Malmo, Sweden

We met with Christer Heiderman to discuss Marketing and Sales at Saab Kockums. They are a company that invests heavily in aeronautics, surveillance and robotics, amongst other things. Their company has 7,000-8,000 employees in total. With so many employees, we were very interested to find out more about their company culture and the ways in which they invest in their employees. We found out that Saab has a study program set up for Masters and PhD students. We found this to be amazing since their country already has free education, but their company encourages higher education to the highest degree. A main point Heiderman touched on was their employee trade unions. He said that their company board members must include unions representatives in order for things to be equal. Clearly, though they are a large company, they are investing in their employees education effort and they care about equal representation all the way at the top.

Wednesday afternoon we had our meeting with Mr. Patrik Romberg, SVP of Communications of Trelleborg, which was a fantastic discussion on doing business at the global level. Mr. Romberg has quite a significant amount of experience working in international companies, and in recent years he has successfully worked his way to the top of management at Trelleborg. He primarily spoke about the importance of understanding how to interact with clients, which varies significantly across borders.

It was fascinating to hear how many observable differences there were depending on where the company is doing business. For instance, in Germany, if they want to sell value, it is important to talk about facts in figures, whereas in Japan, it is much more important to emphasize the long lasting nature of the professional relationship between the two companies, and the “ease of doing business” aspect.

Even the tone of voice and presentation of the company makes a difference in various cultural contexts, and we were reminded of how important it is to be able to recognize this and “play these different roles.” Knowing when to sound authoritative versus when to focus on relationship building, for example, is crucial, according to our speaker. By being confident in these various cultural contexts, you are protecting yourself and your business, and if not, you open yourself up to the competition and “leave a vacuum, and that’s the worst thing you can do.” -Mr. Romberg

Furthermore, it was revealed that Trelleborg has been able to maintain higher price premiums and enjoy notably high customer retention rates, largely because of their ability to build trust among their clients, regardless of where these clients are in the world.

Mr. Romberg also spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the importance of their decentralized business structure, which is a design that often has “several individuals responsible for making business decisions and running the business.” This fits the Nordic model that we have discussed in previous posts, and it is something that many Scandinavian companies take pride in. From our personal observations throughout this travel course, we have been able to see firsthand how employees enjoy this model overall, as it seems to make upper level management less intimidating, and it creates a more approachable environment between workers at various levels of these large companies.

Yet another interesting distinction between doing business in the United States and in Sweden was that unlike the United States, if a company in Sweden wants to truly make money, our speaker firmly stated that they cannot remain within Sweden’s borders. The country itself is simply too small. For this reason, it is imperative to establish a global presence. This is a clear contrast to the United States, where some of the most successful companies have resided despite never leaving the country’s borders. This also reinforces one of the notions discussed during the first week of our class, where we discussed how Americans often have the goal of “going national,” as opposed to aiming larger and “going global.” Going national within the United States seems to be a feat in and of itself, as there are several cultural contexts and differences within U.S. borders alone, however in Sweden it is understood that the aiming large requires going global.