Marie Samuelsson’s 25-year+ career at some of Sweden’s most iconic companies tells a unique story of constant change anchored in a strong sense of leadership principals. After 10 years of powerplant deliveries at ABB, she spent 6 years with Sony Ericsson during the early days of 3G mobile phones, followed by another 10 years at TetraPak. Currently holding the role as Region Market Manager at ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Sweden – the first corporate sponsor of the #BeBrainPowerful Sweden campaign – Marie shares her thoughts about sustaining brain healthy workplaces, normalizing failure, and how enjoying the present could determine future career success.
“Empowerment, Integrity and Innovation are the three key values which we have identified to drive our business forward from 2020 onwards.”
Marie Samuelsson, Region Market Manager, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions
1. What have been the constant elements throughout your career with these blue-chip Swedish companies?
I am a really curious person. I have an interest in technology, people, and business and I like to ask a lot of questions. Overtime, you get better at understanding things really quickly. This has been an essential skill for me to fine-tune because I jumped from powerplants (ABB) to mobile phones (Sony Ericsson); and then dairy plants (TetraPak) to gearboxes (Höganäs). If you are naturally interested about the world around you, being curious and open to new information will help you carve a long and dynamic career.
But more importantly if you are interested in the people who are behind these businesses, then you have an amazing opportunity to grow success together. The similarities in how you run a mobile telecom and a company such as ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions lies in what defines your management values and principals. You need to ask yourself how you want to be a good leader, how you want to work, and how you plan to communicate a clear strategy that people want to be a part of. But you also need to make tough decisions and be fearless in failure.
Personally, I want to be with my team. I want to spend time with them, and I want to coach and support them. I also have to encourage them to grow to the next stage when the business demands it from all of us. By working and listening to each other’s concerns and by supporting each other through challenging times, the rest will come. Business comes when you create a team that prioritizes personal and professional growth, as well as good communications.
2. The pace of business today is formidable, with information and parameters changing constantly. How do you keep your team motivated and moving towards their objectives when there seems to be so many other things that require their attention?
Business KPIs are not really as balanced as they ought to be, and employees today are paying heavily for this paradox.
For example, there are a lot of ambitious and talented people out there, and with it comes a great deal of competition. With our hyper competitive societies, you do see people driving themselves and their families into really compromising situations. That is not a healthy nor sustainable way to run an organization for the long term. At the same time, we live in an age where we stigmatize failure. I see failure as an essential part of learning. Sometimes projects go pear-shaped, but it does not mean that I will let go of that project manager. I prefer to view it as an opportunity for us to grow together and a valuable lesson learned. One of my earliest managers at ABB said that the learning curve is steepest during difficult times. It is during those moments you have an opportunity to learn the most from the situation and other stakeholders.
Ultimately, not everything is of equal importance. There is a lot of information that you might want to work with, but not everything requires the same amount of focus. If my colleagues have a tough time prioritizing their work, then I can come in and help. I will help them remove things that are taking up their time, so they can refocus on their key tasks. I also ask them to switch off their phones after work; and most importantly take the time they need to rest and relax. We are only human after all, so it is impossible to demand that people give more when they have nothing left for themselves.
3. What do you mean when you say that business KPIs are unbalanced?
Businesses are driven by people who are increasingly under pressure to deliver. For too long, we have been trading off business success for employee health. This kind of measurement cannot continue. We have a responsibility to take a holistic view of our most important resource – our employees – and how we can give them a chance to recuperate. With the speed of information, options and actions, we can’t make good decisions when we have no opportunity to step away and reflect. We’re losing our human connections for all the wrong reasons. It’s our responsibility as leaders to reframe expectations with our colleagues, and ensure that they feel that there is room to slow down, prioritize their health and relationships, and also have some fun!
“If you chase everything that comes your way, you will be neither happy nor healthy… There is a lot of time to make a difference for yourself and your career. Life is long, so don’t rush it!”
4. Fun as a part of workplace health?
Of course. These days I do a lot of mentoring, and a question that I get asked a lot about is how I planned or shaped my career. To be honest, I never planned. I prioritized learning and having fun above everything else. I was asked to step into leadership roles early on in my career, but I turned them down because I didn’t feel prepared at the time… plus, I was enjoying the present too much. I wasn’t ready to take on team responsibilities because I didn’t feel the time was right. I was still learning and had some incredibly challenging and rewarding experiences that helped shape the leadership values I hold today. It was not until Tetra Pak that I took on a leadership role so I really took my time to find the right environment where I could grow into being a leader as well.
If you chase everything that comes your way, you will be neither happy nor healthy. Listen to your body and do what pleases you most, because then you will have created the foundation for great things to come. There is a lot of time to make a difference for yourself and your career. Life is long, so don’t rush it!
5. Outside of the office, how do you relax?
I do a lot of traveling between ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions offices in Stockholm and Göteborg, but I don’t live in either city. I choose to live on a farm in the countryside, and 1 day a week I work from home. And because the farm is surrounded by forests, I am able to get in amongst the trees to relax. Spending time in nature is really important for me to feel truly calm.
I also have a really simple lifestyle and I am comfortable with things being “good enough.” I am OK that my home isn’t perfect and I choose not to have an overtly complicated daily set-up. At ASSA ABLOY, I am confident in my abilities as a manager, so my presentations don’t have to look absolutely sharp. That comes with experience and by being comfortable with my strengths and fine with doing what’s enough to get the job done.
It is also my responsibility to demonstrate to others that if I’m ok with imperfection and doing things that are good enough, others can do the same. It is ok to sit down and do nothing once in a while; to slow things down and enjoy your present state. That helps you clear your mind to really understand what should be prioritized later on.
When you are comfortable with a good enough delivery and saying no to things that aren’t truly necessary, you’ll find that you have plenty of time for the things that really matter the most to you.
6. What values will ASSA ABLOY bring into the new year?
Empowerment, Integrity and Innovation are the three key values which we have identified to drive our business forward from 2020 onwards.
And being part of the #BeBrainPowerful Sweden campaign as the first Swedish partner was a natural part of this alignment. We want to create a culture that focuses on putting good leadership practice in place so that our working environment is in harmony with our people. We need to create predictable processes that allow everyone to work together but also find support for their individual journeys. We have to create new ways of working that can talk about our team’s health and wellbeing, as much as we focus on our financial result.
As the global leader in access solutions, we want to be able to grow and adapt into the future alongside a sustainable workforce that is strong and confident in mind and body. We need to be able to demonstrate that we as leaders walk the talk as well. We’re ok with turning our phones off, doing things good enough and turning down opportunities that remove our concentration from our priorities.
If we’re going to move ahead as an organization, we have to think dynamically and move without fear. Some things will be scary, other things easier. But by creating a space where we can learn from and grow together personally and professionally, like I said earlier – the business will come!