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International Leadership Interview: Thomas Kraft, Novelty Foods

Thomas Kraft

AmCham International Leadership Interview Series

An AmCham International Leadership Interview with Thomas Kraft, CEO & Founder, Novelty Food

Novelty Food AS is a Norwegian company that develops, sells, and imports an assortment of confectioneries and snacks, driven by quality and great flavors. Their award-winning mono praline, Grieg Suites, consists of Belgian dark chocolate and Lübeck marzipan cream, enriched with apple juice from Hardanger in the west of Norway on a layer of Viennese hazelnut nougat. With this unique combination, Grieg Suites is rich and innovative, drawing clear references from the national romance that the acclaimed composer Edvard Grieg represents.

Novelty Food is currently crowdfunding through Folkeinvest, inviting those who would like to partake in their journey of expansion both in Norway and abroad. The crowdfunding is open to Norwegian Bank ID holders, with a minimum investment of NOK 600.

Not many chocolates can boast of being made from Hardanger fjord apples. How did you come up with this combination?

When developing Grieg Suites, we wanted the brand and product to be a good representation of Norway. As Grieg has created the Norwegian sound, we wanted the chocolate to have the taste and sweetness of Norway as well. The choice of ingredients is influenced by our heritage, with marzipan being a classic confectionery ingredient, with long traditions in Norway.

We looked at a lot of fruits and berries to find what we could use, and in the end, we landed on apples. Grieg Suites is a tribute to Norway’s greatest composer, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). And since Grieg composed a lot of his music in Hardanger, it was great to find a fantastic apple farmer in Hardanger to give it a real taste of Norwegian nature.

Novelty Food has distribution channels in Norway and the US, what are the key differences in the strategies in the different markets?

The main difference is that in Norway, Grieg Suites is seen more as a local product associated with Grieg and Bergen, but in the US, it is considered a more unique product representing all of Norway. Americans appreciate our background story, our connection to nature, and Grieg as well. We needed to communicate the Norwegian values and quality a lot more in the US, so they understand what the product is about, whereas most Norwegians have clear and immediate associations.

You have opted for unique profiling collaborations. What are the benefits and results achieved by such cross-promotion?

As a tribute to the fans of Grieg, it makes sense to work closely with the Edvard Grieg Museum, Troldhaugen, and the Grieg Society. Orchestras, composers, and concert halls have honored us with great feedback. We wanted the music of Grieg to accompany every piece of chocolate. Inside every gift box you will find the musical notes for Grieg’s famous composition “Morgenstemning.”

Since we are a small Norwegian company, we need something for us to stand out. When we have looked at what other companies have done worldwide, a lot of good products are connected to the heroes and cultural stars of each country. Creating a product based on a cultural hero in Norway has proven advantageous, and we wanted to cooperate with the Edvard Grieg Museum to be sure that we honored Grieg the right way and had the right product text and imagery to make sure that we were not just another company trying to earn money of someone else’s name, ensuring a real tribute through the partnership with the museum.

Cross-promotion has also opened doors for us, including our launch in China with Viking Cruises and other partners such as Disney in the US.

The first chocolate we created was in partnership with the singer Aurora – the first product she has collaborated on that is not music.

Grieg Suites is currently sold at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Theme Park in Florida. Do you find there is an advantage being recognized as a Norwegian brand when selling products in the US?

Norway has a very, very high standing in the US, both as a nation and as a people, and is viewed as very much in tune with nature. To have the Norwegian branded product at a theme park like Disney means a lot. We are the only chocolate there and I think we were chosen because of this close connection with Norwegian culture.

Before starting Novelty Foods, what was your leadership background?

I have been working with food and taste for the past 20 years, starting in the beverage industry building brands in Norway, and then led the Nordic launch of a fast-food collaboration with Circle K. From there, I started a small local dairy in Norway while simultaneously building the seasonal range of several pharmacy chains across the Nordics. So, it’s been a long journey both with private equity, private owners, family owners, buying and selling and seeing both sides of the table and learning how both small and large organizations work. I think it’s this background that enabled me to found Novelty Food, and made me take the chance to stand on my own and create a new concept.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and companies who are looking to successfully launch in the US?

Most important when you launch in the US is to have the right partners, and of course, timing counts as well. We had horrible timing last year when we launched our products at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 when the pandemic hit. So, one piece of advice is not to launch two seconds before a pandemic!

Having great partners is key because the US is a very complex and difficult market, so you need to have excellent feet on the ground to make it work. I would also recommend having some sort of brand awareness around you so people will see and find your product. For example, we have partnered with TV shows New Scandinavian Cooking and Wine First. Having our products visible on those programs really helps when you want to talk to the large stakeholders in the US because things are bigger there. We are 5 million people, so even if you are big in Norway you are not big in the US.

Where do you see Novelty Food in the next five years?

We are hoping to become a brand that is visible. In the case of Grieg Suites, my dream when I started was to be able to see the products at concert houses around the world, in tax free stores, and just walk into a store and hear someone recommend one of our products to someone who lives far away. Reaching this level of visibility and recognition is the goal for both Grieg Suites and VGAN. Especially for the latter, as it’s a unique brand that we hope will thrive within the competitive and growing plant-based marked.

How is sustainability incorporated into Novelty Food’s business model and products (i.e., packaging and sourcing of cocoa beans)?

Sustainability has been important from the start of the company as we were conscious of providing good terms for all employees, partners and those involved in production. As we don’t manufacture our products ourselves, one of the first and most important tasks has been to find the right production partners, and therefore, we have opted to work mainly with family-owned businesses. We seek long-term partners and make sure that they operate with fair-trade cocoa. We make sure that all the cocoa growers get the right price and for their products. In the next couple of years, our goal is to be a certified B-corp, especially for VGAN, which sets a high standard for how we work, how we package our products, and how we think in terms of new concepts and products.

Sustainability and ethical cultivation, together with high quality, are incredibly important to us. We can’t prove it, but we believe that if you feel good, you put more love into the job, which in turn will positively affect the ingredients and thus the taste will be better!

International Leadership Interview: Thomas Kraft, Novelty Foods

Novelty Food is a Norwegian company that develops, sells, and imports an assorted selection of confectionery and snacks, driven by quality and good flavors. Novelty Food consists of five dedicated employees with special expertise from different disciplines who all share a passion for food and candy.

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International Leadership Interview: Tine Jensen, CEO, Discovery Networks Norway

Having previously worked in Barcelona while commuting from where she lived with her family in Dubai, Tine Jensen’s active lifestyle was a useful commodity to have in 2018 – the year Discovery’s Norwegian CEO guided the organization through their first year as the official broadcaster for both the Winter Olympics and the Norwegian top tier football league, while simultaneously leading the company through drastic changes in a fiercely competitive market.

Tine sat down with AmCham to discuss the art of global leadership in an industry being revolutionized by the advent digital platforms, highlighting the importance of being proactive and seeking new challenges along the way.

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International Leadership Interview: Tine Jensen, CEO, Discovery Networks Norway

Tine Jensen

AmCham International Leadership Series

Having previously worked in Barcelona while commuting from where she lived with her family in Dubai, Tine Jensen’s active lifestyle was a useful commodity to have in 2018 – the year Discovery’s Norwegian CEO guided the organization through their first year as the official broadcaster for both the Winter Olympics and the Norwegian top tier football league while simultaneously leading the company through drastic changes in a fiercely competitive market. 

Tine sat down with AmCham to discuss the art of global leadership in an industry being revolutionized by the advent of digital platforms, highlighting the importance of being proactive and seeking new challenges along the way.

Where did you start?  Can you give us a brief description of your path to where you are now?

I am born and raised in Bodø in Norway. My parents were both teachers and taught me the value of team sports, engagement, and solidarity. Generally, I was very active in sports and activities growing up. Later, I moved to Trondheim to study. I was originally planning to study business and administration, but I quickly discovered that I would rather do strategy, marketing, and organization.

Upon completing my degree, I was going to become a consultant – because that was what everyone with that degree did back then, but instead, after encouragement from one of my professors, I started working with broadcasting for the TV-distributor Canal Digital Cable.

Here, I was tremendously lucky with my first leader, which is much of the reason why I stayed in the field of media and broadcasting. Plus, it was a fun time to work with TV. Cable TV was going to be professionalized and digitalized through the internet, and I got to experience that exciting journey for the industry firsthand.

Subsequently, having briefly tested the dot com enthusiasm — an enthusiasm that ended equally as briefly — I stared working for MTG, which owns Viasat, getting my first real leader role with P&L responsibility.

Then, my husband and I, with our two kids, decided to move to Asia. I had always wanted to work abroad, and the girls were still only about one and four years old, so we made it work. I applied for a study leave from work and opted for an MBA in Singapore, despite living in Kuala Lumpur where my husband was stationed. Which means I was commuting – staying five weeks at home and three weeks in Singapore.

One year on, my husband was transferred to Thailand, which meant an extensively longer commute for me, but it was still a great experience although somewhat challenging at times with young kids at home.

Upon completing my degree, I was offered a new job at MTG in Norway and we returned home. I eventually moved to Schibsted to experience other roles and areas within the media business. At Schibsted, they asked if I could be their expert on pricing and monetization, and I thought, “Sure, I can be a subject matter expert. Why not?” It was extremely educational to work in a company that focused on both newspapers and online classifieds in a period of intense digital transformation.

After two winters at home, however, the family had had enough, and we decided to move to Dubai. My husband worked for a mobile operator there at that time, so I ended up commuting from Dubai to the Barcelona Schibsted office every other week. I loved working abroad, and I think it is terribly important to have that experience if you want to become a leader.

Abruptly, however, Discovery turned up with an offer. In the small Norwegian sector, the most exciting positions are few and far between, so the opportunity to become a combined CFO/COO with such a successful Norwegian broadcaster that is also part of a large, international broadcasting company was a no-brainer. That was three years ago, and I have since been promoted to lead Discovery in Norway.

What are the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they impact its global presence? Do you have any recent examples to share?

I mean, Norway and the Nordics are big markets in broadcasting. If something big happens here, it directly affects Discovery’s stock in the US. Furthermore, being in an industry currently under extensive digital disruption, the most important decisions I make are related to digital strategies and perpetual renewal, in addition to our abilities to adapt to new business models.

In our industry, time is our worst enemy. Both in terms of disruption from Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, and so on, but also related to the consumers. We are battling to gain the attention of consumers every day, which means we cannot simply just optimize our products, but we must be innovative and able to explore new business opportunities quickly when they arise.

Keeping that in mind, Netflix and their equivalents have revolutionized the digital customer experience, but where they only provide digital content, we must continue to spearhead the traditional, linear TV experience, while simultaneously competing with their technology on digital platforms.

Hence, my most important decisions relate to ensuring that we can offer the best of both worlds. To achieve that, we cannot rely upon a five-year strategy anymore. The industry moves too quickly for that, which is why it is more essential than ever to communicate to the organization and the team in order to get them to not only understand the transformation process, but participate in it — and that is getting increasingly complex.

It is like American football — you know you need to get the ball to the endzone, but the tactics that get you there change continuously.

In an international organization, how do you build team morale and maintain creativity?

We have been through significant changes at Discovery in the past few years and have consequently changed the way we work. Everyone needs to master working across linear and digital, and through such vast changes in personnel, we have spent a substantial amount of time communicating our values, ambitions, and culture.

Through such processes, I believe the most important aspect I can contribute is to communicate the “why.” Why are we doing this? A leader will never get people to move in the same direction unless he or she manages to appeal to both the heart and mind of their colleagues, in addition to empowering them to be creative along the way.

This is particularly important when the organization is going through vast and drastic changes. For me, that means being open about both what we know and what we do not know, while laying the foundation that enables the organization to do what they do best – producing excellent content.

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

The core style would be the same — ensuring that I am there for the people around me and encouraging them to perform to the best of their abilities. Other aspects of my leadership style, however, would be adapted. The challenge is how to be authentic in light of the cultural context.

In terms of the organization, I think we are in a special situation in the media industry these days, which means that leaders are – and should be – focusing on leadership, transformation, and perpetual renewal. Our industry is changing so quickly that if a company, even a large one, fails to adapt to new ways of working and new consumer habits, they can quickly reach their Kodak moment. 

Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you ‘think outside the box’ in your organization?

I am lucky to be working in a very creative industry. We are in the entertainment business after all. There are plenty of ideas from the organization locally as well as globally. Basically, a lack of ideas is not the problem, but finding the time to prioritize all of them is, which is why we must be selective. My job in this process is to ensure that ideas are flowing freely across departments internally. I dislike the thought of missing out on a great idea due to internal miscommunication.

What do you believe are shared traits among good leaders? Are than any common mistakes you notice leaders making? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

Most leaders generally have a strong sense of curiosity and drive behind them. I also think it is important to believe in yourself and the choices you make to ensure that you are authentic in your endeavors. I think if leaders fail to live their own ideals, one can quickly start losing the people. They too need to believe that leaders care.

Furthermore, I think it is important to be humble and look at oneself from the outside to understand how one might be perceived. Where leaders have previously failed – myself included – is when we fail to listen. Listen to the people in your leadership team and to the people in your organization.

If your job was a sport, which sport would it be?

I like the comparison to American football that I mentioned earlier. A sport with strategies, tactics, and a high pace, but where teamwork is essential to get into the endzone. Without a good team and collaboration, you can have the best strategies in the world, but it would make no difference.

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

It is rooted in my nature to seek challenges and be proactive. I prefer learning by doing, and I naturally seek out seeking challenges and tasks that I have not done before. It is difficult at times, but at the end of the day, I tell myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Of course, it might have been more comfortable to not have sought out these new challenges, but it is in my nature and is a big part of why I have made it to where I am today.

When it comes to recent developments at Discovery, what are you are excited to talk about?

We have had a lot to be proud of recently. We did fantastically well last year with the Winter Olympics. Seeing the results of something we have worked very hard on for so long truly paying off is a great boost. It simply does not get much bigger than the Winter Olympics in Norway in terms of sports broadcasting! Additionally, expectations were extremely high as TV2 and NRK had done such great job with it for many years.

Furthermore, the way we combined the linear TV experience with digital players and streaming, in addition to how we managed to collaborate with third parties, was also great to see.

You get the podium at Stortinget for 5 minutes, what topic(s) do you address and why?

The professional Tine would address the importance of maintaining a strong media diversity in Norway. Media diversity is much more than news and online papers. The Norwegian language is important, and that is highlighted through quality Norwegian content, which we are proud to deliver.

As a private person, I would address elderly care in Norway. It is beyond me that even though we have so much wealth and welfare, we are still unable to deliver better elderly care for the people that built this country. When you look at future of healthcare challenges as well, with the Norwegian population expecting to become increasingly older, elderly care should be improved before more people reach that stage.

Where do you see yourself and your company five years from now?

If I am still relevant to the company and the company is relevant to me, I hope I am still at Discovery. As far as Discovery is concerned, we are still as relevant to the Norwegian people and the market as we are today, if not more. We are one of the leading digital content providers, producing quality Norwegian and sports content on Norwegian terms. That is our core business.

If you could give your 20-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

I would give the same advice to any 20-year-old. Work hard to be yourself. It is so easy to try to be someone else. Trust yourself and your values.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? Do you have any advice for them?

Be curious! Go out to travel and study abroad – way too few are doing that. Even though you are planning for adult life in Norway, you should still get some global experience by living abroad.

Additionally, be prepared to work hard and smart. There are no shortcuts to your dream job, but that does not mean that you should keep running at the same wall repeatedly. Be smart – there is always more than one solution to a challenge!

From Oslo to California: An AmCham International Leadership Interview with Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Ole Dahlberg

From Oslo to California

An AmCham International Leadership Interview with Ole Dahlberg, VP and General Manager, Cell Biology and Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific

Despite the fact that Thermo Fisher is playing a leading role in the global fight against COVID-19, few know that the company has extensive ties to Norway. Ole Dahlberg, a native Norwegian now working from the company’s sunny Southern California headquarters, sat down with us for the latest edition of our International Leadership Interview Series, diving into the importance of corporate leaders being active advocates for diversity, highlighting how Thermo Fisher’s Norwegian operations are playing a critical role in the global COVID-19 fight, and exploring Norwegian myths about US corporate culture.

Your career has taken you from Oslo to Southern California – can you briefly tell us about how your international career took shape and how your different stops along the way have influenced your leadership style?

Yes, a couple of thigs. I was educated in Norway, but even then, during university, we had an excellent collaboration with the University of Maryland. It was my first experience with an international network, and the power of collaboration where you generate results from a network of laboratories and benefit from exchanging information and experience. After college, in my first job, I joined a company where we basically had all our customers outside Norway, which gave me the opportunity to collaborate with people from so many different countries. 

Then, in 1997, I was, for the first time, part of a startup company, and I went from a purely scientific role to my first commercial role. In that role, I didn’t have a team so my way to the market was through dealers and distributors. It teaches you to simply reach out and ask for help and build strong connections,  A take-away from this experience, is that when you come with transparency and honesty, you can build relationships with people from countries as different as Finland, Germany, and Japan. At the end of the day, we’re all people trying to accomplish the same things. If you ask for help, you build trust. When you give something, you get something in return. Over time, you can leverage honesty and transparency to build lasting international relationships. 

In 2003, our startup was acquired by a German company and I joined them, working out of London for a while and then in Germany. A few years later (and a couple of jobs later), in 2008, I was asked by a US-based life science company if I wanted to join them and lead the Norwegian part of the business. That was the first time I worked for a US corporation, Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company I still work for today (I joined Invitrogen, which became Life Technology prior to a merger and then finally acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific).

I thought that this US experience was very interesting. It’s different, it’s a great experience, but you definitely need some time to adjust. As I adjusted, however, I realized there was just so much we could do together. At that time, we were just 4 000 people – today we are at 85 000 people, so we’ve undergone a huge transformation. It has been an incredible journey.

Personally, I was leading our Norwegian business, which had about 200 employees at that time. We turned it around, and it was great fun. A few years ago, however, corporate reached out and said, “Do you want to come over here? You’d have a much bigger business to develop, there’s a lot more you can do.” 

I asked my kids and family, “What do you think?” We had three teenagers, so I knew it would be a big change for them, but they said yes! Now it should be said that we were asked to come to California, which is perhaps a little easier than many other places. Not only because of the weather but because it is a place of embracement. Due to all the innovative work and the global companies there is this flow of people through the state, it’s very international, it’s a place that works with so many different parts of the world. 

The COVID-19 crisis has put incredible demands on leaders, who not only need to adjust to remote work but also new models of business. Given Thermo Fisher’s position as one of the leaders in developing COVID-19 treatments, how have you adjusted to these dramatic changes?

This is actually a question that I and many of our leaders deal with on a daily basis, not just from outside the company but inside, from our own employees. Internally, we have town halls, we have jam sessions, and at these events they often ask that question because they want to know from a private point of view what your strategy is as their leader.

But you know, this is not the first crisis we’ve gone through. I’ve been in the business for a few decades. We had difficult situations back in the 90s. There was 9/11, which shut down everything. Then we had the great recession in 2008 and a couple of epidemics. The good news is that we are getting much better at dealing with those difficult situations, particularly in regard to how companies exit those situations. What I mean here is that many years ago, it would take companies years to recover after suffering a situation like this. Today, I think we understand much better how to deal with these crises and end up in a much stronger position.

I believe that when you end up in a crisis there are two things you need to focus on: short-term action and building a long-term plan.

That short-term action is almost always about agility and monitoring, ensuring that you understand what you must do throughout each phase of the crisis. First comes the shock, then the first actions you must take as a company to protect lives, people, and the business itself. Next, you reboot into a recovery phase, which is a very long phase – a new normal. And that’s the thing, the business never becomes exactly the same as it was before such a disruption because you hopefully learn and improve as a result. 

COVID-19, for example, is quite special in this regard, because you suddenly couldn’t go out and work with customers. That’s where agility comes in – you have to adapt. You start with your employees, making sure they’re safe and that they stay where they are, doing everything you can for them, their families, and their friends.

The second thing is that you need to protect the whole company and ensure distribution. That is hard when you can’t meet with your employees and your customers. Video has been key for us in this regard – it has changed the way we interact, allowing us to build connections digitally. I’m working with some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world discussing how can we get this vaccine to the market. We’re talking about what we need, what our manufacturing looks like, and how our teams work. In fact, we can even bring the camera in, have people walk around, and show guests around. It is truly amazing.

Lastly, you have to work to build trust with your employees, even when not meeting them face-to-face. For example, I have a new finance leader and I still haven’t “met” him, even though he’s my right hand! We work together for several hours every day, so eventually we’ll get there. The good thing is that people are willing to adjust, and they are very motivated to help and make things better. That’s just so motivating, and that motivation is what keeps me going. 

Following up on the previous questions, the current crisis has also put tremendous pressure on healthcare companies – from the government, private sector, and the general public – to find effective treatments for COVID-19. As a leader, how have you and Thermo Fisher worked with the pressure of making a breakthrough?

One of the mistakes we often make when we experience a crisis is that we believe it’s a short-term thing. Everybody starts working, and they work very hard. At Thermo Fisher, we did the same thing. We realized we had to scale extremely fast as we had the technology for the COVID-19 testing. And as you saw from the news, there was a huge increase in demand – going from about 2000 tests per week to millions of tests per week.

This pressure is truly special. It’s one thing to put together instrumentation, to bring together all the consumables you need to run that test, but there’s a lot more involved. You have to make sure it’s user friendly, ensuring that anyone can use it, and then make it available globally. Then there are supply chain issues. On top of all this, we are receiving calls from the White House or other governments at the same time, and they’re asking for the latest update.

With all this pressure, there’s only one solution. You have to bring everyone in the business together and divide and conquer. 

But there’s a catch. When you go from the third or fourth week of the crisis to the twelfth week, people suddenly start wearing out. It’s critical then to also think with a long-term perspective, while still looking back at what you have accomplished and recognizing how impressive what you’re doing together, as a team, is.

For us, we not only had to rapidly scale up production, but also education on the treatment side. We have hundreds of thousands of customers and before COVID, only a few wanted to work with vaccines. Now, a lot of them are working with vaccines and therapy, so we needed to quickly educate them, establishing channels where they could take part in seminars and lectures digitally. That also meant that we had to collaborate with our industry competitors since we realized we couldn’t do everything ourselves. We’ve worked together to help them understand how to use the technology we provide. 

What role have your Norwegian operations played during this crisis?

I don’t think it’s well known in Norway that the core technology for one branch of Thermo Fisher is tiny magnetic beads, beads that can be mixed with any type of biological sample and pull out a specific biological molecule. That has huge implications because you can mix it with different substances to pull out antibodies to see if you have had a COVID infection or you can pull out a DNA molecule and see if the virus is still active. We make those beads in Norway.

Now, what is unique with this technology is that there are many companies that can make magnetic beads but there are very few companies that can scale the technology while maintaining the same size, quality, and performance – the Norwegian branch simply excels at making these products consistent, which is critical. 

The secret behind Thermo Fisher is that we know that there is a great need to perform tests all over the world, and with these beads, you don’t have to put new instrumentation into the market, you can make use of existing platforms. This Norwegian technology already works in instruments that are already used by hospitals, science labs, and companies worldwide to run COVID-19 tests. The Norway team had to work extremely hard – they had to scale to millions of tests a day.

It’s just such a cool part of the business. They’ve been around since the beginning of the 80s as a part of the HIV/AIDS research going on back then, and they have since been a part of some of the most exciting ways of providing diagnostics and doing therapy ever since. 

People often discuss the importance of companies investing in the development of their employees, but it is also important that leaders have time to invest in themselves. How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

Another thing that helps me with seeing things from a different angle is mentoring people. I’m leading diversity and inclusion programs in Thermo Fisher, and that’s something I am deeply passionate about. I am mentoring African-American leaders, mentoring women and people of color, and that really helps you see things in a different way. 

The great thing about mentoring is that you have enough time to build up a level of trust, so they truly open up. If I meet with someone just once, for example, they will just tell me, as their vice president, what they think I want to hear. It takes a few meetings before they open up, start telling the truth, and explore things like how they feel, things that make them feel uncomfortable, their passions, and, also, what they think of their leadership team. I additionally make sure to take these perspectives to the various leadership networks I am a part of and share them with other leaders – they’re often surprised by what they hear. 

