Passing the Torch: A New Generation of Nordic Entrepreneurs

nordicbanner5

IMG_2781
Mr. Peter Wallenberg addresses the class about next genreation education

The time has come, today marks the final day for the GIP Nordic Family Enterprise trip. We cap off our week here at Stockholm, visiting Mr. Peter Wallenberg, from the prominent Swedish business family, who have given back to their country as bankers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, and philanthropists. Today was definitely a highlight for the entire class, as Mr. Wallenberg shared with his  stories about his humble beginnings as a busboy from their family owned “Grand Hôtel” here in Sweden, which is worth mentioning was the only five star hotel when it was founded in Sweden. Mr. Wallenberg had told us about how despite his family’s wishes for him to work on the business side of their enterprise, he decided to start off working at the Grand Hôtel. This experience ignited a flame that lead him to study hotel management in the University of Denver. Eventually, Mr. Wallenberg went back to work in a variety of management roles for the Grand Hôtel, after eventually becoming the CEO for 12 years in 2006.

IMG_2777
Mr. Peter Wallenberg
IMG_2790
CBS Team presents their findings on next generation education case studies around the world

There is no doubt that Mr. Wallenberg’s colorful and insightful story had the class enthralled and engaged in his history, but what he seemed to speak most fondly about was his work with the Wallenberg Foundation, and his efforts to educate and bring together the sixth generation of Wallenbergs. He has hopes to create a culture of active owners, who are not only responsible citizens, but who are educated on the family companies as well as their goals and aspirations.

Mr. Wallenberg also spoke about the importance of exposing the succeeding generation to other family businesses in order for them to see how they function within the organization. Some of Mr. Wallenberg’s nieces had also shared how because of the opportunities to meet other family members, that those from their generation had themselves organized to see each other more informally outside of such activities. Mr. Wallenberg had shared how much closer the next generation has become because of the efforts to educate and integrate family members with one another. On a larger scale, the family also gets together once a year on “Amalia Day,” to celebrate the life of one of their founders. Here, heads of family share updates within the business and family; it is also an opportunity for the rest of the family to get to know one another. “Parents Day” is another event that allows communication with parents of those within the sixth generation of Wallenbergs.

IMG_2796
Mr. Wallenberg with two memebers from the 6th generation

Despite all the efforts to get the next generation involved in the business, Mr. Wallenberg stressed it was important that the will of the sixth generation to become a part of the business would need to come from them, and not to be dictated by others within the family.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset
GIP Nordic Family Enterprise class with Mr. Peter Wallenberg
IMG_2814
Typical Swedish lunch special with the GIP Nordics
IMG_2823
Tour outside the Nobel Peace Prize Museum

After this, we met with Korina Papadopoulou, a second generation communications manager for her family company “Fontana.” Fontana is a food company that imports and packages fresh ingredients such as juices, olives, and cheese from Cyprus, to be sold to the Swedish market. Coming to Sweden as refugees in 1975, Korina’s father started the company soon after in 1978, it is today the leading brand in Sweden of green food from Cyprus and Greek. Joining the session was Annika Hall, who is a family business consultant, and has also written a book about the family’s rich history. Annika had shared about the inspiring story of the family, building a business from the ground up despite their inability to get help from the Swedish banks and government. Korina spoke about how her father’s hard work, together with his passion for sustainability, has built the company to what it is today.

Korina’s passions however, did not align with that of her family’s company. She had studied in the UK to become a journalist, and worked as a producer and director for MTV for most of her professional career. She had never really expressed interest in the family business, nor was she pressured to work for it, and she felt after years away from the family, that it was time to move back to Sweden and see how she could help the family. Today, her brother Loizos has taken over as CEO of the company, while Korina serves as the communications manager, focusing on PR and product development. Korina spoke fondly of working with her brother, which she has said made it a joy to come to work for the family. There is without a doubt, a unique chemistry with their relationship that is definitely unique, and something that the class felt as extremely genuine.

IMG_2835
Ms. Korina Papadopoulou talking about her shared values with her father
IMG_2838
Ms. Annika Hall, family business consultant to Fontana

Looking back at the Nordic Family Enterprise program trip, I can say with certainly for the whole class, that this was most definitely a memorable and worthwhile trip that has changed some of our perspectives of family businesses. With about half the class having little to no exposure to family business, we had learned not only about structures to help govern and improve the efficiency of family businesses, but also about the importance of values and love within the family to create harmony and lessen conflict to between family and management, but also within the family. Many of us learned that a family business is unique from other businesses, in the sense that not only are you dealing with the growth of the company, and the wellbeing of shareholders, but also with the desires of family and legacy of the company’s founder, which are apparent through the values that are passed on from generation to generation.

IMG_2848
Final company visit photo with Fontana

blogz

 

 

Inspiring Swedish Family Businesses with Legacy of Values

nordicbanner4

Students enter the Hästens factory and headquarters

Our second day in Sweden took us to the town an hour outside Stockholm where the group met with the owner and fifth generation family member of Hästens, Jan Ryde. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Hästens is a Swedish family-owned producer of luxury mattresses, bed linens, and lifestyle accessories. The company prides themselves on use of raw materials such as cotton, horse hair, wool, and flax. Established in 1852, the now 166 year old company has gone a long way from its sole offering of horse saddles, when they decided during the later part of their second generation to diversify to mattresses, with the decline of transportation via horse.

