Business Lessons – Stockholm

Time to get back to work after our fika. After three exciting days in Goeteborg culminating in the Post Hotel Bar that was recommended to us by several locals, we took the morning train to Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm. We wasted no time in heading straight to a meeting with Bettina Baumgartner, the VP of Human Resources, at Sandvik. Sandvik produces high tech industrial products in areas like mining, nano technology and energy production.

No sooner did we sit down than did we learn our first cultural lesson. Bettina’s presentation didn’t begin with the illustrious history of the company, but with a safety lesson about the nearest exits and meeting point in case we were to evacuate the building due to fire or other circumstances. This seemed strange to us at first, but she quickly explained that Sandvik doesn’t just say that they put safety first, they literally put it first at every meeting and in every presentation they hold. This was something that reminded us of our visit to Volvo and their safety promise. We may be on to something uniquely Scandinavian…

After a quick history lesson about the company, Bettina shared Sandvik’s four company values: customer focus, innovation, fair play, and having a passion to win. These sounded familiar to many of us, and are certainly common to many American companies. But, as one member of our travel group pointed out, these are often values that many feel are only found on paper. Mandatory compliance training that simply fills the role of creating a record that employees were told to follow safety rules and play by the rules give the impression of a commitment to such values, but are not truly proof of the existence of these values in the company culture.

So how does Sandvik ensure that these values are truly lived by their employees? Well, according to Bettina, it starts at the top. The leaders are role models to the employees and demonstrate these values of a daily basis. One reason why this may work better at Sandvik than at some of their competitors may also be explained by their Scandinavian culture of equality. We have repeatedly observed flat hierarchies and low power distances between bosses and employees. Perhaps this is one of the keys to establishing a culture through leadership – as a manager you have to get out of your office and work with your employees. And Magnus Akerhielm at Keolis is a great example of a leader who is close with his people.

Keolis is a French transportation group that operations public transportation systems such as buses and subways in Europe, North America, India and Australia. Magnus is the managing director of Keolis in Sweden, but you wouldn’t guess it when you talk to him. He takes the bus to work every day, because he believes that is important in demonstrating his commitment to the company. He doesn’t have a corner office on the top floor of the building. In fact, he made sure that the company’s headquarters fit onto a single floor so that he could be close to all of his employees. Part of his reasoning for this was that it is important for managers to be accessible if they want to be good managers.

As future managers, there are a number of lessons we learned from Sandvik and Keolis about being a leader and establishing a healthy culture in your company. But also learned about an entirely new way of increasing productivity with a so-called “project-based” office layout. The Keolis headquarters is like no office we had ever seen. No one has an assigned seat. There are no cubicles, but rather work spaces and work rooms. No one has an office (as the managing director, Magnus has a conference room reserved for him when he is in the building, but when he’s not there it is free to use as any other conference room). There is a section reserved as a quiet work area with work stations where talking or taking phone calls is forbidden. Each work area is also fully customizable (from raising or lowering the table height to various monitors, chair types, etc.) and is used by different functional groups within the company based on the specific projects they are working on on any given day.

It didn’t take long to convince us that Keolis is doing a lot of things the right way. Magnus’ leadership style and their concept for the design of their office (which was also heavily based on employee surveys of what they want to make their jobs easier instead of designing a traditional office and assigning them workspaces and making them adjust) gave us a lot of inspiration for our future careers.

Now, you might be thinking, didn’t they say this is a French company operating in Sweden? There must have been a lot of cultural lessons to be learned there that we can apply to companies back home that operate on a global level. Well, we’re all out of time for today, but our next report will talk about having an international culture at Keolis and Sqore, a Swedish startup that is revolutionizing the international talent recruitment process. Until then, bye from Nate, Adi and Esh.