It’s truly about being transparent with people, but you don’t do that often as a young leader, because of the fear of failing. Over time, however, you begin to lose that fear, and you realize you don’t need to be perfect. In my case, I can go out there if something goes wrong, be transparent, and say, “I just really wanted to try this thing!” They may say “you’re a little stupid” or something like that, but at the end of the day, you got something going at least. I think experimenting, therefore, is just a fantastic way to develop yourself as a leader.

Lastly, all leaders need to have a 360-degree perspective when it comes to leadership development. If you just get input from the leaders above you, you’ll go wrong. You need perspectives from the people that work for you and you need perspectives from people from other industries. If I go out for a drink, for example, there’s a good chance that my tablemates are not from my industry. I ask them for advice, advice that comes from their world or industry, but advice that I can still bring into my world to think about an issue in a new way.

"I think there’s a bit of a myth in countries like Norway about US corporate culture. It’s just not as brutal as you’d think. You work hard, that’s for sure, but it’s fair. It may not be as codified as it is in Norway, but the way people are treated is often much better than what people in Scandinavia believe." 
Ole Dahlberg
VP and General Manager, Cell Biology & Biosciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific

As a Norwegian working in the US, how have you adjusted your leadership style? What are the positives and negatives of US work culture?

I would say that there are a couple of different ways to look at that. From a team leadership perspective, I don’t find it very different. That might be because I have already been working with Americans for a while in Thermo Fisher, and when I’m at work, I don’t really think of myself as working at a typical American company – I work in a very typical Californian company. That means we’re highly diverse, with a lot of Europeans, for example, so it’s unique in that regard.

When it comes to leadership, however, that’s where it’s a bit different. In the US, it’s intense. You are more empowered, but you are also much more accountable. Many of the people leading a part of the business in most major US corporations are leading organizations that are equivalent to large Norwegian companies. 

When I, for example, report to our company leadership, it’s a bit like reporting to our board of directors. I don’t need to necessarily ask permission to do a lot of things, but I better do it right. It better be something that makes sense. From a Norwegian adjustment perspective, we’d need to go very deep into the analytics, much deeper than we’re used to. Secondly, you have work with a different sense of intensity as you don’t get the time that you do in Norway.

You also need to take action. That you not only talk about a strategy, but that you implement that strategy, generate results, and follow through. Follow through is very important because you will be held accountable for whatever you do. You will also be held accountable for things you haven’t done, and no one is going to ask you if it’s fair or not fair. It might not have been your problem in the first place, but it will definitely be you who needs to solve it. 

It’s important to note, however, that people really do step up and take responsibility. That’s one of the reasons we can scale so fast in the US, building businesses from scratch to a size you just don’t see very often in other parts of the world. 

I’ve also been working with and in the US for years, and the culture around business has changed a lot in that time – and for the better. Corporate America has become a place that values talents much more than before, they understand much more what’s important to people. I think there’s a bit of a myth in countries like Norway about US corporate culture. It’s just not as brutal as you’d think. You work hard, that’s for sure, but it’s fair. It may not be as codified as it is in Norway, but the way people are treated is often much better than what people in Scandinavia believe. 

On the other hand, if you look at what is driving evolution in global corporate leadership and development, a lot of it is coming out of the US. But the thing is, evolution also takes more time in the States. It is much bigger than Norway, the population is much more diverse. In addition, in Norway, you can bring people on board faster because there is a system that takes care of people, and that’s just not the case, to the same extent, here in the US. If you ask people to make a change in America, you have to make sure they feel safe. 

If your job was a sport, what sport would it be and why?

I’m a skier, I simply love to ski, but if my job was a sport, it wouldn’t be skiing. In many ways, it’s like open ocean sailing. There you bring together a large crew of twelve, fifteen people, and this group doesn’t really know exactly what will happen in the course of a competition. Because of that, they have to work together, they have to be prepared to step into another role at any given time. It’s not like soccer, where if you get injured, they can just replace you with a substitute. You can’t do that, however, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. You have to work together to fix the problem right there and then, you have to help each other, they have to help the weakest at any given time to move things forward. They have to make the right short-term and long-term strategies, select the right gear, and so on.

If you could address the US Congress or Norwegian Storting for five minutes, what topic(s) would you address and why?

I actually discussed this with my wife before the interview. We were out walking, and I said I got this interesting interview question, and I asked her what she would say. Her immediate response was that it is just so different between the US and Norway. 

But here’s the thing – the challenges we have are actually the same. If I only had five minutes, therefore, I would discuss two topics. 

The first would be global participation and working globally. Despite the fact that we all have our own unique local challenges, in today’s world, these challenges cannot be solved without a global approach. I think this issue is incredibly important and makes a huge difference. If we don’t work better together on a global basis, we’ll be in huge trouble in the future. For example, with COVID-19, we could’ve done a much better job if we worked better together globally.

The second is that I believe it is really important to have strong social systems. That means building a place where people feel that we are taking care of their health, safety, and education. We see that the lack of education leads to challenging situations, such as discrimination, resistance to change, and problems working together. Now I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “social system,” as that term is so negatively loaded and people are afraid of it, but the safer people feel the easier it is to implement changes because they aren’t afraid of change – they know they’ll be taken care of. 

Where do you see Thermo Fisher in the next five years?

Every year I put together strategic five-year plans, and the funny thing is that things never go exactly as planned. For example, I went back to the plan I made last year, and that plan didn’t say anything about COVID-19 or a pandemic more generally. I’ve been a part of Thermo Fisher as it expanded from 4 000 to 85 000 people, through a number of mergers and acquisitions. This expansion and these additions happened not as a result of looking for more profit, but because we needed to bring together manufacturing capabilities, great science, new technologies, and the ability to help customers globally – and that’s been an amazing journey.

We see scaling as one of the most important challenges going forward. It’s about bringing therapy, diagnostics, and new scientific solutions to the market quickly. I think that Thermo Fisher has a very important mission and place in the scientific and global communities, so I’m sure these advancements will continue for the next five years.

A Journey of Change: An AmCham International Leadership Interview with Microsoft’s Kimberly Lein-Mathisen

A Journey of Change: An AmCham International Leadership Interview with Microsoft’s Kimberly Lein-Mathisen

In a globe-spanning career that has taken her from Chicago to Oslo, Microsoft Norge General Manager Kimberly Lein-Mathisen has earned a reputation for successfully leading international organizations through periods of transformational change. From highlighting the importance of lifelong learning to exploring Norway’s incredible potential to become a world-leading “Digitalt Lykkeland,” Lein-Mathisen sat down (virtually) with AmCham for a wide-ranging conversation on leadership in times of crisis and change.

From your beginnings near Chicago to your position leading Microsoft here in Norway, you’ve had quite the international career. Can you briefly tell us about how your international career took shape and how your different stops along the way have influenced your leadership style?

Briefly? Are you kidding? I’ve had so many chapters and so many brilliant experiences along the way, so, I’ll try my best!

I grew up in the US in a small town outside of Chicago. I trained as an engineer, and I wanted to work in a consumer facing global company. After I graduated from the University of Illinois, I started with Procter & Gamble. I worked in their factories for several years and really loved it. However, I just had this itch to get out of the Midwest and experience much more of the world.

After 5 years at P&G, I decided to take a step to realize this global dream and went to Harvard Business School to get an MBA. I chose HBS because it was the most internationally-oriented school that I could think of, and the incredible two years I spent there truly launched me on the global journey that I’ve been on since.

From Harvard, I found my first international position with Eli Lilly in the UK. I spent a brilliant 12 years with them, and they really gave me opportunities across the world, from Germany to Japan. Through these roles, I got to experience so many cultures – I was really living my dream!

One fine day about 5 years into that journey, completely out of the blue, Eli Lilly asked me if I wanted to be their General Manager in Norway. At the time, I thought it was very random that it should be Norway, but I was very excited for the job and up for the adventure. Norway was a great surprise to me. I moved up here and had the most amazing experience, though at the time I had no idea that the decision to move here would be the start of building the better part of my life, including meeting the Norwegian I would later go on to marry.

Procter & Gamble's global headquarters (two twin buildings to the left), located in Cincinnati, Ohio. Photo: ©Posnov via Canva.com

However, despite all this, my first stay in Norway only lasted two years. I was offered the chance to run Lilly Germany, which was a very large operation for Eli Lilly. This role led me to the next one, which was to lead Lilly’s global diabetes partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based, family-owned international pharmaceuticals. My work there took me all over the world, giving me the opportunity to play a key role in launching new therapies in markets such as Japan.

At the same time, however, I had recently gotten married, started to have kids, so it was becoming trickier to spend so much time traveling. In the middle of all this, I remembered how much I loved Norway, and we decided to come back 10 years ago. I started off working with Orkla, where I had the chance to lead something truly Norwegian, Lilleborg, which was an exciting new challenge for me in comparison the US-based multinationals I had worked for previously.

It was an experience that turned out to be lots of fun. I entered at a very interesting time – the company was evaluating whether or not we could branch out beyond the Norwegian market. We were asking the big questions. Could we buy companies abroad? Could we renegotiate contracts? Could we really take this thing global?

And for a great three-and-a-half years, that’s what I got to do. But then I got another one of those unexpected phone calls. And that one came from a company called Microsoft.

And that’s where my latest chapter and my most massive transformation began. It has been an incredible opportunity to lead the Norwegian operations of such a global business. I grew up in America, so I understand the American mindset quite well. On the other hand, I’ve been in Norway many years, and I have also had the chance to work in many other countries. The ability to capitalize on all of that, to bring all of these different experiences together in an incredibly fast-paced, innovative environment is extremely rewarding.

In your future of work interview with BI, you noted that, “The area where companies are the least exercised is a little worrying. It is around investing in employees and people and all the dimensions around the individual,” before going on to conclude that this investment has a lot to say in terms of a company’s agility and ability to adapt. How do you as a leader engage with your employees to ensure their development?

About six years ago, Microsoft started on a profound journey, a journey of change that really needed to happen. CEO Satya Nadella and our company leadership made an exceptionally wise commitment to pursue a culture transformation alongside the technology and business model overhaul. Central to this cultural transformation is a framework called the Growth Mindset, which comes from Stanford University professor, Carol Dweck. The Growth Mindset is not a corporate program. It’s for people. It’s for your life. It’s about always learning and developing.

We really came together around this idea of being on a growth journey, which was fundamental for all of us at Microsoft. For years, we had done extraordinarily well with a very closed business model. The problem with success in a closed business model is that you tend to develop some aspects of your culture that are not good, such as a lack of empathy and a false confidence that you already know everything. We needed to understand that we didn’t know everything and shift our posture fundamentally, becoming much more curious and developing a lot of deep listening muscles.

Here in Norway, we looked at many aspects of our business through the lens of renewal and a desire to foster learning.  And that led us to change a lot of things, for example, in our business reviews, we needed to do a much better job of focusing on learnings not only numbers. We’ve shifted our priorities to align better with our customers and partners, and profoundly changing how we think about who we promote, who we hire, and our entire rewards system. If you asked me to boil it down, I would say the most fundamental thing we decided to dedicate ourselves to is developing an “always-on learning culture.” 

It’s something that goes so far beyond the idea of sending people to a training course once a year. We’re breaking down the acquisition of skills into bite-size, stackable components – creating on-the-go, on-the-job ways of acquiring and applying skills that we as leaders must continuously update. We’re also making these processes fun, while creating clear expectations that ensure people deliver on their learning objectives, and at Microsoft, I feel like we’ve made great learnings and great progress on that journey.

We’re going to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about sustainability. There has been increasing discussion in Norway about building a sustainable, future-oriented economy, and there’s no doubt that companies will be the driving force behind this transition. What unique challenges – and opportunities – does sustainability present for corporate leaders, particularly in Norway?

As leaders, we really have to rise to meet this call – technology and the role it can play in addressing environmental challenges are compelling themes that are really resonating around the world right now.

I strongly believe that Norway is called to an even higher level here. We live in a country that has done a remarkable job of lifting every single person in society to an incredibly good standard of living. However, there is simply no getting around the fact that the oil sector – that stands for a tremendous amount of value creation in this country and plays a critical role in funding our public sector – is pumping out CO2 emissions.

