Tag Archives: Rising Leaders

Rising Leaders at Airthings: Hearing From People Who Have Actually Done It!

Rising Leaders at Airthings: Hearing From People Who Have Actually Done It!

Rising Leaders participants assembled at Airthings new Oslo headquarters for the program’s February meeting. With the company fresh off having its Wave Plus product named to TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019 list, CEO Øyvind Birkenes and CPO Erlend Bolle began the meeting with presentations that took attendees through Airthings’ incredible journey from Norway-based startup to international scaleup, in addition to discussing the art of leading a high growth international company and the importance of empowering employees.

The presentations were followed by a highly engaging group discussion where program participants asked questions about the company’s founding, the Norwegian startup/scaleup scene, and global team building, followed by a reception with representatives from Airthings and AmCham member companies.

Presenters

Øyvind Birkenes – CEO

Erlend Bolle – CPO

From Norway-Based Startup to International Scaleup: The Airthings Story

Bolle, one of the company’s founders, kicked things off with a candid, humorous retelling of how Airthings came to be.

“After working at CERN, I was thinking I really wanted to start my own business. One day, when I was off in the wilderness, I got the phone call I’d been waiting all my life for – a phone call that said, ‘Let’s do it, we should start something.’”

From there, Bolle and his colleagues identified radon detectors as an area in desperate need of innovation, noting that the testing kits most people were using at the time had changed little from the original detectors in the 1960s. With grant funding from Innovation Norway and the Norwegian Research Council, they bootstrapped the company for the first seven years.

At first, however, the response from retailers was tepid. “It was a bit like we were the new kid on the block, and people didn’t want our product.” On the other hand, internet sales quickly began to increase, at which point Bolle notes, “We really began to understand that this idea of ours was scalable.” Flash forward a few years later, and the company has established offices in Chicago and Quebec City, in addition to being on track to do well over NOK 200 million in sales in 2020.

Building Culture – Exceeding Expectations by Empowering Employees

Bolle was then followed by CEO Birkenes, who dove into the importance of being involved and engaged as a CEO – whether it is talking to consumers at trade shows or truly being a part of the Airthings team.

“To me, it is very important to have a flat, open, and international culture. We want to be a big global player, but we know we can’t do that with just a “Norwegian” mentality. We knew we needed a global footprint and global perspectives on our team, and that’s why we’re hiring the best talent from around the world and bringing them here to Oslo.”

Birkenes then discussed what he found important as a leader. Culture was a key focus, and Birkenes explained that he found it critical to “provide employees with goals that engage them and allow them to do something special, instead of simply telling them what needs to be done.” To close, Birkenes concluded that all of these aspects were integral components of the company’s global focus and reflective of their unyielding commitment to “thinking big.”

How did you do that? Rising Leaders Participants Discuss Corporate Evolution and Growth with the Airthings Leadership

After the presentations, Rising Leaders participants had the opportunity to engage Birkenes, Bolle, and Consumer Marketing Manager Lauren Alkire in a frank discussion about their unique Airthings experiences and how the company gained market traction in an area that is not as visible as food delivery, music streaming, or transportation.

“I really like to think that we have played an important role in raising awareness about the dangers of radon, which causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year alone in the United States. In this area, we are very proud of our partnerships with organizations such as the American Lung Association and Kreftforeningen – we’re not just selling a product, we’re making an impact,” Bolle noted.

The Airthings team further discussed a wide range of topics, including sustainability, GDPR, and the steps the founders took to get the company up and running.

“This event was incredibly interesting. It is one thing to read about how you ‘should’ start a company in a textbook – it is another thing entirely to hear from people who have actually done it,” concluded one program participant.

About Rising Leaders

Rising Leaders is an initiative of the US Embassy and AmCham to provide access for young, up-and-coming leaders from diverse backgrounds to high-level representatives of the established business community. AmCham Managing Director Jason Turflinger and US Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite officially inaugurated the program in April 2018.

The 24 program participants — consisting of 12 women and 12 men from nine countries between the ages of 22 and 35 — have demonstrated leadership, entrepreneurial, and/or business excellence in their educational pursuits and careers thus far. Participants engage business leaders, learn about AmCham member companies, and gain business and leadership skills.

For more information about the program or to learn how your organization can get involved, please contact tb@amcham.no.

Rising Leaders: Tackling Sustainability Challenges as a Young Leader

Rising Leaders: Tackling Sustainability Challenges as a Young Leader

Rising Leaders participants gathered at TGI Fridays Aker Brygge to focus on how to tackle sustainability challenges. Attendees heard from McDonald’s Nordic QA and Supplier Sustainability Lead Hilde Øverby, who highlighted the company’s extensive sustainability and youth outreach efforts. In addition, program participants took part in a highly engaging debate on sustainability in business with AUF General Secretary Sindre Lysø and Unge Høyre Functioning Leader Daniel Skjevik-Aasberg.

