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Crossing cultures, seizing opportunities

Daniel Haime ’82 knows how to embrace opportunity. Faced with challenges in his native Colombia, including currency devaluation and international competition, Haime has relied on his diverse cultural experiences and practical education.

“When people tell you it can’t be done, think again,” Haime told an audience in Baker Hall recently. “Don’t surround yourself with pessimism. You have the best education, and you are in the best country on earth. There are opportunities that abound.”

Haime, who recently completed a five-year term on the university’s Board of Trustees, spoke at Lehigh on Nov. 18 as part of the Gruhn Distinguished Speaker Series in Finance, which is sponsored by Donald M. Gruhn ’49.

In her opening remarks, Georgette Chapman Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics, introduced Gruhn as an accomplished alumnus and true Lehigh patron. She asked the students how long it would take for them to come back to Lehigh to share their career experience or underwrite a program, stressing the importance of “learning from the people who have come to Lehigh before you.”

Haime was introduced by Gruhn, who called the successful industrialist “a passionate man, a very good man and a friend.” Gruhn said Haime had chosen Lehigh because, “Lehigh would train him to be a practical and problem-solving engineer.”

Haime, who earned a B.S. in industrial engineering from Lehigh, has excelled in the production and distribution of steel pipe and tube for the Pan-American oil patch and construction industry, the cultivation of palm oil and production of its oleo chemical derivatives, and the design and construction of large-scale real estate developments. He is president of The Haime Group, a family-owned, consumer-products business in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile that makes edible fats and oils, as well as cleaning products, for the Latin American market.

Haime’s real estate projects include “La Felicidad” in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, which will feature 17,000 middle- and upper-class apartments with recreational fields, a central park, a state-of-the-art shopping mall and a medical center. He also recently began work on “Serena del Mar” in Cartagena, a 20-year endeavor that will create a city of 70,000 with its own support, healthcare and educational systems.

Bridging cultural gaps

Haime’s family fled Colombia after military intelligence uncovered a kidnapping plot against them. Haime was attending the French grade school Lycée Français Louis Pasteur at the time.

“I came home for lunch to find my dad at the lunch table, and my dad was never at the lunch table. He said, ‘We are going to leave, but Daniel, you are in the middle of final exams. Do the best you can, and we will see you abroad in the U.S. over the weekend.’ Well, of course, that was extremely intimidating,” he said.

Although he was concerned to leave his country and friends, Haime quickly shifted his thinking. “I realized great opportunities lay ahead that would bridge cultural gaps,” he said.

Haime went on to study at Choate Rosemary Hall, a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, and then at Lehigh.

“I had the Colombian culture, which was dignified and strong; the French culture, which was disciplined and detail-focused; and then the American culture,” Haime said. Later, he spent time in a Japanese steel mill, absorbing dedication and precision. “It was a collection of abilities that opened many doors in industry and relationships,” he said.

Haime urged Lehigh’s students to look beyond the United States. “The U.S. has it all, no doubt, but we live in a globalized economy, and the more bridges you can build, the more relationships you will profit from—in business and in life.”

He also stressed the importance of trade between the U.S. and Latin America, and he encouraged Americans to look at each Latin American country separately, instead of viewing the region as a whole. “To grow its consumer base, the U.S. now has to look south instead of east and west,” he said.

Dealing with opportunity and failure

Throughout his talk, Haime credited Lehigh with his success as an engineer and a businessman. “Many times, I have applied what I learned at Lehigh, which is what makes this university such a fantastic place,” he said.

“Lehigh’s demanding environment gives you the true grit to be a problem solver. What you get here at Lehigh is a toolbox that will reaffirm your aptitudes. With that toolbox, you can apply those abilities and succeed when the opportunities present.”

Acknowledging that his family offered him a wealth of opportunities not all students have, Haime also pointed out the hurdles he faced, both within and outside Colombia, calling his career path “a rocky road.”

Even in the face of the most arduous challenges, Haime never stopped moving forward and never took anything for granted.

“Sometimes failure is inevitable due to external factors, but exert whatever is in your control until you achieve success. The best thing you can do to avoid failure is run from it and reinvent yourself,” he said.

Haime also reminded students to keep their eyes peeled for opportunity.

“Opportunities come time and time again. There are people who watch opportunities pass by and don’t recognize them, those who recognize opportunities and don’t know what to do with them, and those who recognize opportunities and seize them,” he said. “Be someone who seizes opportunities…and materialize them.”

Story by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers

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During his visit to Lehigh, Haime (center) met with students in the Financial Services Laboratory, which links Lehigh to Wall Street.

During his visit to Lehigh, Haime (center) met with students in the Financial Services Laboratory, which links Lehigh to Wall Street. (Photo by Christa Neu)

The Gruhn Distinguished Speaker Series in Finance

Donald M. Gruhn graduated from Lehigh University in 1949 with a B.S. in business administration. Now retired, Gruhn spent more than 40 years in the financial services industry as a member of the New York Stock Exchange and a general partner in two firms.

A long-standing member of the College of Business and Economics (CBE) Dean’s Advisory Council, Gruhn generously supports the CBE and many other areas of the university with his talent and resources. In an effort to extend the Lehigh student educational experience beyond the classroom, he established an endowment in 2008 for the Gruhn Finance Distinguished Speaker Series to bring respected business leaders to campus to address students on business topics.

Past presenters include distinguished alumni Maria Chrin ’87, Gaby Abdelnour ’77 ’79G, Paul Levy ’69, and Brooks Zug ’67.