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Gerhard Leimback

Staff Reports

A year ago in Europe, corporate executive Gerhard Leimbach did something he hadn’t done in nearly three decades.He shed all the corporate perks, vehicles, the big salary and globe-trotting itineracy and stepped off the corporate ladder, landing with his wife and son in Edwards. He now sells cars for a living in Glenwood Springs.A native of Germany, Gerhard, 59, was in charge of marketing for Volvo Europe. He flew around the globe on business, amassing 180,000 air miles a year. He had three offices across Europe and spent time in South America and South Africa.When his company offered him another job, which meant another move, he did something he hadn’t done before: He didn’t take it.It was a case of too much. Too much travel, too many corporate political battles and too little personal time. He decided to make a change.Now this automotive advertising executive who started his career with J. Walter Thompson sells Volvos in Glenwood Springs.Gerhard made what he calls a “lifestyle” decision and hasn’t looked back. It was the gradual change in the culture of the business that nudged him off the ladder.His love of the creative side of the advertising business kept him there, but that began to erode as the ad business became more and more corporate and less and less enjoyable.”We started to see people in the business who have only numbers on their mind,” he says. “It really takes a bit of the fun out of it.”He gave his employer the traditional European six-month notice that he would be leaving, sold his property and moved to Edwards. He, wife Tricia and their two sons had always enjoyed the Vail area, so finding a place to land was not a problem.So what would he do next? With the so-called “pine cone differential” in pay scales and responsibilities in the mountains, he wasn’t likely to duplicate his salary or the prestige he enjoyed in the corporate world.”I knew what I did in the past I couldn’t do here,” he says. “I answered an ad in the Vail Daily.”Where before he could pick up a phone and delegate, now as a commissioned salesman it was entirely up to him. His first sales job required him to convince his interviewer to hire him. He sang exactly the right song.”I knew I was overqualified for the position,” he says. “I knew the product and had a passion for it and liked to be around people.”Next, he slowed his pace a bit and shed the suit and tie. He was used to 55-hour work weeks and jetting between offices in London, Gothenburg, Sweden and elsewhere with the responsibility of keeping the wheels of the automobile company turning.”I stressed out for too many years. Here in the valley, everything is a little slower and laid back,” he says. “It’s so much more casual. What it does is to make people much more pleasant. Now I enjoy the drive through the canyon.”It changed him, too.”I’m a little more humble at times,” he says.But another benefit of slowing down and decompressing soon became evident.”I now live somewhere we used to travel to visit,” he says. “We always said we’d move to the mountains.”Gerhard got his start in the advertising business in Germany after getting a business degree in college. One day, his boss asked him if he’d like to take a job in Detroit and asked how his English was. Like any 20-something, he said it was fine and then panicked when he was offered the job. His English wasn’t that good.”I took a crash course in Berlitz,” he says. “Then I took a language training course in Detroit.”After that, he says, his international experience led to four or five different tenures in Europe and the United States for Ford, Mazda and Volvo. He even worked a stint with Hyatt Hotels doing global promotions.”I had a really nice frequent flier portfolio,” he smiles. “Traveling was fun, but it became a nuisance. After 9/11, security checks add two to three hours to every trip you take.”He and his family were living in Germany when 9/11 occurred. The solidarity he saw there after the attacks here warmed him, he says.”The sympathy and support for the U.S. was absolutely mind-boggling,” he says. “When the Afghan war started, there was (still) big support. But problems started after the Iraq war.”There was no popular support for the U.S.-led effort against Saddam Hussein because Germans felt there was no threat posed by the Iraqi dictator, Gerhard says.”It wasn’t supported by the U.N.,” he says. “The important thing to remember is this wasn’t anti-American. It was anti-U.S. government. That’s an important distinction.”That was one of the distinctions he noticed while encountering the many cultures within which he operated, he says.”Europeans have the ability to have more tolerance to other nations,” he says. “In London, I saw a huge anti-war demonstration. It represented a discrepancy between what people think and what governments do.”Still, the degree of involvement in local elections by people in Eagle and Garfield counties really surprised him, he says.”I’ve never seen so many signs,” he says. “That’s a positive sign. It’s democracy in the purest sense.”Even the dust-up over the giant flagpole in Avon surprised him, he says.At some point in the not-too-distant future, Gerhard says, he would like to put his advertising and marketing experience to work here.”The community hasn’t made enough effort to get foreign tourists here,” he says. “There is so much potential here. People just don’t know about it because it’s far removed.”In the meantime, he’d like to spend more time on the slopes with his 16-year-old son, Nicholas. When time permits, he says, he wants to spend time pursuing his photography hobby.While he doesn’t yet have the itch to travel again, he would like to fly to Germany to visit his brother in Munich and the many friends he keeps in touch with there, he says.But there is one thing he hasn’t yet adjusted to since moving here. In Europe and elsewhere, he was able to have weekends off. Here, he works Saturdays. VTBy Cliff Thompson


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