“My deprived childhood made me want to give something back to society”
SEK 6,000. That was the amount of the loan new KTH graduate Charlie Hansson took out in 2005, and which would change his life. With those six thousand kronor, he founded Chas Visual Management with a dream of changing the IT industry.
Now, 14 years later, his company, Chas Visual Management has been involved in success stories such as Angry Birds, Spotify and the Battlefield series, and has a turnover of over SEK 150 million.
However, money and capital were never the biggest driving force for Hansson, instead he was determined to build enterprises that incorporate social responsibility into their core values.
“Originally, it was about me wanting to continue with the gift I myself had been given in the form of the opportunity to study and shape my life despite my parents’ difficulties and my deprived childhood,” he says.
“Thanks to every child in Sweden having the same right to education up to and including tertiary and university level irrespective of their parents’ status and financial circumstances, I was able to read civil engineering and then start a company.
“I knew from the start that as an entrepreneur I wanted to be involved in further developing the type of society that had given me the chance to become whatever I wanted to be.”
Hansson grew up with a mother who was long-term unemployed and a father who was homeless. He says himself that he comes from a background that meant he had nothing to lose by daring to try to achieve something better.
“My refusal to accept obstacles or listen to all those that say it’s all impossible also came out of that. My deprived childhood made it self-evident to me as an entrepreneur, that I should want to give something back to society.
“I want to contribute to Sweden continuing to be a country that gives children of long-term unemployed mothers and homeless fathers the opportunities and platform to be able to become successful and financially independent.”
In naming Hansson the RSM Entrepreneur of the Year for 2018, the jury citation reads “the winner's refusal to countenance obstacles and his ability to think big have inspired his team to create a fast growing and innovative business”.
“The world is full of people that encounter problems. But for me, a problem means there is a solution to figure out. So when the media were full of reports of skills shortages and recruitment difficulties in the IT sector, I thought about my employees and planned courses within programming and wrote applications to the Swedish National Agency for Higher Vocational Education.”
Chas has built its own eco system with its own school (Chas Academy) and offers employee benefits that extend beyond the office walls, including additional paid leave and cleaning for new parents.
The question is why is he aiming to build a Scandinavian version of a Silicon Valley company?
Hansson turns the question on its head:
“Is there actually any other way?”
“At first, everyone was impressed with the high tech and playground like workspaces we saw in Silicon Valley. Anyone can toss in a few Fatboy cushions and pool tables. But it takes more than that to build a culture and a workspace.
Programmers are creative people and for creative people, work and leisure interests can easily merge if you are passionate about your job.
“With smartphone apps, we can keep an eye on work even when we are not working,” says Hansson. “We also become more aware of and open-minded about stress and mental health concerns.”
“Which means we employers must be able to offer as much as it takes to make life easier for employees and to do what we can for their well-being, while at the same time offering opportunities to develop their skills, exciting careers, a good working environment and security.”
"That's a bit challenge for employers – especially when you have over 100 employees."
Photo: Håkan Lindgren