We want to share insights and ideas among business leaders in the Nordic countries about the future of Nordic leadership. We want to dig deeper and investigate the question of a Nordic approach to leadership and our view on what constitutes a successful Nordic business model. We also want to delve into how our interaction with our employees and with society influences our businesses.

Why have we been successful in the Nordics? What are the secret ingredients? Do we share the same approach? Or is the common denominator rather that we share the prerequisites; countries with social stability, well-educated people born with an international mindset and digital capabilities?

We will be looking into the challenges, threats and opportunities that are facing us now and in the future. What should the future of Nordic leadership look like? Which themes or questions do we need to address to keep growing our businesses in competition and collaboration with the rest of Europe, Asia and the US?

We do not have the answers. You do! This is why we are taking this experimental journey in close collaboration with selected successful Nordic leaders to make sure that our insights come from the right source: Nordic leaders.

What characterises a Nordic business?

Let us begin with the bigger picture: We hypothesise that Nordic businesses have a unique role in society compared to other parts of the world in that we are a key integral part of the society, and we agree on having a shared responsibility for securing basic welfare for our citizens and workforce.

In fact, The American economist and Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs have in several articles expressed his view that the Nordic countries are proof that modern capitalism can be combined with decency, fairness, trust, honesty and environmental sustainability. And it is true that the Nordic countries generally score highly on a number of global indices such as happiness, innovation, anti-corruption and digitalisation.

Jeffrey D. Sachs has even urged the Nordic countries to hang in and hang on to our success and our leadership to help the entire world achieve the SDGs.

Jonas Hemmingsen, Nordic CEO of GroupM, a global leading media investment company, offers his perspective on this: “When looking at the global movements within e.g. sustainability and diversity, these topics generally resonate better with us in the Nordic countries than in the rest of the world. And this can be turned into a competitive advantage as we see with companies such as Ørsted and Vestas. And I’m sure that our model of society has had a huge impact on shaping such successful companies”

Nordic societies expect more from our businesses, and so do our employees. Our employees expect more than just a pay check. They also expect our businesses to act responsibly and to take an active role in solving the major challenges our societies are facing with respect to diversity, climate – and hence their CEO to steer the business based on a shared purpose, not just KPIs:

Jesper Rosener, CEO of Jysk Fynske Medier, the second largest media group in Denmark, agrees with this observation and argues that our Nordic leadership style could be a differentiator in the global economy: “For Nordic CEOs, it’s not enough to communicate a strategy based on financial ambitions alone. This is not new but something that has become natural for us. It is a shift in corporate culture and mindset that I expect to spread and eventually also impact CEOs in China or the US. Globally, we are ahead of the development here. Our approach to leadership is more future-proof – and that can be a differentiator in terms of attracting talents in the future.”

Jens-Peter Poulsen, CEO of KVIK, manufacturer of Danish design kitchens and bathrooms, adds that “We think beyond shareholders when defining our key stakeholders. We also include our customers, our franchisees, our employees and ultimately also the planet – what we call next-generation promise. And that is definitely a strength in the Nordics. It’s natural for us to think this more broadly. Our employees and franchisees find this very interesting and motivating. Combined with our way of leadership, based on trust and flexibility, that’s a strong and attractive approach – that perhaps also driven by COVID-19 will emerge outside the Nordics.”

What’s next?

During 2021, we plan to hold many more interviews with Nordic leaders and share our findings in different formats along the way. Based on our first round of interviews, our initial conclusion is that we may have a “ special Nordic recipe” for leading our businesses. And that this recipe could offer us advantages in a global context.

However, we also see challenges in the future, such as economies of scale, potential threats from new digital platforms from both Asia and the US; issues on how to integrate sustainability into the value chain, the fight for both talent and investments and the pressure on the Nordic model of society. These are just some of the topics that we will delve further into in the coming months so stay tuned for more!