Featured Profiles

The Indiana Jones of Cultural Adventures

Ken Pasternak is a Best-Selling Author, Consultant, and Speaker making great strides in performance and leadership. He has focused on building high-performance organizations through visionary leadership, team effectiveness, establishing a winning culture and improving cross-cultural understanding. He is the co-author of ‘Performance at the Limit, Business Lessons from Formula 1 Racing’ (3rd edition 2016 and translated into Japanese, Turkish and Mandarin Chinese), ‘Managing Your Strengths’ (2002 also available in Portuguese) and ‘Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers, Adventures in Global Business’ (2021).


Pasternak was born and raised in a tight-knit family in a suburb north of New York City. As a young boy, his father always encouraged him in everything he did, significantly improving his dexterity in sports and scoring him an invite to play with the older kids. During the game, he always observed how they behaved, handled teammates, and dealt with victory and defeat, unaware that this would translate into his occupation. He recalled, “Today I would say they were role modelling leadership and teamworking skills which were a foundation for how I learned to interact with people.”


After completing his high school education, he was accepted into Horace Mann, a private school in New York City. He then attended Yale University and graduated with a degree in Engineering and Applied Science. The following year he studied in Paris, which was a turning point for Pasternak in several ways. While abroad, he says, “I realized three things: I did not want to pursue a career in the sciences, it was time I started working, and I had a strong desire to return to Europe one day.”


With these intentions in mind, he returned to New York. Pasternak did not have a clear career path defined for him, so he systematically reviewed his skills and career wishes using Richard Nelson Bolles’ ‘What Color is Your Parachute.’ He went one step ahead and met his friend’s parents to discuss what they did for a living and how fulfilling it was. Eventually, he applied for jobs in Corporate Banking and was accepted into Citibank’s Corporate Banking Management Development Program.


He worked at Citibank’s headquarters in Manhattan for six years, travelling along the eastern seaboard visiting customers in the retail and fast-food industries. In 1980, Pasternak got his wish to travel to Europe. He was transferred overseas, and he shifted to Citibank’s European Training Centre in London, England, to teach risk management, selling, and negotiating skills.


Pasternak recalled that this was the first step to finding his passion in consulting, “I first understood how one could assist others to learn and improve when I was teaching at the Citibank Training Centre in London. I saw the ‘aha’ moment in the eyes and body language of seminar participants when a concept made sense, and they understood how a concept could be usefully applied in their own lives and work.”


Two years later, he moved to Helsinki, Finland, when Citibank was granted a license as the first foreign bank in the country.


Four years later, he moved to Istanbul with his Finnish wife and their two children. He worked at the country’s central bank and successfully renovated a dilapidated hotel on the Marmara Sea, turning it into a world-class residential training centre for bankers. After that, he travelled around the world and moved to Brussels, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Greece and even China absorbing different cultures that have greatly helped him as a Coach and Consultant. Reminiscing, he says, “the most transformative challenges have been learning to live and work in different cultures. One learns quickly that the visible differences like language, clothing, food and music are only the surface of getting to know how someone from a different culture thinks and behaves. I had to learn to be open-minded, accepting and understanding without compromising my standards, values, and beliefs.”


In 1996, Pasternak took the plunge and decided to follow his passion and start his consulting firm. During this time, he had the pleasure of working with executives, speaking to audiences worldwide about leadership, teamwork, corporate culture, and communication skills.


During this time, he also chanced upon the connection between Formula 1 and Performance. It was during the time he was hired by a large international law firm based in London. He recalls the incident, “Two colleagues and I designed a 2-day workshop to build the business acumen of their lawyers. In our role play, I was the Vice President of Strategy at Volkswagen, deciding whether we should enter Formula 1 racing under the Audi brand. The lawyers became my business consultants. The role-play was so successful that we ran the program fifty times over three years.”


The role-play made Pasternak and his colleagues realize how much one could learn from Formula 1 teams relevant to all businesses about leadership, teamwork, innovation, organization culture and more that led to the genesis of his book.


They got together and started interviewing people at all levels of the sport and business of F1. The Cambridge University Press published the first edition of PATL (Performance at the Limit, Business Lessons from Formula 1 Racing) in 2005. Since then, they have completed two revised editions, the latest in 2016. PATL has been translated into Japanese, Turkish and Mandarin Chinese. In 2007, it also inspired an 8-part television series, ‘Formula for Success’, made by the BBC.


This also opened up other avenues in Pasternak’s career that led him to become the Brand Ambassador for Hintsa Performance, a leader in coaching top-level athletes and business executives. He says, “Hintsa stresses a model of holistic well-being with approaches to improving work performance and life experience based on scientific research and medical knowledge” and he is proud to be affiliated with such an organisation.


During the pandemic, Pasternak has strategically used his time to recall all his learning experiences in his new book, ‘Exploding Turkeys and Spare Trousers, Adventures in Global Business’ (2021), which is a collection of short stories from his business travels, each offering a business or life lesson for his vast experience travelling around the globe.


As a well-established coach and author, his advice to budding entrepreneurs is – “Open new doors even if you do not feel ready to walk through them. In doing so, be prepared to learn from both success and failures.”