Nov 16

Leading With The Heart

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

A few years ago, while waiting for a business visitor at The Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel in Bangkok, I saw a big Christmas tree in the hotel lobby. I noticed that a lot of tags were hanging in the tree. I went closer to see what was written on them. Every tag had a serial number, the picture and the name of a child and the Christmas gift wish of the child. I walked to a hotel staff that was sitting nearby at a desk. She explained to me that the hotel had identified and contacted an institution for needy children.

Every year, it would be a different institution (like e.g. an orphanage or a home for disabled children) who will provide a list with the names of children and their personalized Christmas gift wishes. In some countries and in some institutions, it might not be allowed to provide a photo of the respective child, its name and its wish. In such a case, instead of showing an individual picture of the child, you can hang a group photo of the children at the Christmas tree.

The wishes were things like toy cars, robots, dolls, teddy bears, bags, books, games etc. The amount to be spent for such a gift is fixed at Baht 500.– to 1,000.– (about 10.– to 20.– Euro). Staff of the hotel will then prepare tags with a serial no., the photo and the name of the child and the Christmas gift wish twice on it, once on the upper and once on the lower part of the tag due to the intended cutting and registering of the tag  for the donor.

Hotel guests can then make their choice and cut off  the lower part of the tag. The guest then has to register his own name and the name of the child at  the hotel desk. He will procure a gift which he has to bring to the hotel latest by December 20. Then, around Christmas, a number of hotel staff will travel to the needy institution, have a small party with the children and hand over the gifts one by one to the child stated on the tag attached to the gift.

I thought this Christmas Gifts For Needy Children – initiative was a great idea, a perfect example for caring leadership. With scissors I cut off five tags from the Christmas tree for which I later bought the five gifts and arranged for their transport to the hotel. I was determined to do something similar at our company, Merck Ltd., Thailand, but instead of involving guests to pick up the the tags and buy gifts, I thought we will offer that opportunity to our own employees.

After returning from the hotel to my office, I told my secretary and our CSR (=Corporate Social Responsibility) – Manager about the whole thing. Since it was already very close to Christmas Day, we decided to do something similar at Merck Thailand the following year. Nevertheless, we contacted already immediately the hotel to find out where they had got the beautifully designed Christmas tree from, which had been made out of metal. Let me add that in this part of the world genuine Christmas trees are hardly available, since only a very few are imported at outrageous prices. The hotel staff told us that their own in-house construction department had built their Christmas tree.  The good news was that they were willing to build also one for us next year due to the charitable cause we wanted to use it for.

Early in November the following year, we started our own Christmas Gifts For Needy Children – initiative.

Some of my colleagues were a bit worried whether our employees will respond and pick up the tags and buy gifts for the children. But I was not! I knew that our employees have a big heart!

The amount of Baht 500,– to 1,000.– per gift was not too high, so that even people on lower hierarchical levels could afford to participate. And if it really hadn’t worked out, I would have taken the remaining tags myself.

We formed a small task force headed by our CSR – Manager to search for needy children homes that where suitable for our purposes.  At that time, we were about 150 employees, so we decided to identify a children’s home that was big enough to provide us with 150 names of children and their Christmas gift wishes. In the first year, we selected the Rangsit Home for Babies and Children, a place on the outskirts of Bangkok with many orphans and poor children.

On December 1, the big day had arrived and we put our Christmas tree with the tags at our reception area where all our staff had to pass by while going in and out from our office. As soon as the first employees had spotted the Christmas tree and had been explained by our receptionist what it was all about, the news spread like wildfire through our office.

Our staff  responded immediately and were busy cutting off the tags. Already within the first two days, the huge majority of the tags had been enthusiastically picked up by our employees. When visitors came to our company and asked what the Christmas tree tags were all about, our staff proudly explained to them our charitable Christmas initiative. As I later learned, “our” idea got wings and some visitors even introduced that concept also to their own company.

During the next two to three weeks, our employees brought their personalized gifts to our office where we kept them in a storage room. We had offered our staff on a voluntary basis to come along on December 25 for the handover of the gifts at the Rangsit Home for Babies and Children (by the way, this is not a public holiday in Thailand and, of course, you can pick a suitable date for your own initiative according to your own needs). About twenty of my colleagues went along with me on the 40 km journey to Rangsit to celebrate a Christmas Party with the children. We also brought some snacks and drinks along.

Our ever high-spirited staff had the great idea that two of them will dress up as Santa Claus (one of our Technical Sales Executives) and as Angel (one of our accounting ladies). It was a heart-warming event with the handing over of the personalized gifts as the highlight. 150 joyful kids experiencing a pleasant Christmas surprise, a great achievement! And on top of that, our twenty employees including myself felt great too!

All that in line with one of my favourite quotes:

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life… We can never help another without helping ourselves.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

When our employees got to know that it was me who brought the idea to Merck Thailand, many of them approached me personally to thank me for this initiative which they really liked. I have never got so much personal positive response to something I launched as in this case.

Now, my call for action comes and my request to you to “lead with your heart”. Let me ask you: Whom are you making this Christmas happy apart from your relatives and friends? The above described concept is easy to implement (in case, you have any questions, please write to me at You can start such an initiative in your company irrespectively of your hierarchical position. I want to see the boss who shoots down such a commendable initiative. He cannot do that without a massive damage to his own reputation. Therefore, take action! You still have enough time to make the “Christmas Tree Gift” – initiative a reality this year. Spread the idea, talk to your colleagues and friends. And I can guarantee that not only the children, but also you and your colleagues will feel very good about it.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 16th, 2009 at 06:58 and is filed under Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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  1. Dear Heinz
    your story really touched me and I can see you doing this actively within Merck before and now on your own iniciatice.
    As my company is to small, I will use the iniciative during the forthecomming trainings to tell your story and ask if that could be inplemented locally in Merck Italy p.Ex.or other clients.

    Good that we are in touch again and that Stephan told me about your project.
    Nice Website, great concept, YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
    Keep in Touch
    warmest personal greetings

  2. Heinz Landau Heinz says:

    Dear Stella,

    Thanks a lot for your kind comment.

    I am also happy to be in touch again with you. Hopefully, we will be able to meet each other next year in Thailand.

    Best regards,