."