Asking CxOs is a blog & podcast created to help existing and inspiring Leaders with practical tools and values to help them improve & be the best they can be.
Mika is a serial entrepreneur, whose passion it to be the underdog and disrupt industries. We were fortunate enough for him to share some of his wisdom with us, here is what we learnt:
Tell us about yourself
I’m based in Oslo and I’ve been working internationally, being located in various European countries as well in the US. I’ve had offices and plants yeah around the world, and built globally, leading companies. The thing is it's not been corporates. I’m a serial entrepreneur I love coming with new technology innovation, be an underdog and actually disrupt change mindsets and together with my team succeed in making it let's say grow the company, scale it up and become a market leader.
How would you describe your management style? how do you take your entire expertise in one management style?
My style is how would I say it, it's about engagement you know I need to lead my team and at the same time be hands-on. I need to support them give them and give guidance. I can't have every decision going through me. I need to empower my management team. I need to bring their talent to the surface and challenge them of course but we do this together that's very important and be clear on communication. Develop the skills, have a vision, a big idea, that's our goal.
How do you create a communication style and a culture that helps you drives those talents up to the surface?
I would say two things here: one thing is of course, like I said engage with them. We have to work together solving problems, it can be anything from, let's say, how are we going to design this product or where are we going to source the components. How are we going to assemble this or how are we going to succeed with that?
I think also it goes back to the values you need to have integrity but also the openness yeah and willingness to share.
So, everything is about you?
I need to be very clear on who I am in that sense, and of course show that guidance. I’ve been leading many companies, of course it's not about me because I want to see the others grow, because together we make it happen, it can never be about me.
If there would be 20 copies of myself, we would never succeed with anything.
There needs to be diversity and I try to create that trusted environment where we can challenge each other because we're solving complex problems. That's why I need to find people you can work well with but there there's going to be different personalities.
Start-ups are about the vision, but what are the milestones involved to get to that vision?
First of all you need to have passion about what you're doing because you might set up what you think is the perfect plan but it will always be like it's going to take longer time, it's going to require more resources and funding etc. So make sure that you're loving what you're doing because otherwise it will grind you down. At some point you are going to realise that this is not fun. Because you didn't choose something that you're passionate about.
Build that big idea with your co-founders from the beginning. What are you aiming at, why are we doing it together and you know you don't need to be best friends but at least there should be mutual respect and you need to be able to work together. You should be able to bring up difficult topics. You won't agree all the time. Of course we’re creating a culture, it's a journey, building a start-up. We have our company and we have an idea, we get some funding, develop a prototype, every step takes a lot of effort but then you know you climb the mountain and you get an MVP you get the paying customer, you go commercial… It's like fail success meaning that there you have the possibility that you're failing but learning from those failures to improve your whole product and solution. But then at some point this is where you are you are actually building the culture, because all the time you're working as a core team solving complex problems actually developing unique skills and new unique knowledge. However, you go commercial and then you start to scale up and at this phase I would say I turn it around because then it's like failure is not an option. You only can go there if you have been working on this nucleus and climbing that mountain taking those steps and understanding: okay we made certain failures but those were minor because when you get to the scale up anything you do actually impacts you your last project, that's your reputation. If you do some something wrong, it's very difficult to go back and correct that.
What were your highest performing I don't know leadership style that that helps you maintain the culture? How do you maintain the process for the long run?
Those are skills I’ve have built up over time, into my playbook. The people in your team, need leadership and they might question we're failing. I’ve seen many examples with my team when we didn't succeed but then we start to communicate what went wrong and we were actually able to learn something from this? We were already in commercial phase or can we engage the customer from this? and we've been strengthened from it. The customers have also told us we love you guys, we want to continue work with you.
I mean I want to win, I’m all the time collecting more and more knowledge and I’m every start-up is unique so it looks like I can say that oh last time I did this, let's do copy and paste; no we have to collaborate and work on this to find our success. Of course, persistence, grit, never give up. never give up.
How do you make your team take responsibility?
This takes people out of their comfort zone, because if you fail and who’s going to get the blame? did I do something wrong I mean as an employee? of course we’re going to do errors or failures in that sense, but for me it's about okay let's talk about it and understand the root cause.
Going to the company values because when you start a company you have those values?
Definitely it is part of it, it's not like every boy and girl I’ve worked with say that I believe you Mika, this this is perfect!
I can see a doubt in many, that am I trying to trick them: just to let's say get out of the comfort zone and maybe reveal what they did wrong, I don't do that because of course it's about finding the root causes to communicate what could have improved. The lessons learned and of course if you did some errors and then I see you the next day doing the same, and the third day again, it means you're not learning. I can't have people like that with me. We have to be agile, adaptive and learning all the time. We're climbing up to the peak of the mountain but we don't have all the tools, there might be some hurdles during the journey but that's why I need to trust you and you need to trust me. We have different skills and I try to communicate and motivate and also be with you. When we're looking at why this project failed, what are we learning from; it's complex.
How do you hire? So that you can climb the mountain with the mutual trust you mentioned?
I’m lucky, we go out in the market and I think of course the companies I’m working with, have huge brand recognition and I think we get great guys. From various countries, various industries, big corporates. I think it's very much when you start to let's say get into the interviews. Could this be a person that has talent?
Of course, I the make mistakes too. Not every the hire works, a part of it, is a leap of faith. What I look at is an intelligent person, can make quick decisions, an agile person that is also open-minded, willing to learn. Willingness to learn is key.
Is an academic Background a must?
If you say that let's just have MBAs here or PhDs, it won’t work. You need the diversity, because solving this type of very complex problem all the time and coming with something that should disrupt and you using technology: it's not easy.
What are two or three key achievement that led you to who you are today
First of all, my own silliness to say that I wanted to work abroad. My first job was abroad right away so I had to learn very much by myself but that that I think that builds character. I absolutely don't regret it because it's been fantastic learning. Then of course my curiosity or I want to learn new things. I want to engage with new people and I’ve seldom said no to taking on challenging tasks.
Once upon a time I had a project where before we had this computing power, it was big data: pattern recognition. I failed with that but I understand now how we could have done. Willing to take risk and challenges.
Passion is number one but what's number two?
Working in a start-up, it's very transparent and there's so many things going on all the time. I mean same day you can be in heaven and then suddenly you're in hell. It happens the same day. The daily work is very much hands-on and operative so I of course I need to have the strategy in my head very clearly. So, I think weekends for me I might be hiking or with family but it's that recuperating and thinking about the strategy the week we had.
As a CEO I think you're quite lonely and who are you going to talk to so it's important to build your network of good advisors or mentors or some kind of forums.
How do you find the mentor?
It has come through my career that I met other senior executives; we get a good connection I can talk with them. I’ve also found some professional networks where you have a safe harbour, no competitors but actually other executives looking for the same.
If you started from the beginning again, what would you do differently?
I don't know if I would change very much, I mean I’ve experienced so much, so much fun. Of course, it's been a lot of hard work I’m not finished yet, I’m just halfway through my career even though I’ve been working quite some years. I enjoy work and the work is actually engaging with people and seeing how we shape the future and that's what I really enjoy.