From a troubling encounter with the Marcos family in the early 1980s to operating in China in the period before and during the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 — this book traces the unique and unforgettable experiences of Austrian shoemaker Helmut Widdek, who ventured into manufacturing in Asia at a time when the region was still grappling with serious political and developmental problems.
Yet, in the midst of all the hardships he encountered, Helmut Widdek’s
determination and, in particular, his shoemaking knowledge and
experience allowed him to succeed where many others would have
failed. He built factories where none existed, created jobs, enjoyed
the triumph of being able to supply woven shoe parts to Armani, and,
in 2000, received the Silver Award for Best Managed SME in China, an
award he made it a point to share with his senior staff from China.
Helmut Widdek’s adventures in Asia started as early as 1973, when
he explored business options in Taiwan. Two years later, he set up
a corporation in the Philippines, but by the early 1980s, the region
he was in was under the control of a communist group, and became
both difficult and dangerous. He next moved to India, but found the
problems of bureaucracy and corruption a stumbling block. By the
late 80s, he was in China, but it was not smooth sailing there either,
and he struggled not only with financial and infrastructural issues,
but also with drumming up sales orders from Europe.
Along the way — as told to historian and author Kevin Tan — Widdek
and his wife Sonja also experienced many heart-breaking moments,
such as being told, while in India, that they should have left an injured
man lying in the street because he was from the ‘untouchable’ Dalit
After Widdek suffered a stroke in 2003, he and Sonja sold off their
business and retired to Singapore, where they built their dream home
in Sentosa Cove.
Helmut Widdek’s life story — one of astounding entrepreneurship
and grit — is a study in how skills, experience and resolve helped
an Austrian shoemaker in Asia handle countless challenges and win
through in the end.