Scale for Good

TGI Friday’s Aker Brygge General Manager Nassim Khodadi welcomed program participants and highlighted a number of initiatives the company is implementing to become more sustainable, including attacking the problem of food waste head-on.

It was a welcome that set the stage well for McDonald’s Øverby. A long-time participant in the AmCham Sustainability Forum, Øverby took participants through McDonald’s comprehensive sustainability platform, highlighting why young leaders should not be afraid to bring their innovative ideas forward to their more senior colleagues.

“Don’t give up. Develop your idea, no matter how small. If you truly believe in it, you can scale it up and create good solutions that make an impact.”

Øverby then showed how McDonald’s itself is impowering young farmers and entrepreneurs to develop exciting sustainable products. Highlights included a pilot program with manufacturing companies Roltex (Belgium), GH Plast (Sweden), and Pla-Mek (Norway) that takes plastic waste from the fishing industry and furnishes it into trays McDonald’s hopes to eventually use in restaurants across Norway. 

In line with the definition of sustainability adopted by the AmCham Sustainability Forum, Øverby also highlighted how McDonald’s has developed a comprehensive sustainability platform by both working with partners such as WWF and following their holistic, three-E model (ethical, environmental, and economic) when making strategic decisions.

After her presentation, Øverby then fielded questions from Rising Leaders, a dialogue that included the importance of creating brand awareness around sustainability issues and how to empower youth from diverse backgrounds to become young leaders in companies such as McDonald’s.

Sustainability in Business: Perspectives from AUF and Unge Høyre

Following Øverby’s remarks, two youth politicians – Sindre Lysø from the Labor Party youth organization, AUF, and Daniel Skjevik-Aasberg from Høyre’s youth organization, Unge Høyre – took the floor to participate in a unique, roundtable debate with program participants.

Lysø and Skjevik-Aasberg spoke strongly about the importance of young people in business making their voices heard, particularly on sustainability issues, with both noting that the divide on various sustainability issues is more generation than political.

“We have visions, we know that society could be better. We are not in a position to think we can’t do anything – we are future customers, and innovation is driven by young people,” remarked Unge Høyre’s functioning leader.

Both additionally saw that Norwegian companies were making strong contributions to sustainability in raw materials industries, noting Hydro’s extensive sustainability work in aluminum production and Equinor’s growing commitment to renewable resources and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Lysø, an educated civil economist with a degree from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) added that the key to leveraging Norwegian corporate innovation to build critical sustainable solutions is increased public-private cooperation.

“Companies are great problem solvers. They bring together considerable amounts of competencies and skills, including bringing in international talent. However, companies alone cannot solve the climate crisis. Cooperation with the state is essential – and that type of cooperation is one of Norway’s greatest strengths.”

According to Lysø and Skjevik-Aasberg, an element essential to accelerating progress on sustainability issues is the establishment of innovative frameworks that promote sustainability and inspire both businesses and individuals to take action.

“We don’t have the frameworks we need to achieve the SDGs. Therefore, there’s a lot of talk, but we need to act – and we know businesses will be more competitive if they take steps to reduce emissions, among other actions,” Skjevik-Aasberg noted.

It was a sentiment that resonated with Lysø, who added that strong frameworks will also play a critical role in creating frameworks that aid workers in developing the skills necessary to thrive in a more sustainable global economy.

“Making the transition will be challenging, however, the energy industry in Norway has a lot of competence in the skills necessary to power sustainable solutions, such as offshore wind. Here the state, employees, and employers must work together [to aid the transition].”

To close out the debate, Lysø and Skjevik-Aasberg also discussed the importance of having a diverse, international workforce with the competencies necessary to power sustainable growth, actively discussing with international program participants who have struggled at times with the transition to Norway. Both noted the importance of attracting skilled immigrants to Norway and making them feel welcome – areas where both agreed that Norway could improve.

“We really need an inkluderingsdugnad,” Sjevik-Aasberg concluded.

About Rising Leaders

Rising Leaders is an initiative of the US Embassy and AmCham to provide access for young, up-and-coming leaders from diverse backgrounds to high-level representatives of the established business community. AmCham Managing Director Jason Turflinger and US Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite officially inaugurated the program in April 2018.

The 24 program participants — consisting of 12 women and 12 men from nine countries between the ages of 22 and 35 — have demonstrated leadership, entrepreneurial, and/or business excellence in their educational pursuits and careers thus far. Participants engage business leaders, learn about AmCham member companies, and gain business and leadership skills.

For more information about the program or to learn how your organization can get involved, please contact tb@amcham.no.

Rising Leaders: Communicative Excellence – a Leadership Imperative

Q2 Event: Communicative Excellence - a Leadership Imperative

The Q2 edition of Rising Leaders focused on communication, with ReputationInc’s Dennis Larsen and the US Embassy’s Patrick Martino leading participants through a highly engaging afternoon session at AmCham’s offices.

