In Honor of Professor Geert Hofstede – 1928-2020

geert hofstede Mar 01, 2020

“Oh my!” was my first reaction as I gasped when opening the email.

Upon waking to get the daily news of our world spinning out of control with the coronavirus epidemic in China, I was saddened by this news of our most admired and cherished mentor. As I continued to read the announcement posted by his son on their website, it was a comfort to know that he was surrounded by loved ones.

Our world may be spinning out of control with so many crises happening all over the world and most specifically regarding the COVID-19 epidemic here in China. With this crisis comes confusion, criticism, and so much fear as people lash out at each other. However, there is hope amid chaos. How we respond to and handle our reactions to what’s happening starts with each of us from the inside out as we learn from and pass along Professor Hofstede's lifelong legacy of cross-cultural understanding. As Gert Jan (Professor Hofstede’s son and collaborator) said in the memorial on his website - "We need to move into the 21st century with Geert's messages in our backpacks". (please see below)

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During the 2017 Hofstede-Insights annual meeting in Amsterdam, it was a delightful surprise to briefly be able to meet with Professor. Rather than “talk about business” we talked about his family. With a twinkle in his eye, he told me how he had met his wife at a young people’s association many years ago and then about raising his family. While I don’t remember the details, I do remember his demeanor – content, humble, and grateful for his family and his life – the love for his family was palpable! In that moment, he reminded me of my father, who had confided in me many years ago – that while he had been a prominent scientist in his field with all of the accolades that go with it – the most important thing to him was having a family and keeping us together through the hard times. 

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A heavy sigh, a heavy heart, but fervent prayers of comfort for the family.

Thank you, Professor, for your kindness, gentleness, and humility with how you have helped make the world a better place - one person at a time.  :-)

For those who would like easy access to the beautiful memorial, it is posted here along with the URL...

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Geert Hofstede passed away - - by son, Gert Jan Hofstede

Geert Hofstede passed away on 12 February 2020, at the age of 91 years. He was ready to go and surrounded by his family.

Cross-cultural understanding

Geert is one of the scholars from the 20th century whose work will endure. It is being used by tens of thousands of students and professionals across the world. In this age of a shrinking planet, cross-cultural understanding is important for survival, as he says with understatement.

Geert's early career

As a son, co-author and user of his work, I have a privileged perspective. I remember his days in the textile industry in the nineteen sixties. Trained as an electrical engineer, he turned towards the people. As a personnel manager, he carried out fieldwork there. It resulted in a PhD thesis “The game of budget control” (1967 – it fetches 900 citations in Google Scholar). It was only afterwards that he joined the Personnel Research department of IBM international. There, it was by sheer vision and gumption that he realised the data’s importance, obtained unpaid leave, and embarked on his pioneering journey.

The pioneering IBM project

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.

Geert turns to culture

He 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).

The rest is history

The story of Geert's work on culture confirms how true Thomas Kuhn’s ideas about the structure of scientific revolutions are: Geerts theories, once anathema, are now mainstream or even 'old school'. The developments also confirm some of Geerts own findings: in societies that have a ‘market’ structure (in Geert’s jargon: individualistic, egalitarian, masculine, short-term oriented, indulgent cultures), fighting about Hofstede’s merits and staking grand claims is now a favourite pastime for some. My opinion on this is that reading his works is a better way of spending one’s time.


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.

n.b. Readers of this blog are probably familiar with his work; if not, they can browse this web site


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