Therefore, we have a situation that we must address in Norway. The world is becoming more and more impatient when it comes to converting to renewable energy, and this puts direct pressure on Norway to figure out how it’s going to make an enormous amount of value creation much more sustainably. We’ve had it so good in Norway that we’re not used to dealing with crisis and having to change. In actuality, however, there’s a mounting crisis that has nothing to do with COVID but has everything to do with the possible after-effects of a world that simply must become more sustainable.

It is clear that this crisis is going to mean profound things for Norway. The bright side of all of this, however, is that we are one of the countries in the world best positioned with strategic advantages to become a “Digitalt Lykkeland.” We have a very knowledgeable, skilled, and digital workforce. Given the digital capabilities that we have, the trust fabric in our society, and the abundant clean hydropower fueling our data centers and other industries, we are better placed than nearly every country on earth to reinvent our traditional businesses into digital businesses.

And I have to tell you, we’ve already gotten started with this shift. If you tell me the name of nearly any large Norwegian company right now, I can tell you the name of their digital platform. If these companies do their work well, these platforms might be better known than their respective parent companies in the course of the next few years. These digital platforms are going to be one of the key drivers of growth for Norwegian companies going forward. And I haven’t even touched on how we can use data collaborations to create value – we’re still very much in our infancy there. That’s going to be extremely important for value creation in this country going forward.

We’re going to circle back to development for the next question, however, this time we’re going to focus on you. How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader yourself?

I’ve never been pushed harder to learn in my whole career than I have in the last three years with Microsoft. We have so many innovations that are being rolled out and all of this technology can be applied in so many different ways depending on the industry. Therefore, I not only need to understand these technological innovations from our perspective, but I have to fully commit to making time to be curious to truly learn about how these new elements can make a difference for the companies we serve.

Therefore, the level of investment I make each day in deepening my understanding, is quite intensive. I might spend one day working with shipping leaders to better understand how technology can help in industry and the next talking to executives at one of Norway’s large grocery chains or banks about how technology can bring value to them.

I often find myself deeply engaged in the energy sector, which is, of course, a very large part of what we do in this country. There are big global challenges to be solved here, so I’m often thinking about how technology can be harnessed to substantially reduce carbon emissions, promote renewable investment, and assist energy companies in digitalizing sustainably.

“Today truly delivered on my expectations – the presenters certainly provided a lot of food for thought,” concluded one participant.

Lein-Mathisen speaking at Oslo Business Forum in 2018. Photo: Ståle Grut/NRKbeta distributed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Another thing I do, whether it’s a meeting or the opportunity to speak at a conference, is deliberately say yes to engagements on topics I know will stretch me – in areas where I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I also know I want to push myself to collect more insights, to provide something of value. That tool, simply saying yes, is so powerful and forces me to commit to learning in order to prepare.

The other top self-development tip that I would have is to use LinkedIn!

I really adore LinkedIn, however, just like everyone else, I always think that I don’t have time for it. Despite that feeling, I find time to go on it almost every single day. I try to share things on LinkedIn often, which forces me to crystallize my thoughts, really focusing on what’s truly interesting and the message I want to deliver. LinkedIn is also a fantastic way to get outside of my own echo chamber, allowing me to continuously hunt and search for new knowledge, new connections, and different points of view.

Now to an issue I know you are quite familiar with – cross boarder data openness vs. data protectionism. Why is this issue so important, and what can the Norwegian government, companies, partner organizations, and the public do to better collaborate?

That’s a really big question, but I’m so glad you asked because the implications of this question really get to the core of the most important opportunities for value creation Norway is going to have in the future.

To begin with, any country or any block of countries, like the EU, can make choices about the exportation of all kinds of goods, including data. In our digital world, stakeholders have to make choices about how open they want to be around data versus how protective they want to be. Of course, there are many legitimate reasons why stakeholders might have concerns about sharing data, in regard to security, privacy, and how its handled more generally.

Keeping those concerns in mind, however, if you fundamentally think about Norway’s position in the global data economy, Norway is a very, very small country, and while there is indeed an aspect of data directly related to people, there is also a huge universe of business-to-business or industrial data which often isn’t tied to any aspect of a person itself.  Because Norway is so capable digitally, this country has an incredible opportunity to punch way above its weight when it comes to harnessing and using this data. We need to understand, however, that if we’re going to drive export value, we’re going to need to be able to provide data-driven digital solutions that compete out in the world, and we’re simply not going to be able to do that based on data only generated in Norway.

Healthcare is a classic example. We often hear about the great healthcare registers we have in this country, and they are indeed assets for us. But let’s be clear – if you’re going to leverage data to develop a cure for cancer, for example, then you’re going to want to build something that goes far beyond a dataset of just five million people – a global data commons. That’s when you’re going to break through and find a cure for cancer or move the needle on, for example, ocean research, where we can use data to generate economic value while simultaneously doing important, critical things for the planet.

Therefore, we need go beyond the all-or-nothing question of, “Do I share my data or do I not share my data?” We have to think much more expansively and creatively, forming new commercial models supported by technologies thar enable confidential computing, multi-party sharing arrangements, and things that we haven’t even imagined yet.

To make this happen, however, the government has to dive into this big legacy set of laws with a mindset to accelerate sharing and value creation, while at the same time keeping in balance the need to ensure privacy and security. In Europe, and more specifically in Norway, we’re going to have to do that in a responsible way. There’s nothing else that’s acceptable to our population, our mindset, and our values, so it almost goes without saying that you’ll never get this done if you only focus on the opportunity side.

If Norway is going to be able to compete in this game and provide digital solutions out to the world, these solutions are going to need to be based on truly global data and an increased sophistication in commercializing it. This is not something that is going to happen automatically, however. It will require digital savviness, agility, and an ability to execute many processes simultaneously.

And if you link it all the way back to your data, one has to ask, “If you shut your borders to data and you’re a super small country like Norway, who do you think is going to share their data with you?” That question really is at the heart of a country’s chances to become a winner in any of these data-driven value competitions that every country will need to compete in going forward.

Building off that, if you had the podium at Stortinget for five minutes, what topics to address?

I would absolutely talk about creating a “Digitalt Lykkeland.” I would do everything I could to relay that our future is digital. Let’s make the commitments necessary to lift the capabilities of this country to the next level because we already have so many incredibly competitive assets. We simply need to recognize them and most importantly find a way to become quicker in implementing competitive frameworks so that we can retain our advantage vis-à-vis the rest of the world. In this country, if we lack anything fundamentally, it’s speed. We have everything else we need!

"In this country, if we lack anything fundamentally, it’s speed. We have everything else we need!"
Kimberly Lein-Mathisen
General Manager, Microsoft Norge

If your job was a sport, what sport would it be and why?

I could probably choose many analogies, but the first one that jumped into my mind is a sport that I’ve actually never played. In fact, I had never even seen it before I moved to Norway – handball!

Now, I can’t say I know a lot about the technical aspects of the game itself, but it’s a great analogy for my job because handball seems to be an incredibly intensive game. It’s very fast-paced, new things emerge all the time, and your skills are super important. To make things even more complicated, you have to put all these moving pieces together to work with your teammates to put together an agile, competitive strategy. You can’t snooze for a moment, and the game demands a tremendous amount of dedication and commitment.

That all really resonates with me. At Microsoft, we’re operating in an incredibly fast-paced environment where we collaborate with all of our great clients and partners to tackle new challenges. Handball simply represents that unique combination of intensity and being so multi-faceted really well.

Photo: ©Dziurek via Canva.com

Where do you see yourself and Microsoft in the next five years?

Well, I’ve got this technology and sustainability bug deep in my in my DNA. I believe Microsoft is going to continue to create this fantastic, digital, and future-oriented fabric of technology, a constantly evolving platform that represents one of the world’s strongest ecosystems, which for me means that you have hundreds of thousands of companies vibrantly building on top of this platform – a collaborative process that creates a tremendous amount of winners.

On a personal level, as a classic industrial engineer, I have a really strong passion for data-driven business collaborations that can break down some of the seemingly “impossible” problems we have in this world, and I really want to pursue that passion the next five years. I spent 12 years in healthcare, and those 12 years instilled a real excitement around how we can leverage new technologies and abilities to drive us forward as a human race. To cure cancer, to cure epidemics, and to deepen our understanding of how we can build a more sustainable future.

If you could give your 20-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

The advice I would give to any 20-year-old, including myself, is to expose yourself to everything you can while you’re young and be sure to learn a lot about technology on your way.

Personally, I’m so glad that I studied engineering, however, I would encourage everyone, no matter what you’re studying, to include a technology component. Whether you choose nursing, education, finance, or construction, my strongest advice is to dive in and equip yourself with the technology background you’ll need along the way. You don’t have to be a coding expert in every programming language – digital tools are getting better and easier to use every day.

In short, have a strong heart for the aspects of technology that can help you succeed in your field. Don’t be afraid of it, make it your friend!

South Quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where Lein-Mathisen took her bachelor's degree. Photo: ©dwhob via Canva.com

When was the latest time you responded to an email last night?

It was about 1:15 in the morning before I got off email. Now that’s not me saying that is a brilliant example, but let’s remind ourselves that we are in a time of crisis, and times like these force us to adapt, evolve, and, in some cases, answer emails just a bit later than we’d like to admit.

International Leadership Interview: Cynthia Harris, Chief Marketing Officer, StormGeo

Cynthia Harris

AmCham International Leadership Series

Originally from Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that StormGeo Chief Marketing Officer Cynthia Harris sees encouraging her employees to innovate, experiment, and take risks as a critical part of international leadership. Harris sat down with AmCham for a dynamic conversation on what it takes to lead in an industry poised to play a key role in the global sustainability agenda going forward.

Where did you start?  Can you give us a brief description of your path to where you are now?

I’m originally from Silicon Valley, where I founded a marketing and public relations agency. I built and grew the agency to 34 people, expanded to New York, and when we signed a major client, it took the company to the next level, particularly internationally.

Not long after working with this client, they asked if we could support their marketing and PR efforts in Europe, and I hired my first employee in London.

It was the period after this that eventually led me to my role in StormGeo. The agency had evolved to become a virtual agency with part-to-full time consultants.

At that time, one of my Silicon Valley clients was Applied Weather Technology, who were providing weather and routing information to the shipping industry, primarily in the European and Asia Pacific regions.

In total, I consulted for them for six years as the only marketing resource they had.

And this was through the company you founded?

Yes, it was. They offered me a full-time position, but the timing just wasn’t quite right. A couple of years later, however, they offered me a position again. This time, I took the job. There comes a point in time when the kids are soon to be off to college, and I knew I wanted to return to the corporate workplace.

And that was in January 2014, correct?

That’s right. A month after I started my new position, StormGeo, a Norwegian company, acquired us.

StormGeo asked me to come to Bergen for the summer to begin building the marketing program, then a few months later, they asked if I would head and build a global marketing team for their organization. To me, this was an inspiring opportunity! I was challenged by the cultural differences, but I was quickly put at ease because my colleagues readily spoke English and had an admirable work-life balance.

For 18 months, I went back and forth between Norway and Silicon Valley, and in 2016, my husband and I moved to Oslo.

What are some of the important decisions you make as a leader of the organization, and how do they impact its global presence?

StormGeo has 25 offices in 16 countries, and initially I thought it best to have the marketing team placed in several regions. Now, however, I have consolidated the team  the majority in Oslo, and others in Hong Kong and the US. This has improved the efficiency and comradery of the team.

As far as impacting the company’s global presence, for us it’s important that the public presence of the company is aligned with the company’s vision globally.

What are some recent projects you’re excited to talk about?

One of the initiatives that I spearheaded was to be a part of the UN Global Compact, specifically the Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business.  With StormGeo’s ocean scientists, data scientists, climate scientists, and meteorologists, we are made up of people who are passionate about weather and protecting the planet’s natural resources.  I believed we could make a valuable contribution.

In 2018, we saved our shipping clients one million metric tons of fuel, which equates to 2.98 million tons of CO2 or the removal of 625,000 cars from the road for one year. This is done by helping them find the most safe and fuel-efficient routes.

