Business Lessons – Goeteborg

So now it is time to start our blog. We are traveling by train to Stockholm after spending three days in the beautiful city of Goeteborg. Our visit there included a stop at Volvo Cars world headquarters followed by a delicious dinner with members of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce and other distinguished guests. The next day began with a fascinating presentation from zooma’s CEO on digital marketing and onlinification, after which we visited Saab Technologies to learn about advanced RADAR systems (thank you Ann, Anders, Soren, Gustav and Marco for your wonderful hospitality if you happen to read this!). And, of course, the occasional cultural lesson cannot be forgotten. While aboard the Goeteborg, a wooden replica of 18th-century merchant ships, we learned what a fika is (and you will learn this important concept, too, if you read to the end).

But before we wrap today’s entry up and take a fika of our own, we want to share how we can take the lessons learned in Goeteborg back to the U.S. The first key lesson we would like to share is about how you can reinvent your image without straying from your mission. For most of us back home in the U.S., the Volvo brand is associated with rectangular shaped cars from Sweden that won’t help you with your dating life, but are very safe to drive. This is great for a company whose mission statement says that their focus is and must remain on the person driving the car, but it’s not always great for sales. So Volvo set about to become an innovative, modern car company with an aesthetic Scandinavian design. They did this by partnering with the Lindholmen Science Park to further innovation in the area of self-driving cars (next year there will be 100 Volvos with self-driving capability on the roads of Goeteborg) and by completely changing the design of their cars (go ahead and visit their website to look at the new models, you’ll be surprised at how stylish they are). But the company didn’t abandon its principles. Instead, they set a bold goal for themselves. Volvo has challenged itself with a guarantee that there will be no fatalities to anyone riding in a Volvo designed after 2020. By the end of our visits, several classmates had decided that their next car would be a Volvo. The company’s strategy seems to be working.

A second lesson came from Anders Bjorklund at zooma. He was kind enough to invite us to their office and gave us a fantastic presentation on onlinification and digital marketing. Anders shared his thoughts with us on why so many companies founded before 1994 have struggled to digitalize their customer experience. One of the big insights from this visit was that many companies still haven’t learned to treat their customers the way they want to be treated (and we don’t realize how poor of a job we are actually doing). We often fail to consider how little time our customers have, and that anytime they pay attention to what we are trying to say to them that we should be thankful and respectful of that. That means giving them value with the things we share and not asking them to do things like fill out long forms with their names, address and other information we think we need in order to sell them something. As Anders put it, the customer doesn’t care about our system or process. It is up to us to change and adapt to our customer, not to ask our customer to accommodate us and our needs. It seems that even we as so-called “digital natives” have a lot to learn before we can consider ourselves experts in using the Internet and IT in business.

So, we hope you have enjoyed our first report from Scandinavia. Keep an eye out for updates from Stockholm, Tallinn and Helsinki in the coming weeks. And now, without further ado, it is time for us to take our fika. By the way, a fika is a short break, generally for a cup of coffee or a light snack, taken with friends or colleagues throughout the day. It is a wonderful Swedish tradition that we all hope to bring back to America with us. All you have to do is say, “How about a fika?” and your boss, colleagues (or professor) have to agree to take a short break unless they can provide a very strong reason against it (which we are told is rarely the case). So, until then, we’ll be admiring the beautiful countryside of Sweden and enjoying a delicious coffee on the train.

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