Successful CEO onboarding in the owner-managed business
– transitioning executive leadership in DENVER ELECTRONICS
The demand and drive for implementing changes is a fundamental premise for a developing, growing business. In this article, Alfred Blank, CEO in Inter Sales A/S, explains why focusing on leadership and great organizational understanding and innovation is pivotal to a successful change process. Especially when it comes to growing businesses based on and driven by proper tradesmanship with a dynamic approach.
By Christian Meklenborg, BISGAARD+©. Translated by Mikkel Kjærum.
“I had a desire to once again become a part of the management in a company. Preferably a privately-owned, growing business with a strong culture of tradesmanship and great dynamic willing to implement a professionalization. A business where I could create the systems, processes and structures required to take the company to the next level. In short: To professionalise the management of the company without removing the energy and tradesmanship. Business acumen, management and methods needs to go hand in hand. Otherwise, changes won’t be successful”, as stated by Alfred Blank.
Alfred strongly recollects the emotions roaming in him in the beginning of 2017. After having worked for the jewellery corporation Pandora’s German company in Hamburg for some years, he had since 2014 been working as a self-employed business consultant. He enjoyed the freedom which comes with working independently in self-employment. At the same time, he contemplated whether or not this was the career path that he would continue to follow.
Throughout his career, Alfred has carried out several successful change processes. Among other things, he participated in creating the development of Dangaard Telecom which is a part of the Fleggaard corporation. He was also involved in the sale of Dangaard Telecom to the venture capital firm Nordic Capital, and then subsequently played a big role in the sale of the company to a publicly listed American company. Alongside the previously mentioned, Alfred started Dangaard Telecom Smartphone which over a period of four years reached a growth on solid 3000%, securing the title of Denmark’s fastest growing Gazelle-company at that time.
In the beginning of 2017, he acknowledged that his career once again had to have a change in direction after having worked under self-employment. He was motivated to once again undertake a management position in a private business. However, it had to be the right match and not just any given company.
“I wanted to be part of a private company and preferably an owner-managed company which has been built from nothing by owners who have invested blood, sweat and tears throughout the years, and who possesses tradesmanship with a capital T. It motivates me to be a part of professionalizing and optimizing companies like that. To work with the culture and psychology that characterises these kinds of companies”, Alfred explains.
Alfred’s motivation was further enhanced in the beginning of 2017, as his network provided with him with the knowledge that Inter Sales A/S was searching for a new CEO. Read more about Inter Sales A/S in the bottom of the article.
For Alfred, the opportunity was exciting and the timing was right. The company in question was owner-managed, had an international strategic aim, had companies in other countries, and operated in an industry in which he had developed a vast amount of insightful experience, and at the same time, it is an industry which is under rapid development with digitization and massive product development. Additionally, the company was owned by true merchants who wanted to gain more control of their processes and structures as they had reached a point where professionalizing was crucial to ensure continued solid growth. He showed his interest, applied for the job and got the job. In this process, he convinced the two owners, Henrik Kristensen and Torben Ulrich, and the chairman of the board, Jesper Ørskov Nielsen, that this was the right match between all parties.
“This is something that is absolutely paramount if change management is to succeed in these kinds of companies.”, Alfred stresses.
The importance of human qualities and people skills
The hiring of Alfred Blank as a CEO at Inter Sales A/S was the result of a thorough recruitment process that took place over a few months. In the preliminary selection process, focus was on securing the appropriate professional competencies in relation to the desired competence profile. After, the focus intensified on the interplay between managerial and strategic competencies along with the human qualities, which often is what creates the best results in the long term.
In practice, this happened through personal dialogues where emphasis was on the strategic competencies and the relational expectations and considerations, which should be deemed very important in the event of reinforcing the management of an owner-managed company. The in-depth and thorough dialogues was carried out by Kim Bisgaard, director and industrial psychologist at BISGAARD+, who has many years of experience in recruitment and development of directors and managers in both private and public organizations.
“Kim Bisgaard was an asset in the in-depth and more psychologically focused dialogue which you normally don’t have with recruitment consultants.”, Alfred states and elaborates further:
“He had other parameters to draw upon, other the business and strategic knowledge. I experienced our course as very professional and down to earth along with a high degree of authenticity, where getting to the core of it all is what is determines the success of the course. The human psychology and the matching of expectations, along with the match between owners and their CEO, is so important for the professionalization to succeed.”