Furthermore, we support 30% of offshore wind farms globally, improving the efficiency of clean energy production. Hence, we were very happy to be invited to be a Participant in the UN Global Compact in August 2018.

In fact, I just returned from the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Week at the UN headquarters in New York City, which brought together business leaders from around the world who are committed to advancing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. They challenged business leaders to take action in their companies in regard to all 17 SDGs, including climate action and life below water, calling for a “Decade of Action.” In StormGeo, we are bringing these ideas home in a variety of different ways, training staff and taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint through initiatives such as establishing sustainability ambassadors in each of our offices.

So how do you build team morale and maintain creativity in an international organization?

By taking initiatives like the one I talked about—sustainability! People get excited when they have the opportunity to work on projects that make a difference. In an onboarding meeting with two new employees recently, one of them said he chose our company because of our sustainability commitment. For our employees, the opportunity to tell these stories and influence others to adopt sustainable practices is very cool. Taking initiatives like this are great for team morale.

Aside from that, I think a critical part of building team morale is listening to the creative ideas of the whole team, giving every person an opportunity to share their ideas and voice their opinions – this shows employees that they’re valued. In many of our marketing team meetings, we break into a brainstorm session to get the best ideas to surface. We have a lot of fun!

This gets back to leadership style. How has your leadership style evolved? Have you used the same leadership style in Norway as you did in Silicon Valley?

I believe I do have the same leadership style here in Norway, a leadership style that encourages my team to take risks and to innovate through experimentation. When I ran my marketing agency, one of the first things I did was establish a culture club managed by a small group of employees to ensure we had a good culture across the organization. I believe it helped us achieve a high level of employee retention.

But getting back to risk taking, it’s very important that the people I lead have the freedom to take risks. I always want to be facilitating the exchange of new ideas and trying new things. And that’s something that I would absolutely continue if I moved to another country

However, the culture in Norway is very different from Silicon Valley. I’ve had to evolve and adapt to a new way of doing things, such as a flat organizational structure and valuing the wonderful work-life balance here.

Do you think your Silicon Valley background helps you think outside the box?

The great thing about Silicon Valley is that people there are willing to give their time and connections to help you, whether you’re starting a company, looking for employment, or seeking out resources to improve your job performance. They have ideas and act on them, creating something new, something exciting.

So, in a way, when you think about me moving from San Francisco to Oslo, that mindset took over. I knew I needed to live in Oslo to do the job well, and by inquiring about it, the opportunity opened up.  Part of the decision was to take a risk, and that’s where I think that Silicon Valley mindset really helps, in addition to always looking at the possibilities.

How did the integration process between StormGeo and Applied Weather Technologies work?

The integration process was very well done, and I can really give StormGeo a lot of credit for that. There was an integration manager that came to Silicon Valley and wanted to make sure that the Silicon Valley office felt very much a part of the broader organization and very valued.

However, US companies have bigger marketing budgets than Norwegian companies. Norwegian companies tend to be somewhat reserved and conservative about their offerings and their competitive differentiation. And that really surprised me. That was something that I thought I could help to change. I didn’t want to understate the incredible work we’re doing for our clients.

I wanted to tell those stories.  Not to overstate them, of course, but I just wanted to tell the real story and highlight how we are making an impact for our customers.

Now, given the incredible growth we’ve had in Storm Geo with the acquisition of AWT and other acquisitions as well, we as a company embrace the fact that we are a leader in this industry and are telling our story.

What do you believe are some shared traits all good leaders have?

Well, I think I mentioned one already. I think that good leaders are creators who can take an idea and bring it to life. Good leaders are also willing to take risks and weigh their options carefully when taking those risks.

Do you think there are any common mistakes that leaders make, especially with regard to other international leaders coming to Norway or vice versa with Norwegian leaders going abroad?

I think a common mistake is not listening and under communicating in the whole organization. I don’t think enough leaders focus on listening to the concerns, ideas, and thoughts of their team. And consistent communication is important to keep people feeling tied-in to what’s going on.


If your job was a sport which sport would it be?

Marathon running. You’ve got to see the end goal. A lot of things that we do in marketing are not immediate, and I think most leaders really understand this. You have to persevere and go through it. If you think about the training of a marathon runner and how they keep relentlessly pushing the limits and going further and further every single day until they reach their goal, well, I think some things in marketing are like that.

Put simply, it’s not always a quick return. Some things are bigger than that.

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

Decide to adapt to change that comes along as you go.  As the marketing industry has changed, it’s important that I change with it and bring new best practices to my organization. 

When I think about my career and the changes I’ve made, I realize how important it is to not dig your heels into the ground and resist change. If you do that, you stay stuck.

I also have a very strong professional network, and I am constantly listening to podcasts, reading about my field and looking for new insights, new ways of doing things. I do the same with various TED talks and other things like that.

In sum, it’s critical to have to an almost continual willingness to learn and develop.

There’s one little extra thing I’d like to add that’s also critical if you really want to grow and evolve. You have to love feedback.

For example, a great friend of mine is a computer scientist at Facebook. I was in Silicon Valley with a group of people from Norway, and I asked him if we could tour their offices. He gave us a tour, and they had a number of places throughout the office where they had posters with nice or funny things on them.

One of the posters really hit me. It said, “Feedback is a gift.”  I thought that is a great way to look at it. It really is a gift, you know. How are we ever going to continue to grow, change, and improve if we don’t get feedback?

Where do you see yourself and StormGeo in five years?

I believe I’ll be helping StormGeo tell its story to the world — a story of innovation, sustainability and digitalization. In five years, I see us continuing to push the limits of how far we can innovate in weather intelligence. On a personal level, that means I will be working in Norway, speaking Norwegian, serving on boards, and continuing to mentor women entrepreneurs.

What would be your advice to the next generation of leaders, people such as those in AmCham’s Rising Leaders program?

I would say to take risks because you never know what can open up in life for you if don’t venture out. The thing is though, sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you actually go for it.

That’s where I was, for example, early in my career when our major client asked us to support their efforts in Europe. I had never done that before, but I just decided to go for it, so stretch your own personal limits! When I’ve worked with my clients that are speaking at large events, I always tell them, “You want to speak to that crowd in a way that’s just a little bit uncomfortable for you, in a way that might seem like it’s a little too much. Because if you do that, you might be uncomfortable, but the speech will be just right.”

 What was the latest time you responded to an e-mail last night?

Around 7:30, I’d guess. But you didn’t ask me how early I look at my e-mails in the morning. I set my plans for the day early in the morning, before seven o’clock, with my morning coffee. Then I check my email. When you’re an international company, there’s a lot that happens while you sleep. And some things are immediate, and you can respond quickly and get on to other important things. 

International Leadership Interview: Jasper Spruit, Vice President Traffic Development, Avinor

Jasper Spruit

AmCham International Leadership Series

In a globetrotting career that has taken him from his native Netherlands to Australia and then to Norway, Jasper Spruit, Avinor Vice President for Traffic Development, has learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to lead in one of the world’s most international industries: aviation.

Jasper sat down with AmCham to share his perspectives on leadership, the importance of aviation for Norway, and how aviation can open doors for Norwegian businesses in economic hot spots such as the United States and Asia.

Where did you start?  Can you give us a brief description of your path to where you are now?

I have always been very internationally oriented. While I was receiving my bachelor’s degree in Rotterdam, I had the opportunity to complete a four-month internship in Switzerland with SwissAir. This was my introduction to the aviation industry, and I found it so interesting that I knew I wanted to work in this industry following graduation.

As I was preparing to write my master thesis, I remember going to my professor and telling him that I was not the type to sit in the library all day reading books. I wanted to go to a company where I would have the opportunity to learn a lot more through experience. As a result, I was able to write my thesis for Rotterdam Airport. I stayed and worked there for about 8 months after finishing my thesis, followed by 8 months in a small airline company in southern Netherlands. This company went bankrupt, which unfortunately happens a lot in the aviation industry, so I moved again to another smaller company. I was also in this company for about 8 months before ending up at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

 I sometimes say that I completed my own traineeship because I had these 8-month periods at various companies to begin my career. I started as an analyst at Schiphol but after my first few years I became interested in traffic development, which was called aviation marketing at the time.

Traffic development is inherently a very international role because there are only a few airlines from your own country. Therefore, you are constantly working with others around the globe. Schiphol Airport was holding almost 20% of Brisbane Airport Corporation so there was an agreement to share intelligence and knowledge between the two companies. As a result, I had the opportunity to swap places with an employee from Brisbane Airport and move to Australia for two years.

Brisbane Airport was responsible for the Asian Pacific markets and I often like to make a link to Norway. The Asian Pacific has a lot of islands that need a direct aviation transport link in order to successfully do business and make it possible for inhabitants to actually live in these rural places. Similarly, there are places in Norway, especially in the north and along the west coast, that also depend on direct aviation transport.

 After Australia, I returned to Schiphol for a few more years before I started looking around for the next challenge. After turning down other offers from abroad and deciding to settle down and purchase a home, a recruiting agency approached me for a position with Avinor in 2015. This position was so interesting that I decided to go for it. I saw the opportunity for growth in the position which was a fantastic step for me.

What are the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they impact its global presence? Do you have any recent examples to share?

Our traffic development department has an external focus, and my team constantly works with companies and organizations outside of Norway. Therefore, as a leader of the traffic development department, the decisions I make directly impact Avinor’s global presence. 

In addition, Avinor is owned by the Norwegian government and Norway is a country with challenging topography and vast distances, and Norwegian businesses are oriented to international markets. These businesses are entirely reliant on aviation, and aviation is also crucial for settlement, travel, the public health service, education, sports, and culture in Norway.

In order to serve both the Norwegian economy and the country’s inhabitants, we must understand how to directly connect to sources of trade, including inbound tourism and the seafood industry. This is one of the reasons our membership with AmCham has been so valuable. Connection with other AmCham members has helped us develop this understanding.

In my opinion, we are in a very competitive arena. When we approach airlines for business, they are able to reach destinations around the globe and have a number of other companies knocking at their door. So, we must be very visible within the industry. My team proactively works to ensure that Avinor is well represented using a B2B marketing strategy. For example, we share insights and business cases that we believe our public (airline network planners) find useful. The goal is to have Norway and Avinor at the top of an airline director’s mind when they make the key decisions on where to place their aircrafts.

We are also able to promote Avinor at global aviation conferences that are held several times throughout the year. At these conferences, we give pitches to a variety of airline companies. This is another great way to increase our visibility within the industry. We will host one of these conferences in Bergen in 2020. We are very excited for this opportunity as it will be yet another way to continue our promotion of Norway and Avinor.    

“I believe that today’s leadership is all about people and competencies. A leader’s ability to discern where a person finds their energy, what excites them, and where they excel is crucial to a leader’s ability to help a person reach their full potential.”

Jasper Spruit


How do you build team morale and maintain the creativity of a diverse team within an international organization?

We certainly have a very international team. I am Dutch, we have a group that sits here in Norway at Oslo Airport , In total we now have 13 people in the traffic development team, but of course many more throughout Norway are involved. Having working in different time zones is an advantage because it allows us to always have an eye on the markets and make key decisions when needed, but it also makes it more challenging to stay connected as a team.

Fortunately, we meet key decision makers of airlines and other industry partners and gather frequently at international conferences, and the last few years we have been able to spend some time together traveling around Norway. This gives us the opportunity to not only teach them more about Avinor and Norway, but more importantly catch up with each other and stay connected.

Day-to-day we stay connected using Skype and have found a time of day that works for everyone to be online. My leadership style strongly values creativity and team morale. I want my team members to always feel comfortable making decisions and bringing creativity to the table, knowing that it is ok to make a mistake as long as we are able to learn from it and continue to improve individually and as a team

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

There are cultural differences between organizations and countries, I believe that the reason I am here today is because of who I am as a leader and a person. Adjusting your leadership style probably depends most on the tasks that you are completing. If I were to move to a different country, organization, or even a different department within Avinor, a different leadership style would probably be more suitable, but the core is me and that will always remain the same.


Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you ‘think outside the box’ in your organization?

