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Stefan Lippert: remembering an educator in search of excellence

by

Special To The Japan Times

Stefan Lippert, a luminary from our community of Japan thought leaders, died on Aug. 31 at the age of 47. He was a professor of business studies and a consultant.

Hailing from Kiel in Germany, Lippert taught international business at Temple University, Japan Campus in Tokyo, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He also advised firms on global strategy, marketing and cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Previously, he worked as a management consultant, first at McKinsey & Co. and later in Japan as managing partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners.

In the classroom, professor Lippert had the reputation of being a difficult and demanding teacher, but also the most worthwhile. He would pick on the quietest students to participate in debates and discussions. He thought it important that students should risk expressing their points of view, even if these views were different from those of others — whether they liked it or not.

Students, especially Japanese not used to self-expression, often felt intimidated by his German directness. Those who came to class unprepared were not spared. Some chose not to take Lippert’s classes, but those who did came to understand Lippert had their best interests in mind. They were drawn to his sharp, logical mind as well as the humanity he brought into the classroom.

There was a warm and compassionate side to Lippert. He cared about his students, wanting them to succeed, not just professionally. Many sought his advice on career and personal matters. He gave freely of his time, treating each student in a very personal way.

Professionally, he encouraged students to define their niche — what they wanted to do. He challenged them to critically think about their careers. Were their goals set high enough? Had they carefully thought through the needed steps to achieve them? What skills were needed? How would they go about gaining those they lacked?

He also counseled on matters of the heart. One student told Lippert privately over lunch that her boyfriend had asked to her to marry. He suggested she should not give up her career for a guy. Earning a degree or career advancement was a bit like mountaineering, he told her: Nothing should get in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Lippert challenged himself as he challenged others. Academically, he is best known for his pioneering research into Japan’s “hidden champions” — inconspicuous mid-size firms that grew rapidly under the leadership of entrepreneurial founders. He had written a book on the subject, as yet unpublished.

Out of the classroom, Lippert enjoyed life. He was an avid scuba diver and mountain climber. “He lived outside the suit,” one of his former students said.

Professor Lippert passed away shortly after conquering Mount Kilimanjaro while on a mountaineering holiday in Tanzania.

Richard Solomon’s 2014 article on Lippert’s “hidden champions” project: beaconreports.net/japans-hidden-champions-can-japanese-fledgling-companies-compete-global-markets. Richard posts regular Beacon Reports at www.beaconreports.net. Your comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

‘With a sharp and curious mind, he challenged us as he challenged himself’

Some tributes from those who knew Stefan Lippert:

• Put simply, Dr. Stefan Lippert inspired each of us to be our best selves. With a sharp and curious mind, he challenged us as he challenged himself. His discerning taste, rigorous standards and modest demeanor were a model for students and faculty alike. He gave freely of his time and counsel. Stefan cared deeply about the success of each student, not just in the classroom but beyond. I learned a lot from Dr. Lippert. I’ll miss his wry smile and the lilt in his step, but his example of striving for excellence will stay with me always.

— William J. Swinton, Director, International Business Studies, Temple University, Japan Campus

From former students of Lippert:

• Dr. Lippert taught his classes with absolute passion, encouraged participation like no other, which I thought was vital for learning and growing my interest in business studies. One of my favorite professors at TUJ without a doubt.

• Looking back, now I know how much wisdom I learned from him. I will never forget the topic in our Managing the Enterprise from a Global Perspective course — “How you should live.” My prayers are with him and his family.

• Dr. Lippert was one of my favorite teachers ever. He was really passionate about what he taught and challenged all of us. I loved having discussions with him and always knew that I could come to him with any question, problem or for recommendations. He will truly be missed. Rest in peace, professor.