Kauppalehti – Finlands largest business paper – has done an interview on how we are doing our change journey at Nordic Morning Group. For those of you who don´t speak Finnish, the head line is something like: The change making wizard believes in co-creation and responsibility sharing.
The change making wizard believes in co-creation and responsibility – “The worst mistake you can make is to fall in love with your own ideas”
CEO Anne Årneby has been honing her leadership philosophy since she was 27 years old. Now she wants to use her vision to turn state-owned Nordic Morning into the biggest digital marketing agency in the Nordics.
“My favourite thing is when things start to get a bit dicey,” Anne Årneby says when asked what drives her professionally.
Årneby, who has a reputation as a talented and successful change leader, took the helm at state-owned communications company Nordic Morning in early 2017. Until 2013, Nordic Morning was known as Edita. Timo Lepistö, who headed up the business for 11 years, had recently stood down.
Årneby was now in charge of an organisation in the midst of big change. Nordic Morning has been transformed from a state-owned printing press to a digital communications specialist trading mostly outside Finland. In recent years, the group with a staff of 600 has undergone several rounds of lay-off negotiations. Last year, the company recorded a net revenue of EUR 103.4 million, notching up an operating loss of EUR 14.3 million. Exclude the non-recurring items and that loss shrinks to EUR 1.9 million. By early 2017, things were starting to look up. With a net revenue of EUR 51.3 million, Nordic Morning generated a EUR 4 million pre-tax profit.
Interestingly, the Finnish government has also expressed a desire to divest itself of the communications giant. In October, Finnish MPs gave the go ahead for the state’s stake in Nordic Morning to be reduced to zero. Nordic Morning can now be sold off as a whole, in parts or floated on the stock market.
Årneby was already familiar with Nordic Morning, having sat on the company’s Board of Directors since 2015. On her arrival, she immediately set about restructuring the company. She put together a 15-strong strategic working group, tasked with shaping the company’s vision for the future.
“The company had gradually grown over the years through a series of takeovers. We had plenty of great expertise in-house but our operational model was all wrong. We just weren’t set up to serve the best interests of our customers. We had to go back to the drawing board and rethink our competences,” Årneby says.
The fragmented company was restructured into a new three-tier model. The group’s media industry experts, Countquest, Klikki, Ottoboni, Sitrus and Seed merged under the Nordic Morning title to create a single fluid business area focusing on digital and results oriented marketing. Recent projects include a digital concept design for Finnish national airline Finnair. Edita Prima specializes in customer communications and print, while Edita Publishing creates digital learning solutions.
“You obviously have the option of just telling people that a merger’s needed so you can go ahead and cut costs. But that’s not the route we wanted to go down. We asked our customers to tell us what their priorities were in terms of our services and then matched our new structure to that.”
The company then set about bringing all staff onboard at the first opportunity.
“People were really surprised that we trusted them so much. What we did was disrupt ourselves. It would never have worked if it had been just me as the CEO trying to make it happen on my own. I’ve only got the one brain, after all, but there are hundreds more within the company.”
Not everyone was used to this new collaborative way of working.
“They told me they wanted me, as their boss, to tell them what the plan was. But if you make change happen together, everyone has a share in the outcome. If I’d done it all by myself, I would have had to sell my idea to the others. That would have been a lot of extra work.”
Årneby was 25 when she first stepped into CEO shoes. “I immediately found myself in a situation that was far from straightforward. When I was 27, I started to really analyze my own leadership style. I noticed that whenever I was in a leadership role, I would make changes. It’s what I enjoy and what I’m good at. I wouldn’t be a good fit for a company where everything’s going just fine and all you need to do is keep on coasting.”
Årneby is fascinated by constant development and improvement, and she is at her happiest when she’s working on existing structures to make them better. She wants to see Nordic Morning become the biggest digital marketing agency in the Nordic countries. “We want to establish ourselves as a European player in this market and make a name for ourselves in data-led marketing.”
But what about the company – are you streamlining it to sell?
“We’ve been for sale for a long time. But my job is not to sell this place off, my job is to generate added value for it. I did not create the three-part structure to make it easy to chop up the company. If that had been our intention, we would have kept it much less belt and braces.”
When facts just weren’t enough
What has been the toughest point of your career so far?
“My most difficult moment came in spring 2012 when I realized I had to step down as CEO of the McCann Group. There was a real divergence of views between me and the new European president. His plan was to centralize all decision-making to London. I knew that we would lose our local customers as a result, which would have meant wiping out nearly everyone. There were also significant cultural differences that we just couldn’t bridge. He was a South American man, and I am a Scandinavian woman.”
What did you learn from that experience?
“That was the only time in my career when facts and figures weren’t enough. I presented a five-year business plan but it made no difference. I felt very strongly that I had to resign because otherwise I would have been responsible for introducing huge changes to a 200-strong organization that I didn’t even believe in myself. Even now, I am absolutely certain I made the right decision.”
What is the most important skill for a business leader to have?
“You have to have a genuine interest in the people that are working for you. Not many people even consider that, they’re just after the title because of the power and prestige that come with it. But if you want your team to be more than the sum of its parts, you need to take an interest in what people are thinking.
What does it take for staff to take an interest in business development?
“When you decide to involve your staff in your strategy, you need to re-think your entire approach to management and leadership. The worst mistake you can make is to fall in love with your own ideas. Instead, you need to really listen. You need to tune into the similarities and the patterns in what people are saying and focus on progress in those areas.”
What are the benefits of this approach?
“When you engage in a change process where you are committed to letting everyone have a voice, things are very chaotic to begin with. But once the multitude of views and opinions have been distilled into a single clear direction, the leader’s job becomes easier. Once you have a plan in place, you need to make sure you get people behind you. But, in terms of everyday management and decision-making, things will begin to run much more smoothly. All you’re concerned with is whether the decision is taking you in the direction you want to go.”
The Årneby rules
1.Never fall in love with your own ideas. You only have one brain. Your organisation contains hundreds of them.
2 Involve people in making change happen. That way, you won’t have to sell your own ideas to them.
3 Stop and think. Often, the most important thing is to take a moment and really think about the problem you’re actually trying to solve.
4 Analyze your style. That way, you can learn to identify what you are good at.
5 Leave the charts and graphs until last. When you’re in the middle of a re-structuring, always draw up the chart last. Otherwise, people will take their eye off the big picture and focus instead on their own position.
Born: 3 January 1963 in Malmö, Sweden
Role: CEO at Nordic Morning GroupEducation: Studied strategy and leadership at the University of Linköping, completed an MBA at London Business School
Family: Husband and two cats
Hobbies: travel, literature, sport, food and wine
2014–2017 Marketing Director, Bisnoden
2012–2014 Rewire CEO
2010–2012 Group CEO, McCann Worldgroup Sweden
2008–2010 Brand Director, Telenor
Early 2000s Brand Consultant, Nigredo
1995–1998 Senior Account Director, Rönnberg McCann and Lowe Brindfors
1990–1994 CEO, Hall&Cederquist