Everywhere. We have created an environment where it is ok, and even encouraged, to bring in new ideas. We are generally very busy day-to-day, so it has often been difficult to find time to sit down and brainstorm as a team. I want to spend more time, maybe once a month, to gather the team to talk through everyone’s thoughts, what we can do to improve and discuss what we see others doing successfully that we can learn from. As I previously mentioned, my leadership style strongly values creativity, and I want my team to feel comfortable bringing new ideas to the table, knowing that it is ok to make mistakes as long as we can learn and improve from them.

The Dutch are often known for being direct, and so am I.When I worked in Brisbane, I was exposed to a new culture and had to adjust to a new understanding of how others were perceiving me. I remember that when I returned to the Netherlands I had to get used to “being Dutch” again. One of the main reasons Avinor likes to employ foreigners is to bring the outside in, so it is my previous experience abroad that brought me here. Therefore, the way my team works today might not be “outside of the box” for me, but it is new to Avinor.

How do you ensure that your team and your company’s services are aligned to your company’s core vision?

In Avinor, it is all about communication and repetition. We use internal presentations to explain to each other the strategy behind the work we are doing.

 The repetition of these presentations and blog posts help ensure that everyone at Avinor is aligned to the company’s core vison and strategy. What I like to do, and maybe this is apart of my leadership style, is have other members of my team go and make a presentation when there is a working or strategy group meeting. This way, we have more cross understanding as a team and the message is not always just coming from me but from the team itself.

What do you believe are shared traits among good leaders? Are than any common mistakes you notice leaders making? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

I believe that today’s leadership is all about people and competencies. A leader’s ability to discern where a person finds their energy, what excites them, and where they excel is crucial to a leader’s ability to help a person reach their full potential. I think this was probably different twenty years ago. As a leader you had to carry out a task and that was it, but now everything is more knowledge based – skills require less handwork and demand more thinking.

I often like to look to great leaders to learn from what they are doing successfully. For example, Barack Obama was in Oslo last year, and I think he is a great example of a leader who truly understands the people he works with. He’s able to effectively determine where a person excels and place them into a situation where they can produce their best work. I also think it is important to create an environment of trust. The team spirit should be based on shooting for the best, knowing that is ok to also make mistakes.

A common mistake might be staying in a leadership position for too long. I don’t necessarily mean that leaders should move just for the sake of it but beware of what is best for the team and company. You don’t want to become too repetitive yourself.

I have found that, for me, the stereotypes that people have about working in Norway generally hold true. There is a strong focus on work-life balance and the workplace tends to be relatively casual. I remember the first time I went to the ministry for a meeting I was thinking that I must wear a nice suit and tie as I did in the Netherlands, where it is very formal. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that everyone participating in the meeting was wearing sweaters. However, I think Norway has taught me that this is ok. Why should it make a difference if you wear a suit or not?   

If your job was a sport, which sport would it be?

The Tour de France. I think this is a great comparison because the competition is all about endurance and teamwork. If you don’t work as a team, you will never win or be successful, not even for a single day. There is fierce competition so if you weaken up for even just a minute, you can lose a lot. Although endurance is important, it isn’t everything. There are moments when you need to win the sprints. When I look to the aviation industry, I see aspects of our work that require winning the long-haul races that may take three to seven years to complete, but I also see cases where we must win the short-term sprints. 

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

I have learned that it is important to carefully listen to the feedback I receive from my team, the management, and our customers. This is a great way to find opportunities for personal growth and development as a leader. I remember learning in a training that you should think about who your best leaders have been and what it is that has made them so successful, then you can try to implement these traits into your own leadership style.

Personally, one of my biggest role models has been Øyvind Hasaas, who is currently the CEO of OsloAirport. He has taught me how to effectively lead others while staying dedicated to the goals I want to achieve. I also like to look to other industries and talk with leaders form other organizations to see what I can learn from them. Sometimes, I try totally new things and just see how they work out.

Lastly, I read a lot of books about successful leadership and try to put myself out of my comfort zone in order to reinvent myself.

When it comes to recent developments at Avinor, what are you are excited to talk about?

We have found that Norway has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in the United States, as we have seen the number of Americans visiting Norway double within the last five years. We have also seen a change in the profile of tourists from America. Historically, a majority of the visitors from the U.S. had family or heritage here in Norway, but recently we have seen an increase in tourists who are visiting simply because they are interested in exploring what Norway has to offer. We also know, of course, that many AmCham members are interested in direct flights to Norway so we have spent a lot of time working with Innovation Norway and various airline companies to improve connectivity.


You get the podium at Stortinget for 5 minutes, what topic(s) do you address and why?

I would love to talk about the importance of aviation here in Norway, but at the same time I know that this is an unnecessary topic because the Norwegian government is already educated and recognizes that it is important. Therefore, I would focus on the importance of global aviation for Norway. Currently, the focus seems to be mainly domestic. How do we get connectivity all throughout Norway? While I do agree that this is important, I believe that we need to also focus on the next steps. How do we connect the Norwegian economy to the leading economies around the globe? For example, when flying to Asia from Norway, you can only fly direct to Bangkok and that’s about it. Although we can reach Thailand, there should be direct links to the economic powers of Asia such as China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore. A similar situation is also seen in the United States.


Where do you see yourself and your company five years from now?

I am driven to make our traffic Development team, the leading team in the industry of traffic development. We have made quite a few big steps, but we are not there yet. At the past four national conferences we have been nominated by our customers and airline partners to win best team in the industry but have never ended in first place. My goal is to win this award with the team at least once within the next five years. Personally, I have the ambition to make the step into executive management in the future.

A very important topic for Avinor is sustainability. Our near-term goal is to halve our emissions by 2022 compared with 2012, and we have just stated that by 2030 our own operations will be net zero emissions. Avinor is investing with various partners in green aviation. Not only on the ground but we also believe in electrification of flying and thus aircraft.

If you could give your 20-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

Be more patient. That is something I have learned of the last few years, things will come. Also, do what you enjoy and what you gain energy from and the rest will follow. If every morning when the alarm rings you can jump out of bed and be excited for what the day brings, I believe everyone can go quite far.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? Do you have any advice for them?

Learn about yourself. If you know yourself well and are connected to who you are as a person, it is a lot easier to be a successful leader and you will end up learning more along the way. Also, make sure you take the time to appreciate the people you interact with and those who help you succeed throughout your career.

What was the latest time you responded to an email last night?

Probably around 6 or 7.

International Leadership Interview: Rajji Mehdwan, General Manager, Roche Norge

Rajji Mehdwan

International Leadership Series

For the latest edition of AmCham’s International Leadership Interview Series, we sat down with Roche Norge General Manager and AmCham Board Member Rajji Mehdwan. Through a globe spanning career that has included stops in several European countries and the United States, Mehdwan has developed a keen sense of what it takes to be an international leader, a sense that has helped her and Roche improve the lives of patients across the world.

Where did you start? International experiences? Can you please give a brief description of how you got to where you are now?

I grew up in India but have since lived and worked in many different countries. I trained as a registered nurse and practiced at the Royal Free Hospital in London. I got to know the English patient care side well, which was pretty cool.

My goal at that time was to get more into hospital administration, but that wasn’t possible because I didn’t have a business background, which led me to business school in the US, followed by many interesting roles in management consulting, opening a startup, and working on the development side at Johnson and Johnson. 

I had always admired Genentech (a member of the Roche Group). I remember watching a TV-program where Genentech, along with some doctors in Boston, had figured out a way to starve tumors. Tumors, like anything else, need to feed, if you think of them as an organism. So, these researchers at Genentech had figured out a way to cut off the blood supply to tumors and the tumor then starves and dies.

Watching this super high-tech, cool science was so inspirational. I remember thinking, “Wow, one day I’d love to work for this company.”  Call it fate, a role opened up with Genentech a couple years later and I’ve never looked back since. That was eight years ago!

What are the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they impact its global presence? Share any recent examples?

I spend a lot of time reflecting on our long-term vision and strategy, thinking particularly about “What is our purpose?” and, “What impact do we want to have long term?” 

For example, the personalization of healthcare is becoming more and more of a reality. Roche has a lot to contribute in regard to accelerating the personalized healthcare environment in Norway.  One of the decisions we have recently made is to proactively reach out to public stakeholders and encourage co-creation and collaboration to accelerate the capture of meaningful data at scale. Meaningful data, including treatment data and comprehensive genomic data, will be critical in informing patient care, research, and development – and also help us make the system more efficient. Roche with its diagnostics capabilities, technology capabilities via companies such as Flatiron and Foundation Medicine, and our pharmaceutical arm can really bring a lot of expertise and knowledge to the table to help accelerate personalized healthcare in Norway. 

As an expat, I have had to remind myself that I am the one dropping into a new culture. The culture shouldn’t change to adjust to me, I need to adjust to the culture. You need to come in with a lot of respect for how Norwegians engage, how they do business, and how they are as people.

How do you build team morale and maintain the creativity of a diverse team within an international organization?

I believe people feel good when they are in an environment where they know ‘great things are happening,’ so I always start here. Roche is the biggest biotechnology company in oncology. We have one of the deepest pipelines. We’re in the business of bringing really meaningful medicines into diseases where there is high unmet need and our medicines can truly make a difference to people. This really excites the team in Norway.

We place an incredible focus on people at Roche. We spend a lot of time making sure our people have the right tools, have good training, and feel supported, empowered, and developed. The moment people feel that you have their back, that you care about their development – they give their best.

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

Yes and no. I believe no matter where you work you should be true to your leadership style. So that stays consistent. I tend to believe in the ‘servant leadership’ philosophy – my job as a leader is to be of service to my people. As an expat, I have had to remind myself that I am the one dropping into a new culture. The culture shouldn’t change to adjust to me, I need to adjust to the culture. You need to come in with a lot of respect for how Norwegians engage, how they do business, and how they are as people.

Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you ‘think outside the box’ in your organization?

Ideas come from everywhere. We emphasize an organization where everyone has a voice. We’ve organized our business around different disease areas via multiple cross-functional teams. This cross-functional nature allows for a lot of creativity. 

I believe my international experience helps as I am able to act as the ‘connector.’ At Roche, we are 110+ countries, 93,000 employees. If you have a problem, there are 93,000 people you can tap into for solutions!

We’re living in an uncertain world where things are happening fast. Technology is exploding, our understanding of disease and science is increasing rapidly. We don’t have time to work on something for a year – it’s obsolete by the time you launch it.  Agility will be key to success

How do you ensure that your team and your company’s services are aligned to your company’s core vision?

At Roche our north star is to deliver better outcomes to more patients faster. I spend a lot of time providing clarity on our vision, our purpose, and the why. I believe once people understand the why, the relevance to them, and that they have something of value to contribute – great things happen!

What do you believe are shared traits among leaders? Any common mistakes? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

Strategy and vision. Your job is to set the tone, and you need to be very crystal clear on the direction of the company. Good leaders are also open, transparent, and authentic – I find people respond to that.

Common mistakes – As I said earlier, I have seen leaders who come in and don’t respect the culture. That can lead to a lot of problems

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

To grow I believe asking for feedback is critical. I often ask my team “What can I do better? What concerns you?” I also learn from making mistakes. I make many of them! But that is how you learn. 

You get the podium at Stortinget for five minutes, what topic(s) do you address and why?

How do we collectively ensure sustainability of our great healthcare system, where our patients get the best care and medicines when they need them most?

Norway has a great healthcare system when I compare it to other countries. I come from India, where healthcare is still largely for the rich.   

Norway has a very ambitious political agenda to provide the best healthcare for its people. For medicines, the ambition emphasizes speed and faster access to new medicines. However, in the implementation of this vision, the decisions that are being made today by budget holders are not delivering on the political ambitions.

In 2018, over 50% of new medicines got a no from Beslutningsforum. Cost, or budget impact, is the main driver of decisions. Medicines that have proven cost effective by the Norwegian medicines agency are still getting a no. Decision criteria are unpredictable, and often decisions are made on subjective criteria. In reality, the impact of all of this is that Norwegian patients do not have access to as many new and cutting-edge medicines as their neighbors in the Nordics and Europe. Norwegian patients are being given sub-optimal medicines, in some cases, due to economic reasons, and Norway has one of the highest times to market for new medicines, per the latest EFPIA report. 

