Moving to new cities or new countries is never easy. During my professional career I have moved around and each move is different: Setting up a new home, getting used to the new work environment, creating a new network of friends and acquaintances. All this takes time and effort – and balancing this with the pressures of business and travel commitments, can sometimes be stressful.
My wife and I arrived in Gothenburg in June 2013. We moved from Shanghai where I was based since 2010 as Head of SKF Asia. This was our second time in Europe, the last time being almost 25 years back in Holland. We thought we knew what to expect!
We were lucky to move in the summer and the summer of 2013 was an absolutely fabulous one. Fantastic weather! Until you actually live here you cannot understand why people discuss the weather so much. Here, when the sun eventually comes out, in its shining glory, you understand why the office suddenly looks so empty. And to be honest I am no exception when this happens.
Besides the weather, living in Sweden has been easy for us. Sweden is a very nice country with extremely friendly people who always will go the extra mile to support you. This has been our experience and it has made things much easier for us in a foreign land.
Working in Sweden is also easy – but as an Asian, there are differences that I needed to understand and respect. Consensus is an important part of the management culture here. Asian structures are more hierarchical which means people do not always support a consensus approach towards decision making. In my view consensus is a great way to work since it demonstrates respect and gives everyone an opportunity to contribute. The only backdrop to this is that it can, and does, slow down decision making. In a globalized competitive environment speed is critical. Hence consensus needs to be balanced against speed at all times. Personally I am working hard at this aspect; to ensure that we do not sacrifice the roots in which innovation and excellence flourish – but to introduce a third dimension which is speed of decision making.
Communication is another important aspect. Hierarchical structures in Asia also mean that communication is more direct and sometimes can be interpreted as ‘autocratic’. So in my view, the challenge is to marry consensus and speed – and at the same time ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak up. This requires direct and open communication, which means you need to build trust before this can succeed. This is another important learning for me personally: Trust and respect is critical in building an open and direct communication environment where there are no sacred cows.
SKF started its global journey almost when it started in 1907. Today it is a fully globalised company. We are truly global in the way we run our business. We have managed to create a balance between global and local leadership and cultures.
Today we have many people in the organisation from Asia, including many at senior leadership levels working in different parts of the world. However, it is equally critical for us to get more people from Europe to work in Asia and other high growth regions to support and further enlarge the globalisation process. Cross fertilisation is so critical in today’s global environment so we need to ensure that we see, understand and respond quickly to the dynamic and sometimes volatile changes happening around the world. We don’t know from where the next set of competitors will emerge – but they will come and we need to prepared and ahead of them.
The views expressed are his personal views.