Larsen, ReputationInc Oslo’s Managing Partner, spoke with program participants about the critical relationship between leadership and communication, highlighting the role of storytelling in connecting with target audiences. Martino then took participants through a crash course in international networking, drawing on over a decade of experience as a US diplomat.

Speaker Profile

Dennis Larsen – ReputationInc

Dennis has been a consultant to ReputationInc for more than a decade and is Managing Partner of ReputationInc Oslo. He is based in Oslo and London and serves clients internationally.

With an MSc in economics and MBA in Corporate Communications (with honours), Dennis’ approach to consulting is strongly rooted in science. He has been involved in academic and client based research on corporate reputation, corporate responsibility and financial communications, leading to publications and conference presentations.

Dennis helps clients enhance business performance through powerful diagnostics based on insight gained from primary and secondary research. He works across the four main areas of our offer and is keen to continue learning from every unique client situation and partnership.

When not immersed in reputation management consulting, he can be found skiing on remote Norwegian mountains in winter and marathon training in Oslo’s forests and London parks the rest of the year.

Leadership, Communication, and Storytelling in a Global Economy

Through a creative, engaging, and inspiring presentation, Larsen used the experiences of the program’s participants to underline why it is essential in today’s business world to be a skilled communicator.

“You can’t be a good leader if you’re not a good communicator,” he noted.

Program participants then described what kind of leader they wanted to become, which launched into an interesting discussion on what truly defines a good leader.

According to Larsen, the diversity of viewpoints in the room highlighted an important point – people perceive leaders in different ways. As a leader, it is vital that you understand these different perspectives, tailoring your approach to ensure that employees are engaged, motivated, and productive.

“As a leader, you’re in the human energy business!” he proclaimed.

The presentation then focused on examples of companies that took innovative approaches to fix internal communication issues, improving productivity and enhancing bottom lines along the way. Larsen highlighted leaders that understood that innovation had to begin with them, telling the story of an executive who decided to spend lunch with a different group of employees every day to better understand the issues they faced and how to engage them.

A critical component of such efforts, Larsen added, is the art of storytelling.

 

“Know your audience, plan your content, and deliver it,” he noted, before going on to show participants videos of different corporate leaders using storytelling to engage audiences and increase brand awareness successfully.

To close, Larsen focused on interpersonal communication, giving excellent tips on how young people can build stronger relationships as they progress in their careers, making the important point that in today’s digital world, one should never underestimate the power of a simple phone call.

“Don’t hide behind emails – call people up!” Larsen exclaimed.

“As a leader, you’re in the human energy business!”

Dennis Larsen

Managing Partner – ReputationInc

Speaker Profile

Patrick Martino – U.S. Embassy in Norway

Patrick Martino has been the Environmental, Science, Technology, and Health Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo since May of 2017.  He has a broad portfolio covering environmental and scientific policies, including the Arctic.  

Mr. Martino previously served as a staff assistant in Washington at the State Department in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs and as a desk officer covering Denmark in the Office of Nordic and Baltic Affairs.  He has also served in Helsinki, Finland and twice in Guangzhou, China.  Mr. Martino joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2008. 

 Originally from Wisconsin, Mr. Martino graduated in 2000 from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with degrees in finance and economics.  He speaks Norwegian, Mandarin Chinese, and some Finnish. 

Networking Internationally – a Diplomat’s Perspective

Having worked for the State Department for over a decade, Patrick Martino shared how he cultivated a personal networking approach that takes cultural diversity into account, highlighting experiences in countries ranging from China to Norway.

Noting that over seventy percent of jobs are initiated through networking, Martino implored participants not to be afraid when presented with the opportunity to engage senior individuals, a point he made with a particularly relevant piece of advice he once received from a colleague.

“No matter what, always be confident that you have something important to offer!”

To conclude, Martino stressed the importance of maintaining relationships, noting, “It’s not always who you know, it’s who knows you.” He encouraged participants to find creative ways of engaging people, highlighting a variety of techniques he himself had found useful in his career.

“Focus on giving instead of getting. If they’re an expert in a particular field, send them an interesting, topical news article you saw. Send cards, reach out on social media – do the little things.”

About Rising Leaders

Rising Leaders is an initiative of the US Embassy and AmCham to provide access for young, up-and-coming leaders from diverse backgrounds to high-level representatives of the established business community. AmCham Managing Director Jason Turflinger and US Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite officially inaugurated the program in April of this year.

The 23 program participants — consisting of 11 women and 12 men between the ages of 22 to 32—have demonstrated leadership, entrepreneurial, and/or business excellence in their educational pursuits and careers thus far. Participants engage business leaders, learn about AmCham member companies and gain business and leadership skills.

For more information about the program or to learn how your organization can get involved, please contact tb@amcham.no.