Eastern Exposure

There is a Thai island in the Gulf of Thailand’, called Koh Chang. Rieki and I visited it for the first time, 23 years ago. There was nothing there when we came. No electricity. No road, just simple huts on the beach and a kerosine lamp for light. The beach was stunning. They didn’t call it White Sands beach for nothing. A real paradise where time just slipped through your hands as sand would. We returned several times over the years. A road was built and an electric cable stretching to the mainland was installed. Development occurred. Hotels, restaurants, massage stores, supermarkets all popped up along the road that was built. Fortunately 3/4 of the island is National Park, so development is limited. In spite of the development, Koh Chang always kept its laid back, slow pace that seem to be moving in slow motion. We always felt at home there and hoped one day to make our presence more semi-permanent.

On a recent return to Koh Chang, we met many a lot of AE’s (authentic eccentrics). All were looking for a quality and not a quantity of life. While we were wandering around the main road, where all activity seemed to happen, I was reminded of an old TV show called Northern Exposure. It was a show about a remote village in Alaska, called Cicely, that attracted all kinds of AE’s. Very entertaining. Deep down, I was alway looking for my Cecily, Alaska. Koh Chang seems to come real close.

There is a cast of characters that were making Koh Chang their home. Mr. Yuji, a Japanese water engineer from Osaka, who started an authentic Japanese restaurant. He always reminded me that the food was “authentic Osaka style”. He showed me the Onsen (thermal bath) that he built in the back using solar heating. The reason he built an Onsen, in a place that often feels like an oven, is that he wanted to relax in a large bath heated to boiling temperature. If most went into the bath, they would shout “ Hey! What do you think I am a tea bag”. He only had 3 tables, because he didn’t want to make his restaurant a business, but a hobby. His restaurant was also home to Mah, his manager who spoke little english and who had no real business to manage, Sakura a playful black labrador and Bamboo a stunning persian cat with a football tshirt supporting Portugal who played with Sakura,

Dave, from Big Sur, ran a restaurant that served the best breakfast and barbecue, I had in years. His body was a wall tapestry of tattoos from famous artists. The name of his place was Annie P. after his girl friend, who every day laid out a food offering to the gods, that was huge. Didn’t realise that the spirits were so hungry. Dave is the philosopher and uber cook, who just wanted to follow his passion: Chilling, cooking and people and get away from the madness that is called America.

We arrived one evening to taste Dave’s pulled pork, which is out of this world,  and met some of the other AE’s that Annie P. attracts. Hans Henrik from Denmark, also moved to Koh Chang and used to work on oil rigs but now works in North Sea putting up massive wind farms, as a crane operator. Rick, who is a handsome Indonesian, and grew up in Santa Barbara, California. He is a pipe fitter doing maintenance at nuclear power plants. Rick is the guy you want to go out with to get into trouble but have fun while you are doing that. Very funny and generous guy, who works 3 months to focus on his main hobby, living.

Just across the road is Khun NOi, a beautiful Thai woman who runs a hydroponics lettuce farm in front of her shop that doubles as  a juice bar. Well maybe not a bar. Maybe more a telephone booth size juice bar. She is fun, funny, kind, and a very good business woman. Totally follows her heart and speak her mind.  She was often complaining about her Austrian partner who she calls a butterfly (chasing women). We got along wonderfully. Next to her is Sylvain, or Sweepie, as the Thai couldn’t pronounce his name. He is a French Rastafarian, and runs with his Thai girl friend a book store and a store dedicated to Bob Marley. Every possible image of Marley was integrated in clothes, socks, towels, etc. It was like being at a football stadium with all the merchandise. Sylvain had such a beautiful aura of happiness about him. It was intoxicating.

Heli, without the copter, is a Swedish single mom who had been living on the island for 20 years. She had been successful with property development and was working on opening a new beach front restaurant. I remember when we were talking about her life there and things she missed from Europe. She would say “I miss nothing. I get home sick for Koh Chang when I visit Trad” Trad is the mainland town where you catch the ferry for the 30 minute journey to Koh Chang. One thing struck me while we were chatting. She was remodelling, and all the builders were busy running power saws, hammering, etc. In spite of the need to get the job done before high season stated, she shouted, take a break so we can chat in peace and enjoy our conversation. Most entrepreneurs would not stop the job to have a conversation with a stranger.

Almost forgot Henk, who started a business making home made kroketten, bitter ballen and frikandel. For those of you unfamiliar with any of these Dutch delicacies, it is an acquired taste. Henk had a very busy job as manager and felt life was not about being exhausted, physically and mentally everyday. There has to be another way and ultimately ended up in Koh Chang.

This menagerie of people whether Thai or expat, all shared a common love of Thailand. All worked to integrate that “je ne sais quoi” that made Thailand unique, into their lives. Not one tried to discourage us from moving to Koh Chang. We were welcome. They saw we had that Koh Chang gene in us.