My question for Stortinget is: Do we want Norway to continue to lead as a healthcare system, or are we okay being one of the slowest markets in Europe to give access to new products?

If we look at Germany as an example – patients come first. Patients have access to medicines right after regulatory approval, then the government negotiates with companies on price. And the Germans still manage to negotiate very well. They make it work – so can we!

Patient voice is being lost in Norway. I acknowledge that budget holders have good intentions and a tough job trying to balance patient needs and costs. My ask of parliament is – let’s solve this disconnect between political ambition and budget holders/decision makers so their decisions actually implement the political ambition we have. 

In the best healthcare systems that I’ve seen in the world, there is a partnership mindset between the government and industry. I would encourage us to do the same. 

Decision criteria are unpredictable, and often decisions are made on subjective criteria. In reality, the impact of all of this is that Norwegian patients do not have access to as many new and cutting-edge medicines as their neighbors in the Nordics and Europe.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? Advice to them?

Agility will be the key to success. We’re living in an uncertain world where things are happening fast. Technology is exploding, our understanding of disease and science is increasing rapidly. We don’t have time to work on something for a year – it’s obsolete by the time you launch it. 

What is the latest time you responded to an email last night?

Last night it was pretty good, so 10 PM! I’m a bit of a workaholic, working on this!

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger, AmCham Norway

“I collaborate with all kinds of people with all kinds of strengths and try to sponge it all up. It is almost embarrassing, but I have never had a mentor. At least not someone defined as my mentor, but tens of people have been my mentor without really knowing it.”

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger,

Jason Turflinger addressing the attendees at AmCham’s annual Thanksgiving Charity Dinner (Photo: Nancy Bundt)

Originally only planning to live abroad for a few years, little did Jason Turflinger know — back in 1998 — that he, twenty years later, would have a station wagon and a family in suburban Oslo and be heading up the American Chamber of Commerce in Norway, having transformed the organization and quadrupled its size since taking the helm.

Where did you start? International experiences? Brief description of your path to where you are now.

I am from Fort Wayne, Indiana and moved to Tampa, Florida to attend the University of South Florida. There, I happened to have a Norwegian roommate. I went to visit him on my way to move to work for a bank in Moscow – I always thought that I would like to live abroad for a year or two. And here I am, still in Norway, 20 years later.

Having previously worked for Bank of America, in 1999, I got the working papers in Norway and started with a consultancy firm. They did innovative management consultancy while also functioning as an incubator. There were 12 companies in the incubator and the expectation was for four or five of these companies to survive or prosper. Interestingly, my role there also included being the search expert of the office. You see, I was familiar with this amazing tool called Google and knew how to use it properly.

Having worked there for a few years. I subsequently started my own firm. I was then engaged to start at AmCham for a 50% management-for-hire position. I realized quickly, however, that it was more than a 50% job, but I also saw a lot of potential and quite frankly, it was a lot of fun! I’ve always said that if there was no such thing as money, I would still do most of my job for free – and that still holds true after more than 15 years.

Having said that, AmCham has changed significantly since then. In 2003, we had 63 members and we are now close to 250. We have essentially quadrupled in size, both in terms of members and employees. The scope of what we do has changed, too. Our three focus areas are events, members services and advocacy. Previously, we did some member services, but not nearly what we have the capacity to offer our members now. We have always done events, but also the scope of our events has changed. We are currently able to offer more specific, themed roundtables and forums, which enables us to cater to a wide array of our members divided across 22 industries.

What are the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they impact its global presence? Share any recent examples?

We are one of 117 AmChams around the world. I like to think that our take on issues impacts at least the Nordic and the European groups, of which there are 42. We can draw upon the US Chamber in Washington DC as well, who are working with all 117 AmChams around the world.

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger

Jason Turflinger meeting Chicago Mayor and previous Cheif of Staff to Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel as AmChams in Europe visited Washington DC in 2018.

Looking at AmCham Norway-specific decisions; long-term planning and long-term relationship building is some of the most important work I do.

Interestingly, most of the significant decisions that I make are not just what we agree to do on behalf of members and transatlantic interests, equally imperative is what we say no to. For every initiative or issue we take on, we are declining 6-7 suggestions. Not because they are not good initiatives, but we must maximize our resources and choose the issues where we can have the most impact.

How do you build team morale and maintain the creativity of a diverse team within an international organization? 

One of the reasons we come in to the office is to energize each other and for information to flow freely. It is key that communication is open in the office and that ideas are exchanged openly.

In such a manner, I am more of a facilitator than a director. It is my job to facilitate so that the employees can perform. The worst thing I can imagine, is if someone sits on information that could be useful for other people in the organization.

Additionally, I think that creativity and new ideas come when you have a diverse team. Particularly in Norway, the hiring process is one of the most important aspects of a leader’s responsibilities. About 15 years ago, I attended a seminar where a speaker said that “one should hire people that are exactly the same as you, because business is hard enough.” That is probably the exact opposite of what I am trying to do. I look at the totality of the team to see what is missing and try to find that person that improves and compliments the team. I learn something every day from the team and I want to work with people who speak openly and freely. Subsequently, that builds trust among colleagues, our Board and whomever else we collaborate with.

Through AmCham initiatives, such as our forums, we carefully build trust and connect the correct people to ensure good exchange and information flow.

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

Yes, I would. Everyone likes to talk about how flat the Norwegian structure is in the work place. At the same time, I don’t think it is as rigid in the US as many imply, either.

In the US, like Norway, most companies are small and medium-sized. It is important to remember that most American companies are not the size of Google and ExxonMobil.

However, out of sheer necessity, when you have a company like Lockheed Martin with hundreds of thousands of employees, it must be structured differently than a 10-person shop.

In terms of tailoring my leadership, I have most certainly matured as a leader over the years. I am more hands-off than I used to be. The realization that if the approach used for a project or assignment does not correspond with my idea of how it should be, it does not necessarily mean that it is wrong – it is just a different approach and I appreciate that. I worry less about whether it is done my way or another way, but more about the result for our mission as AmCham and promoting transatlantic business interests.

Quite frankly, I cannot be involved with everything. I would just be a bottleneck for progress and that is the worst thing I can imagine being as a leader.

Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you ‘think outside the box’ in your organization?

From our members and colleagues. I talk to member companies and colleagues daily and they might come up with an idea. Next thing you know, one idea triggers another and suddenly the mold for an initiative starts taking shape. I am lucky, as we have a very engaged and proactive group of member company representatives that we get to work with on a regular basis. That is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this job; there are so many talented people working with different member companies and within different industries – and they all have good ideas.

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger

Jason Turflinger addressing the Rising Leaders participants at the kick-off event of the program, co-launched with the US Embassy.

Admittedly, sometimes people must push and tug on me. I – like everyone – can be set in my ways sometimes. But I appreciate when people don’t take “no” for an answer.

Perhaps my international background has an impact there, as well. The ability to look at certain Norway-specific themes from an outside and macro perspective is useful in my job. Looking at long-term development for Norway – and how Norwegians perceive themselves related to international competition – is one example where the outside-view is useful. Sometimes it appears as though domestic decision-makers do not realize that Norway is indeed competing with neighboring countries for foreign investments.

Just consider the rise of attention and funding for start-ups and entrepreneurial activities in Norway. It is great, but neighboring countries have been doing this for a long time – with varying levels of success and lessons to be learned. Being able to see that big picture from a different perspective is important.

How do you ensure that your team and your company’s services are aligned to your company’s core vision?

Through constant dialogue with member companies. Like any non-profit organization, we have our bylaws. But it is through active communication with our member company leaders that we stay updated on relevant issues, as well as matters of importance for the Norway-US relationship. We do not pretend to be at the center of all these issues, but we provide input and assistance where we can be helpful.

In terms of member dialogue, we do sit down to have formal strategy sessions. More informal conversations are, however, the norm. It is all about the level of trust we have with member companies and there is no easy way or shortcut to building a strong foundation of trust. It takes years to establish and can be lost in a matter of minutes. Hence, the importance of being respectful of our relationships with member companies and the relationships they have with each other is key.

What do you believe are shared traits among leaders? Any common mistakes? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

I believe that a shared trait among good leaders is the ability to be open to feedback and to directly engage employees. The members we work with are knowledge-based. For me, being able to draw upon that knowledge and be inspired by them is beneficial. Everyone needs inspiration. Networks such as ours are an ideal way to meet other leaders from various industries and draw inspiration from their developments, ideas or achievements.

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger

Welcoming attendees at AmCham’s 2016 Election Night event at now OsloMet University (photo: Nancy Bundt)

Generally, in Norway, the open-door policy is very important. The flip side – where we have seen expat leaders not do well – is the top down approach. When new expat leaders arrive and start implementing strategy without explanation or room for interpretation, employees lose the “why.” Those tend not to be long expat leader engagements.

Leaders – and expat leaders in particular – are in their roles to make changes. Particularly important is how they make change decisions and how open they are about them. If they immediately start complaining about working hours and employee engagement, those are challenges they need to adapt to and address, rather than simply being annoyed about.

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

I am inspired by the leaders that I work with. If I see a strong public speaker, or an excellent strategic thinker, I try to learn from them. I collaborate with all kinds of people with all kinds of strengths and I try to sponge it all up. It is almost embarrassing, but I have never had a mentor. At least not someone defined as my mentor, but tens of people have been my mentor without really knowing it.

Whatever makes you uncomfortable in your job as part of your professional duties needs to be addressed. If long-term strategic work is painful and you keep putting it off, you need to suck it up and lean on those who can help you address it. It is easy to get set in your ways and you can only progress if you force yourself to improve in the aspects of your job that you are least comfortable with.

What are some of your/company’s recent projects and developments that you are excited to share?

The CFO forum is very exciting. We have been planning it for quite a while. There is no other recurring forum or meeting place for CFOs with internationally-oriented companies to meet – at least without being sold to. Generally, I think that is comforting with our forums. There is no hidden agenda. If there is one, it is to have an open and honest dialogue and dare to discuss failures, not only successes.

A while ago, I attended an event. It was a good and very professional discussion, but not any examples from the participants mentioning any mistakes or anything that had gone wrong. That is the big difference; for these forums to function ideally, it is about creating an environment of trust.

That can be a challenge, as new people are invited to each quarterly session. Consequently, it is essential to keep a core group of participants so that level of trust is maintained.

Moreover, we have always been a very busy shop, but we have not always been good at telling our members and partners about all that we are doing and why. We are now openly sharing our various initiatives and getting that information out. That enables our stakeholders to be more proactive on behalf of Norway-US business interests. Generally, people are now more aware of what our priority issues are – and that is important.

You get the podium at Stortinget for 5 minutes, what topic(s) do you address and why?

Norway’s competitiveness. Yes, we are friends and allies with our neighbors, but at the end of the day, in terms of where companies decide to invest and grow their business, I want Norway to be competitive. Make no mistake, Norway is competing with Sweden, Denmark and Finland to attract foreign investment.

It has come automatically for Norway for the past 40 years, as the energy sector has attracted enormous foreign interests, but now, we are approaching a new juncture.

Yes, a lot of money is being allocated to fund various industrial segments and homegrown startups, which is great. At the same time, we should not forget – and there should be more work – to retain and attract interest from foreign investors. Both through public-private partnerships and direct collaboration. Larger companies need legitimate business motives to partner with smaller companies. Such partnerships are only a good thing.

International Leadership Interview: Jason Turflinger

(Photo: Nancy Bundt)

I remember a quote I heard a while back from an established company leader: “just because I don’t hang out at a coffee shop doesn’t mean I am not innovative.”

Look at industries like healthcare, technology, and food & beverage; for them, it does not necessarily matter where in the world they are centralized. We can do more to attract — and be a hub for — some of these industries. If not in the world, at least in Northern Europe.

If you could give your 20-year old self some advice, what would that be?

Don’t work as much! At that time, I was going to university full-time and working full-time. Eating Taco Bell in my car on my way from school to work in the afternoons, five to six days a week. It was rewarding, because I was earning more money than most students, but I should have dedicated more time to being a student, and worried about my career later. I will give that same advice to my kids, who are quickly approaching that age.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? Advice to them?