Today, Kim Bisgaard is the managing director in the consultancy company, BISGAARD+, which has its base in Aarhus and a department in Copenhagen. Throughout his work with qualitative recruitment processes and management- and organisational development, he has experienced that it is highly advantageous to bring in his approach as an industrial psychologist when recruiting managers and directors – and especially with owner-managed companies.
“The new, external CEO and the owners’ social compatibility and interplay is defining of the future collaboration. The appropriate match approaches the task with ambitions, humbleness and a healthy respect for what the owner(s) has built while also having confidence in his/her own competencies, skills and ideas. The match has to be thoroughly analysed, developed and secured in the recruitment process.”, Kim explains.
The collaboration with passionate owner-managers is an aspect that Alfred finds highly attractive in working as a CEO at Inter Sales A/S. He experiences that the managerial skills and tools that he has developed are being put into play in a different manner in an owner-managed company, which is based on more than cold Excel-spreadsheets and corporate management. It is the owners’ DNA and life’s work which he has been trusted to lead into the future:
“There are very few people who gets the chance of being a part of a growth journey like this. It is immensely exciting to work in the tension field between professionalizing the company while simultaneously possessing and showing the utmost respect of the owners and the journey that they have been on.” Alfred explains and elaborates:
“It doesn’t help anything to approach it as a hardcore business man with a lot of experience and success if you don’t have the right social chemistry with the owners. Otherwise, you’ll end up enforcing an excessive business model down over their heads. And then the collaboration becomes irrational and emotional without bringing your experience into play”.
Focus on change management
Alfred was quick to define his own strategy in relation to his onboarding at Inter Sales A/S both before and as a part of his hiring. Building a relationship with the company’s management team was one of Alfred’s highest priorities as a well-functioning management collaborations is a prerequisite of positive development and change. According to Alfred Blank, this is not something one person can create:
“If you come in as a new CEO in an owner-managed company and wants to create change and results, then it is only possible if you have a management team who is a part of that journey.”
Shortly after his employment, Alfred Blank initiated a strategic management- and team development process which had several intentions. He wanted to provide the individual managers with management tools to aid them in their work in the organisation and also to create a clarification of where the management team was heading at, what is required of the managers to get there, along with a reflexive understanding of what the managers was not able to do at that point. All with the intention of creating a common strategic anchor in the team.
Approaching this task, Alfred brought in Kim Bisgaard who was a central actor in his own recruitment, and who also has many years of experience in planning practically-oriented and strategic courses aimed at executives and management teams. It was therefore natural to involve Kim Bisgaard actively in the management development process at Inter Sales A/S.
“It was beneficiary for me to know Kim Bisgaard from the recruitment process as I could brief him on a different and implicit way.”, Alfred comments and elaborates:
“Kim Bisgaard is very skilled in creating trust and good relational conditions for the forthcoming process. His approach and understanding of the premise of the company has really been beneficiary in this regard.
The management development course was both internally and externally oriented. A central element was that the individual managers covered and defined their personal and organizational ‘must-win battles’ – the tasks and challenges that they should carry out and overcome in the subsequent 12-18 months in terms of strengthening the organization internally. This was with the intention of strengthening the organizational foundation of which the strategy processes and growth strategies in Inter Sales A/S relies upon in relation to their future development and its relation to the external surroundings. According to Kim Bisgaard, this is generally an efficient approach to the work with management development processes:
“A successful management team is not created from one day to another. It is an extensive process to implement and securing new values, honesty, alignment and creating a management team which consistently creates results.”
Alfred experienced the course as a rewarding process in which good relations with the managers were established which is highly valued when working with change processes in the company. Relations build on trust, respect and the ability to make managerial reflections. At the same time, he is very much aware that the work with change management is an ongoing process that has to be maintained and further developed.
“No matter where you are in your career, you can always learn. In an owner-managed company, you learn all the time, and that is why change management is an organic process of learning. It’s not defined beforehand. It’s like building a car while you’re driving it.”, and Alfred closes his statement.
Alfred Blank is now at his third year as a CEO at Inter Sales A/S and the professionalization has shown its effect. Management and the structure is strengthened, the business processes are optimized and there are ongoing optimizations and development of the business model. The company has altogether become stronger in a managerial sense, and the recruitment and hiring of Alfred Blank as a new, external CEO must therefore be evaluated as a success.