I nearly forgot the most interesting group. The dogs. There are beautiful street dogs everywhere. They epitomise everything that is magical about Koh Chang. They all seem to have gotten lots of scrapes, bumps, bruises, and all seem to have a weathered face reflecting their character building life. In spite of all these rough experiences, the dogs are not aggressive, at all but unbelievably sweet, gentle, and full of love. Like everyone we met. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that they are all well fed.

Everyone seemed to have found contentment in their lives. That was the common denominator. Whether the massage girls down the road who cracked, stretched and realigned my tired body or the owner of Yes restaurant who loved seeing Rieki’s smile. The all shared love, respect, generosity, friendliness, no rush, and all working to make a life and not only a living. Dying rich was definitely not the goal. All following their passion in a community that was home.

Finally found my Cicely, Alaska.

Looking forward to meeting you and other AE’s at TBLI CONFERENCE EUROPE 2015 in Zurich, Nov. 19-20.

Follow your heart

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Believe it or not in a previous life (1975-1978), I had a carrier on oil rigs. My world wind career had me working offshore and on land in Iran, the North Sea (UK and Norway), France, Texas, Colorado and Oman (actually didn’t start, quit before I was sent there). In less than 2.5 years, I had a meteoric rise in oil and gas exploration, something that I never considered. I went from dishwasher, to roustabout (kind of go for), roughneck (guys who all seem to be missing fingers), derrick man (lonely person at top of oil rig snapping pipes with a rope into place to store them) and finally, Air Drilling Engineer.  This rapid rise surprised me. It wasn’t an inspiring job and as I got to see the environmental destruction we were doing, and the military hierarchy of that company (subsidiary of Schlumberger), further career moves upward were just not appealing.

It always seemed strange that I was sent to Iran to do air drilling, as I was not trained or experienced to do the job (air drilling in fractured formations to find oil or gas). Right place, right time, wrong job. I really enjoyed the theater working with some of the funniest characters, I would ever meet. Will always have great stories to tell and memories upon which to reflect. Some of my former colleagues were fantastic. I remember Jean who was a mechanic and started a goat farm, making cheese. He worked on the rigs to help get his business going and cover his costs, in order to follow his dream. He sent me a care package of wonderful goat cheese. I also learned some of the most obscene French expressions that would make even hardened criminals blush, and I still use them from time to time, as they are visually brilliant.

The CEO offered to fast track my career even more, in order to keep me from leaving. The finances were fine, and I worked 4 weeks on and then got 4 weeks holiday (6 months a year). I didn’t have to worry about anything. When you finished your 12 hour shift,  covered in mud, you dropped your clothes on the ground, and the next day, my room was clean and my work clothes were spotless. We ate wonderful French food, with wine and aperitifs. This was something American rigs wouldn’t allow. I remember having long periods of doing nothing, as we worked only if there was a problem with the drilling. If that happened, we would start up the compressors and perform air drilling. Other times, we would have a great deal of free time on our hands and would go exploring the remote areas of Iran. After 4 weeks of working, I had 4 weeks of holiday and I used that time to travel, which expanded my collection of characters. Yes it was very hard work. Hammering a pipe connection in 48 degrees celsius was very exhausting.

There was, however, something missing, I wasn’t happy or fulfilled and I still needed to find my passion. When I look at some of the photos of working on the rigs, I often think of a tv show called Dirty Jobs hosted by Mike Rowe and the podcast he made about how people doing horrible dirty jobs are financially secure and happy, even though they are not following their passion.

I wanted more. Not more stuff or money. I wanted to be fulfilled. What I am doing now, with TBLI, provides that in abundance. Most important, when I am really doing what fulfils me or am in “The Zone” , it costs me no energy, but actually gives me energy. Oh yeah, I don’t have to work in dangerous situations, like Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) gas explosions, or losing fingers when running pipe back into the well.

Are you following your heart? Try it. You won’t regret it.

Looking forward to meeting you and others who are following their heart at TBLI CONFERENCE EUROPE 2015 in Zurich, Nov. 19-20.

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Empty Gestures

I am a huge fan of the tv show Curb Your Enthusiasm. The star and writer, Larry David, is brilliant in his ability to be brutally honest, awkward,  and totally embarrassing with his social dysfunctionality. However, the show makes you laugh, which is essential, these days.  If you never watched it, start today. Every time I am watching a television interview or listening to a podcast interview about something that I find important, I think of Larry David.

Most people being interviewed always say “that is a very good question” even if the question is stupid, useless, empty or just a dead end. What drives me crazy is the standard  one-two punch in responding to the interviewer. First “that is a very good question” then you hear “You know. It is very interesting…”, even if nothing is interesting, which they often prove with their answer. I often think that media advisors or other “experts” on not being authentic, train people with these two repetitive statements. Larry David’s does a brilliant parody on these empty comments.

Let’s  have a real dialogue where people say what they really think and challenge the interviewer in a polite, educational, and engaging way. Empty gestures don’t cut it and just dumbs us down. The stakes are too high and we need to be inspirational, thought provoking and laugh.

