The outspoken optimist: on consultancy and tennis with Lars Wiechen

Lars Wiechen, the new partner at Deloitte Romania, talks about motivation, old friends, business decisions and his parents’ sweets factory.

It’s noon, beginning of February, downtown Bucharest. The restaurants and coffee shops near the America House office building are overflowed with people on their lunch breaks. Various noises fill the air, only to disappear as I enter the building. Just a few more steps: ID check, elevator, coffee or tea and I’m in the a meeting with Lars Wiechen, the new Partner at Deloitte Romania.

“The view is very beautiful. I can see a couple of trees, a couple of roofs and my former employer,” says Lars while looking through the meeting room window. He previously was executive director for consultancy group Ernst & Young, and in November 2014 he became Partner with consultancy group Deloitte.

Lars is a tall, athletic man in his early 40s, comfortably wearing a suit. “My grandfather liked to see me dressed in suits, so I probably inherited this from him.” He’s German, but he doesn’t feel he’s the typical German at all. He says that if you don’t know him you see a cold person, somebody saying very straightforward things.

But what if you got to know him?

Lars was born in Hanover, a town in Northern Germany, which he describes as small, silent, mostly known for one of the biggest computer fairs, but otherwise one of the most boring cities in Germany. “I was a very quiet and introvert kid. I had difficulties in math and now I’m doing evaluations, so you see how life changes,” he says laughing.

But what he really enjoyed was sports. His entire family did. His mom used to play handball in the first German league and his other family members were into football. Lars, too. “It was more than sports, it was my life.”

The boys he was playing football with are still his closest friends. They meet at least once a year, even though they live in different countries, and even on different continents. “When we meet, we discover at first glance that we lost some hair, gained some weight, but when we start talking is like we saw each other last weekend.” It’s a special bond and he always returns to this group of five friends when he has to make important decisions. “I made friends in Romania too, but when we meet they ask me about my daughters, how are they. When I meet my old friends, they ask about me. How are you, Lars, how are you feeling?”

Lars talks a lot about relationships: old and new friends, colleagues, employees, partners. Even when he refers to companies, he mentions people, rather than figures. People are basically at the core of his personal and business philosophy. Leadership is also based on the way you handle relationships so people can trust you. “You don’t write on your business card that you’re a leader. This has to do with the way people perceive you. If you have to tell them you’re a leader, you’re not.”

Lars’ view on human relationships dramatically changed in the military service, which was still mandatory when he finished high school. “People left high school with a superior attitude. I too had a high level of arrogance. But in the military service I learned what it means to subordinate yourself for the benefit of a group. I also got to understand people better. This is where I lost any kind of prejudice in respect to their education, background, everything. I learned to be flexible to all kinds of changes.”

The German also likes to speak about learning. He describes himself as not the best student, but as one who took every exam very seriously. “I never went to a class, listened to everything the teacher said, memorized it and then just went to the exam. Nothing came natural, I had to learn, but I had this intrinsic motivation that I had to prove myself.” While he doesn’t view himself as a competitive person with others, he’s competitive with himself. “I recently did an examination at the age of 41. Nobody pays me for this. I’m doing this for myself, to feel challenged.” That’s why he also decided to change jobs and move to Deloitte, he says. “It was a professional decision.” And the same internal drive to strive for more.

When asked about the people he admire, Lars mentions his first partner in Romania, Emilian Radu. After a short reflection, he includes Rafael Nadal on the list. “Nadal is not the most talented tennis player. But he’s one of the greatest ever, because he has been injured so many times and he kept standing up every time, winning and never giving up. Basically a fighter, a torero on the tennis field. I was also probably not the best one, but I was fighting for going on.”

Lars discovered tennis when he moved to Romania, nine years ago. By then, he had long stopped dreaming to become a professional football player. He had instead pursued a career in consultancy, worked his way up, learned a lot, and reached a point when he felt he needed to do something extraordinary. He was in his early 30s and knew he could continue his life in Germany: build a house, a family. Or he could accept a former colleague’s proposal to move to Romania to work for consultancy group PwC.

He was a bit disappointed that Dracula’s myth, so potent in the Western world when it comes to creating an image about Romania, was completely missing from the collective perception here. Nobody could care less about Dracula. Romanians themselves weren’t cruel, tough persons at all. Quite the contrary.

In 2005, the company invited him to Bucharest for a week to get to know each other. It was July, a beautiful summer, nobody was formal. “I felt a good chemistry with the people and I felt that they also liked me. On the plane back I knew I wanted to go there.”

He has been for nine years in Romania and the extraordinary turned into ordinary. But Lars doesn’t feel for a change. He reached a certain maturity where he doesn’t feel like doing something out of the ordinary anymore. “I think I can do a lot of extraordinary things while being in Romania.”

That does not mean that he feels at home here. His home is somewhere else, he says, without precisely knowing where. “My wife once told me on the plane, when we got back from Germany, ‘We’re going home’. I didn’t say it, but I didn’t feel this is home.” Many expats feel this way, he says. Even if they are 100% happy here, they don’t feel they belong here, nor do they know where their home is.

With no fear of uncertainties, Lars is an optimistic person. He always sees the full side of the glass because he likes challenges. “I know in which position I am and I know what it’s going to happen to me in two years in a ‘what if’ scenario; I’m not looking at the ‘if not’ scenario. It’s a can-do attitude. We are very confident, same time we are humble.” And maybe the fact that his parents had a candy factory when he was a kid and he grew up surrounded by sweets helped him become an optimist.

“I like straightforward people, that give me an honest feedback. People with coloana vertebrala (spine in Romanian),” Lars says.

It is easy to stick to these values? “I wouldn’t say I never had any problems being as I am, but I am not a chameleon. I’m Lars. I can’t change my colour,” he replies laughing.

By Diana Mesesan, features writer

(photo by Diana Mesesan)

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