If you know what to prioritise then you find the time
KTH alumnus and Master of Engineering in Materials Technology - Olof Faxander - has been elected leader of the year and diversity manager of the year. He is 45 years old, but has managed to fit in several important CEO positions. Olof Faxander is currently CEO of Sandvik. KTH Alumni visits Sandvik's office in central Stockholm to talk about leadership. What is it that makes Olof Faxander such a successful and highly rated leader?
Olof Faxander has just been asked whether he remembers his first day at KTH. He leans back and says that he was being demobbed when the admissions started. It was 1990 and he had just received an invitation to proceed with officer training in the Navy. There were a lot of important decisions for a twenty year old to take at the same time. Should he take up the Navy's invitation or should he study at KTH? He didn't think about it for particularly long, opting to focus whole-heartedly on his studies. He chose materials technology (TMSEM) a programme which at that time attracted hundreds of students. When Olof Faxander started on his route to becoming an engineer he was accompanied by 120 fellow students. Some of them became close friends with whom he is still in contact.
Olof remembers his time as KTH as a wonderful period. He learned what he needed to know about production development. A few months into his studies at KTH he felt it was going so well that he applied for the economics programme at Stockholm University.
"Yes, and I also worked hard on my German".
We are in the early 1990s and Olof is en route towards a Masters in Engineering and a BA in Economics and German. How did he have time for everything?
Olof Faxander maintains that language skills are extremely important if you want to succeed in the world of industry. Presentations and reports in English and German, the vocabulary has to flow as if it was your mother tongue. Without the language you don't get far.
"If you know what to prioritise then you find the time", he asserts, emphasising that in the early 90s it was difficult to get into the labour market. He realised at an early stage that he would need to profile himself.
"I thought, OK, when I graduate I really want to have something that will allow me to outclass other graduate engineers." He now sees that he was highly ambitious even when he was young.
"But without my two degrees I wouldn't have got where I am today".
As if double full-time studies weren't enough, he was active in student life and drove a taxi at night.
Energetic and focused at a young age. Where does his driving force come from?
"My father was my example, he has a long career in the forestry industry behind him".
Olof wanted to work in product development at an industrial company. It was the production flows that attracted him. He knew that after having worked in a bank one summer, banking felt too abstract. Besides production development, Olof also had another requirement for his future job. The company should have a global reach.
"In this respect Sweden is absolutely fantastic. We have more multinational companies per capita than any other country in the world".
After studying abroad and obtaining degrees from both KTH and Stockholm University, Olof moved to the steel works in Degefors. He did exceptionally well in Degefors. At just 28 years old he was asked if he wanted to become Degerfors Ironworks business unit manager - with 270 employees under him. Now things moved quickly. He changed job and moved to Sheffield, with responsibility for a considerably larger business unit in Sheffield. His wife went with him and their first child was born in England. A few years later the family moved to Esbo in Finland, where he had now been recruited to the position of divisional manager at Outokumpu. His second child arrived in Finland and a few years later he moved to SSAB. At the age of 35 he became SSAB's and the Stock Exchange's youngest CEO of a major company. His third child was born in Sweden.
"Yes, I have to say it has gone better than I could have imagined".
Olof Faxander says that he had the opportunity at an early stage to try out what it was like to be in charge, as an officer during his military service. He led a squad in a tough environment on a ship. It was there that he learned what is required to get people involved in a task. He learned to recognise how to get the most out of a team. The fundamental principle for good leadership is the ability to involve people, Olof claims.
"To be a great leader you have to try out leadership at different levels and you have to like people. If you learn to recognise everybody's merits, you are exposed to leadership functions".
Numerous articles have been written about what distinguishes Olof Faxander as a leader. The magazine "Chef" writes that Olof Faxander has a natural authority which makes people listen and see the same visions. What does he think himself, what is it that makes him in particular valued as a leader?
"You need a stable ground to stand on, to become a good leader you have to have the fundamental prerequisites for it".
How do you go about obtaining these fundamental prerequisites?
"To learn leadership you have to be driven and work with people. Of course, an individual can't simply decide to be best at tennis, you have to train as well"
Olof Faxander was elected Diversity Manager of the year at this year's Managers Gala.
"When I started at Sandvik there were no women among the executive management, but today we have four women out of twelve in Sandvik's senior management team. Out in the management teams in the business we have a distribution of about 16%/10%. Of course, that's not enough, the target is at least 30%".
"For me it's about the fact that we want to be seen as a serious company that takes care of all its employees. We want be an attractive workplace for those who have recently graduated from KTH, both women and men who get jobs at Sandvik".
Text: Sofia Tatsis