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Come to TBLI EUROPE 2015, Nov. 19-20 in Zurich. You will  be inspired and have your thoughts challenged, and have a great time.

Guest Post Jochen Wermuth

The first Dow Jones Industrial Index only had steam engine rail companies in it, there were only horses on the roads and horse-whip-makers were great investments. Just a few years later there were no more horses on the road, no rail company in the Dow Jones – a new industrial revolution based on the combustion engine wiped out the old economy companies, with many losers and winners like the Rockefellers and JP Morgans at the time. A similar new industrial revolution is under way now with similarly large risks and opportunities.
With solar power being offered at $4cent/kWh in Austin Texas, a price with which oil could only compete at $7/barrel, the fossil fuel economy is dead. There will be huge changes in the world economy with many losers (the old oil, gas, coal companies and their related industries ) and many winners, the new Rockefellers. We  can stand at the spearhead of this new industrial revolution, allowing us to earn outstanding profits and at the same time generating a sustainable future for our planet.
On the risk side, there will have to be write-offs of $21 trillion in oil, gas and coal reserves by listed companies, as they will no longer be profitable to burn because greater energy efficiency and competition from renewables will drive down long-term fossil fuel prices. This is huge and compares to $15 trillion write-offs in the mortgage bubble.
On the opportunity side, emerging markets still consume 4x as much energy as we do say in Germany or in the EU. Thus bringing state-of-art products there we can make a lot of money and have a huge impact. With solar and wind-power now costing less than power from the grid there are also ample business opportunities across the world. Few have realized this, just as few realized for a long time that smoking was bad for your health…
Great background reading in this regard is the book “My indecent proposal to the German Chancellor” which tells the great success story of a farmer’s boy becoming the owner-manager of a multibillion dollar company in the renewable energy space and sets out the plan for Germany to become 100% renewable powered by 2020. A model for a successful business leader in the new industrial revolution, winning against all odds, and a model for any country in the world (in particular those with more sun) to follow.
As missing this opportunity may not only cost each of us money but could destroy life on our plante, my wife Sasha and I have shared with many of you a hard-copy of the book already. Given continued interest we have gotten the author to make the book available electronically and free of charge for TBLI Blog readers in return for my father having edited and translated it to English.
To download your complimentary copy of the Book in different “eBook” formats for almost any common reading device like Kindle, Tablets ( IOS Android ) or Smartphones, please visit There is also a pdf version for PC-, Mac and Linux Users available. If everything else fails, you can also find an adobe flash based ePaper Version that you can read online with any flash enabled Browser. If you have Problems downloading or opening your copy, please contact helmut.zengerling@wermutham.com.
Please have a look and enjoy!

Jochen Wermuth
Founding Partner and CIO
Wermuth Asset Management GmbH
www.wermutham.com
jwermuth@wermutham.com

Donald Trump, Success and TBLI Hero

Alain de Botin gave a very good Ted Talk about success, particularly how it impacts Americans. Having grown up in Brooklyn, New York I always struggled with the incessant pressure to win and compete. It never motivated me, but always demotivated me. Alain’s description about how people are viewed as winners and losers, in America, was brilliant.  His talk, made in July 2009, resonated with me because of my own personal experiences and the current US Presidential election.

Donald Trump campaigning and his success in the polls is a joy,(entertainment) and depressing. Trump has offered no concrete solutions, insulted many, has been against most progressive initiatives that help many and he is very  proud of the fact that he fights very hard to pay as little taxes as possible. His tv show The Apprentice, which I really disliked, taught nothing of value. The focus was quick fix, short term, zero sum game, ego, winners and LOSERS, and no added value at all to the contestant or society. Trump is about  “success”. It is about the ribbon cutting, ego, cash, and no fulfilment and WINNERS and LOSERS. Unfortunately, we all become the losers with winners like that.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.

Albert Einstein

Come to TBLI CONFERENCE EUROPE 2015, November 19-20, in Zurich and meet the thought leaders of value.

TBLI Hero

I have known George Curuby for quite a long time. He was one of the few people who came from Japan for our inaugural launch of TBLI CONFERENCE in Rotterdam, in 1998. A quiet man who doesn’t push himself forward when everyone wants to be in the ribbon cutting photo. George never seeks to claim credit for great accomplishments or to pump up his ego. He just gets on with the work at hand. Theodore Roosevelt speech The Man in the Arena describes George.

George has always been extremely supportive of TBLI and our efforts. TBLI CONFERENCE ASIA 2011 was held in Tokyo. Due to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, most sponsors and guests pulled out.  This created a huge problem for TBLI. George was the only one who came forward and helped TBLI making the Conference a success. His support for our work has continued to this day.

I was impressed with a recent revelation. He left Japan to move back to the USA to take care of his mother, as primary care giver.  I will never forget his kindness, generosity or authenticity, and neither should you.

He is a true mensch. Thank you George.

TBLI in the Press

Thanks to Family Office Magazine for publishing this article in their South East Asia Edition.