Be patient and do a good job where you are. If you do well, it will get noticed and you will get your chances. People say a lot about millennials and their natural digital awareness, whereas we had to learn all of that in our adult lives. Leaders today need to respect that and be comfortable with the fact that they will never be as digitally advanced as subsequent generations. At the same time, the coming generation needs to respect experience and know-how gained from decades of professional experience.

As I tell my teenage son, you do not know what you do not know yet, and that is ok. Be aware of that, however, and be interested in learning new skills and adapting new knowledge. Your career will span decades, and you will learn.

What is the latest time you responded to an email last night?

I wrote an email last night, or, had written most of it during the day, but needed to check something. I then hit “send” at about nine in the evening.

International Leadership Interview: Ans Heirman, MSD Norge

The more diversity and perspectives, the richer the ideas. Diversity is important – not only in gender or age, but diversity in background, too. I think that is a source for boundless creativity.”

Having arrived at MSD Norway in July 2017, AmCham’s newly elected Board Member, Dr. Ans Heirman, is passionate about science and innovation. It is quite fitting therefore, that — following the completion of her bioengineering studies and her PhD in applied economics —she has excelled at MSD, a company that spearheads both.

Ans Heirman

Where did you start? International experiences? Brief description of your path to where you are now.

I am a biomedical engineer by training, and I have a PhD in applied economics. I like my dual background as it combines aspects that I am passionate about: innovation, science and bringing science to markets.

In my PhD, I studied start-up companies, and specifically how they transferred their inventions into commercial successes. That was also my first international experience, as I studied one year at MIT in the US during my PhD.

Successively, I pursued an academic career, studying at the university and doing research on innovation and entrepreneurship. I subsequently moved on to consulting, as I wanted a link to industry while being in a practical position. I discovered MSD almost by accident. MSD is all about science and inventions, which, with my background in biotechnology, triggered me.

I joined MSD 13 years ago, first in a marketing position in Belgium and later in a US-based global marketing position. When I returned to Belgium, I moved though different roles as sales director, business development and operations director.

My latest position in Belgium was head of access, policy and communications. In July, I had the opportunity to come to Norway as managing director, and I like it a lot so far – both the country and the team!

What are the important decisions you make as a leader of your organization and how do they impact its global presence?

One of the most important things that you do as a leader is to look at where the organization is now, what the road ahead looks like, and where the organization should be going to be successful in a rapidly changing environment.

Notably, there are two big trends in the healthcare industry. A big trend in pharma is access and affordability. We are seeing that several new products are coming out of the pipeline. With new advancements in oncology and infectious diseases, the big challenge is making sure patients who need them, have access to them. The products need to reach recipients quickly and broadly, they need to be affordable and there has to be a return on investment for our company, to make sure we can continue investing in new, innovative products. Driving the team to find solutions together and cooperate with stakeholders is key.

Another trend is digitalization. Many industries have already progressed in the digitalization curve, while healthcare and pharma are still at the beginning. As this is developing rapidly, the decisions we need to make are essential to ensure that we as a company can benefit.

Just before Christmas, we made some changes to the organization and made the very important decision to create a digital department. When talking about digitalization in pharma, we are looking at three key areas: first is how to look at digitalization to engage stakeholders. How can you make sure that the required information is available at the required time that he or she wants it?

The second block is about how digital technology can help to create better health outcomes and do this more efficiently. The opportunities with health data and how these date can be used to evaluate and improve patient care are vast.

You can treat more patients at home instead of admitting them in a hospital because you can monitor them while at home. You can improve the outcome, and a better outcome in an efficient system will free up resources to invest in something else – like new medicines.

The third block is about our internal organization and ensuring that we are digitalized. Our systems and processes need to be digitalized and integrated. In addition, all the data we have needs to be analyzed so we can make better decisions faster. These are very ambitious goals, but we are moving forward!

How do you build team morale and maintain the creativity of a diverse team within an international organization? 

To me, team morale is closely linked to the vision, mission and the purpose of the organization. People in Norway do not come to work for their paycheck. People want to do something where they feel like they will have an impact and make a difference.

We actively communicate what the fundamental reason is for working at MSD; it is about saving and improving lives. Our tagline is “inventing for life,” and that’s what gives me energy – that we are doing something that is good and that we are all working on that together. Another aspect of team morale is that you must create the fun moments. I am a strong believer in the term “work hard play hard.” If people have time to enjoy themselves and have a good time with their colleagues, their work will follow. Good ideas can just as easily appear by the coffee machine or through spending some relaxed time with colleagues.

Normally, when you put people together, who do not frequently talk to one another, you get a different creativity and different views.

Would you use the same leadership style in a different organization? In a different country? How important is it to tailor your leadership style to your team and environment?

For me, it is a little bit of both. I think authenticity is important, so I am myself, and I think the basic fundamental is probably the same style. However, you always adapt. Coming to a new country, I must listen and observe more before I start doing things. When I was younger, I made a couple of mistakes; the humor for example is not the same. I told some jokes that were not funny in the US because they probably thought they were a little off or too European.

Therefore, I think I am a little more cautious now than in the beginning. However, I try to be myself and be the best I can be.

I think it is important to tailor your leadership style to people. Differences between people are bigger than differences between cultures, so I tailor my leadership style more to individuals than to a full team.

Where do new ideas and exciting proposals come from in your organization? Has your international experience helped you think outside the box?

I think that new ideas come when you take people out of their comfort zone. If you are in your bubble and you are doing the same jobs for many years, you get into habits, and there are rules in your head that maybe are not rules, but you create boundaries by having them.

If you want to have new ideas and think out of the box, you need to take people out and give them an assignment in a department in which they have never worked before. You can give them a new role or put together a group of people with different backgrounds who would not normally meet. The more diversity and perspectives, the richer the ideas. Diversity is important – not only in gender or age, but diversity in background, too. I think that is a source for boundless creativity.

One example from my previous job: I became a market access director after being responsible for sales, marketing, business development and operations. I had no real expertise in market access, and access is probably one of the most complex functions you can have in our industry. There are extremely regulated reimbursement processes, where it is about health technology assessment and health economics.  I came in naïve in that function in MSD Belgium and I discovered that it takes on average 12-months to get a product reimbursed after it is approved. That is a long time if you have lung cancer. So, I came in and I asked why it is not possible to do this in a shorter amount of time?

Eventually, we got a reimbursement in four months. Moreover, we made an agreement with the department of health that it would be a standard agreement for all future indications. This means that the agreement for all other indications in oncology are immediately approved and reimbursed. That is very important progress, with a real impact on patient lives.

Just because it has not been done before, does not make it impossible. I think there are many examples like that, if you are coming in naïve, you can bring new ideas to old challenges and make things possible.

How do you ensure that your team and your company’s services are aligned to your company’s core vision?

I think it is by sharing a common purpose. To implement that purpose successfully, a significant amount of communication and implementing the right structure is required. The bottom-up structure, where everyone can contribute is important. Everyone needs to feel that they are creating together and that they are part of it.

We recently had a company conference. It lasted for two days and was about the shared vison of where we want to go with MSD, and how digitalization would be an important part of that. We had speakers from IBM and people who specialized in looking at the customer journey and how to integrate digital aspects into our processes. We had MSD people from other countries that were further along who could provide us with examples. We also had input from stakeholders about what they expect from us as a company. It is about engaging everybody and encourage the teams to go forward with the ideas.

What do you believe are shared traits among leaders? Any common mistakes? What is unique about being a leader in Norway compared to leading an organization in another country?

I think a leader needs to acknowledge that they cannot know everything and they cannot absorb everything. Personally, I think it is more about inspiring people and making sure that you have the right people. Ensuring that they have the right direction as well as the accountability and responsibility to make their own decisions.

Further, short communication lines are important, so that they can come to you and as a result, you stay informed and get a close connection to reality in the process. The biggest pitfall is when leaders are disconnected from the organization, which normally happens when the leader is too far away and difficult to reach. You need to be involved and be at the same level as everybody else. Consequently, I always try to have conversations from an equal ground.

Regarding common traits, most leaders are good at thinking in the “us mentality,” that it is about us, the team, and about the mission we are accomplishing together. Things have changed, and generally, these days, it is about how everybody is a leader, and that someone needs to group everybody in the same direction.

However, I have to say that the thing I have noticed about Norway is that there are very flat structures. Not only in the organization, but also in people’s heads. People are very direct with me in every part of the organization. They are very open and, even without me asking, they give feedback and constructive criticism. I think Norwegians have a culture of speaking up. I like that as it helps to raise and solve issues quickly.

How does technology affect your day-to-day and help to develop your leadership style?

I can give a personal example. Thanks to technology, I am here in Norway, because my husband came with me, and he was able to do so because he can work online, with a good telephone connection, to continue doing his job from home. This would not have been possible ten years ago. Technology makes my day-to-day life increasingly easier as well. Today, you can do what you need to do from so many places as we are so mobile. I think that is very influential. Team members and I can be in different places, meeting with stakeholders and still be able to join meetings and collaborate efficiently.

With such advantages, it is essential to balance and not be “on” all the time. No phones on the dinner tables or in the bedroom, because we also need to disconnect. I think that is the pitfall of technology; people are “on” all the time. They should not be, because it is very important to take time to relax.

Ideally, we should have some guidelines related to phone-usage and checking emails all the time – something I do not expect from the employees. I was good last night; I sent my last email at 5pm. Nevertheless, that is not always the case; I can sometimes send emails at midnight because that is the time of the day I can do it, but I do not expect people to read my emails that late or during the weekends.

How do you continue growing and developing as a leader?

I take 45 minutes to reflect every morning and every afternoon after work during my commute. I think it is important to be self-critical and reflect on the good things and things I could do better. I also ask for a lot of feedback from my leadership team and even people I meet in the hallway. I also read a lot. It can be leadership books, but also literature with a broader theme.

How does your leadership style translate into your company’s services/core competencies enjoyed by your clients?

The future is strongly dependent on dialogue and conversation. One of the main challenges in pharma is access. We will only get there if we have a real dialogue with real decision makers. I cannot emphasize enough how we need to get everybody around the table and get real about what we want to achieve, which – at the end of the day – is the same thing.

Very often, it is assumed that industry and healthcare decision makers are extremely different – but we are not, we want the same thing and to tackle the real issues, and we have to do it together.

What are some of your recent projects and developments that you are excited to share?

The new digital department, where we are working on digitalizing our communication and connection with stakeholders, our e-health solutions and internally, automating many of our processes.

In 2018, we will have several launches, a launch in diabetes and two launches in infectious diseases. Probably the most exciting is our pipeline in immuno-oncology. A product that is boosting your own immune system to fight cancer. We are testing this product for many different types of cancer, and we expect more indications will come this year, so that is going to be very exciting.

Globally we have 700 clinical trials ongoing in immuno-oncology, and I am proud to say that also in Norway, we have a very active clinical trial program, with 34 ongoing trials, and 18 of those are in oncology.   MSD is the biggest investor in clinical trials in Norway, with oncology being a big part of it.

Where do you see yourself and your company in the next five years?

I think the pipeline for MSD looks very promising, so the future looks bright. There will be new developments in oncology and we have developments related to Alzheimer’s. It is high risk, so many products fail, but we continue to make sure we search for a cure.

I am confident that in five years MSD will still be one of the leading healthcare companies in Norway. Globally, I think MSD will continue to be a player that makes a difference in many areas. The ambition we have — not only in Norway, but also globally — is the strategy of access and affordability. It is not about us, or having the best possible product, but it is about finding affordable solutions. Where I am in five years is a tough one. Maybe I will still be in Norway, or maybe I have left, but I want to be in a position where I am proud of what we have achieved here.

What do you see in the next generation of leaders aspiring to run an international organization? Any advice for them?

The next generation of leaders needs to be very open minded. They need to excel in cooperating with people with different backgrounds and to embrace diversity. They need to learn continuously and to challenge themselves. They need to be mobile to experience different countries, cultures and systems. They need to have the ambition to make a difference and to execute – and not just think about it.

I understand that Norwegians tend to be hesitant in taking on roles in different countries.  I see why, because Norway is a great country, so it is difficult to leave, but there are numerous great countries and I think much of the greatness comes from being surprised. That is what I like the most about this international experience, that I am constantly surprised.