Today, Jan Ryde continues his family legacy into the 21st century, expanding the brand overseas, as far as Los Angeles and China. Hästens mattresses can be found in many households in Sweden, including that of the Royal Family, for whom Hästens has already produced over 60. As CEO, Jan Ryde brings a culture of family into the organization, with beautifully photographed and mounted photos of all their employees on the factory walls, and very informal interpersonal relationships between management and employees.

IMG_2685
Students are introduced to the management team at Hästens
IMG_2694
Students present their findings on how to brand a family business

IMG_2696

After the visit, the group stopped by a small town on the way back to Stockholm for a quick meal featuring a traditional Swedish take of Goulash, before hiking to see some of the oldest Viking graves in the area. During this time, three of our CBS team also finalized preparations for final presentations to the Grant Thorton Group, and several Swedish family businesses. Grant Thorton is one of the world’s leading independent audit, tax and advisory firms, leading business advising to dynamic organizations.

IMG_2742
Professor Angus delivers opening remarks
IMG_8302
Some of the presenting team with Grant Thorton
IMG_8320
CBS Group photo with Grant Thorton team

Grant Thorton had organized an event for small family businesses interested in advisory and networking opportunities. During the event, Columbia Business School was invited to present topics to certain family businesses who were interested in either expanding operations or learning more about structural procedures to better and grow their respective businesses. There were three groups that presented and consulted for three family businesses, including:

  • Spiltan investment firm, who wanted to learn more about active and engaged ownership. The CBS group informed that company about the importance of communicating values to family members, and including an outside board to challenge internal board members, and engage them to innovate.
  • Lexington Clothing Company is a New England inspired clothing and lifestyle brand that was interested in expanding their international operations around the globe. One of the members who is herself a New England native, spoke about the local trends and preferences for logo-less clothing, in contrast to brands with larger logos in the Nordic regions.
  • Rejler is an engineering construction business in their third-generation that inspires the family members and employees with their core values of passion, empowerment, and health. During this event, the CBS team presented their findings on Family Offices, and how this would be relevant to family businesses in the Nordic region who have to yet created one.  We soon found out that not many Swedish family business recognize or understand the importance of a family business and were pleasantly surprised to learn more about this from our team.

Around 100 family business members attended along with Grant Thorton members and the group from Columbia Business School. Speaking to some of the family business members during the networking event, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the research and presentations from yesterday were very valuable in setting the informational foundation and groundwork to begin planning their family offices, as well as finding ways to keep owners active and engaged in the company.

IMG_2761
Some students with Grant Thorton associates

The CBS group ended the night with some of the young associates from Grant Thorton at a restaurant called Miss Clara, in the trendy area of Stockholm. Students were able to not only reflect on the day’s presentations with the associates, but also find out more about Swedish culture and look for common threads between their different cultures. Today, the team will meet with Peter Wallenberg of the Wallenberg Foundation to present their findings on next generation education.

-Marty Lopez’18

Investing in the Future of Nordic Family Businesses

nordicbanner

IMG_7351
GIP Nordic Spring 2018 with Founder Torben Christiensen and CEO Simon Christiensen

It was an early start for the GIP Nordic group today, as we headed out two hours from Copenhagen to the city of Kalundborg to meet with the founder and CEO of the Copenhagen Merchants Group. The company is a family business brokerage company which was started by the founder, Torben Christiensen in 1977, and is today one of the largest brokering companies in Europe. Since the company’s early beginnings, Copenhagen Merchants has diversified themselves into four other areas, apart from just brokerage.

  • Brokerage – Leading broker as well as service provider for the agricultural trading industry
  • Biomass Trading  – Heavily involved in global trade and distribution of biomass commodities such as wood pellets.
  • Shipping – Has developed a vessel charting desk , ship management, and ship agency services.
  • Terminals –  Co-managers and co-owns 11 import terminals with a capacity of over 600,000 MT
  • Superintendence –  The company’s latest offering is the inspection services for grain.
Simon Christiensen welcomes the CBS group

Aside from the founder of the company, we also met with the present CEO, Simon Christiensen, Torben’s son and second generation of the family business, as well as Michael Christiensen, a non-family member and COO of Trading for the Biomass division. Among many things, Simon shared with the group about his rather uncertain journey into the family business, as well as his thoughts on the future of the company as well and the potential entrance of future generations into the company.

IMG_2443
Simon Christiensen, CEO of CM Biomass

Simon had expressed early on in the session that he had thought of or wanted to enter the family business, for two reasons: one being his desire to create a name for himself within Private Equity, and second was due to his worry that his interests would not align with the company and his father. After conversations with his father, he had realized that not only did he find ease in speaking with his father about the future of the company, but had also seen how aligned he and his father actually were on various aspects of the company. This prompted Simon to join the company in 2003.

IMG_2460
Two generations: Simon and Torben Christiensen

Before the Global Immersion trip, the class had discussed a variety of issues within family business, such as the professionalization of the family business, the importance of a third party perspective or consultant, as well as the necessity of board creation. All of which and more were issues that both Simon and his father, Torben, had gracious shared with the class.

In many early stage family businesses, the necessity to build a board does not become apparent to the founder until later on in the company. Torben mentioned how his early board included himself, his wife, a lawyer, and later on Simon once he joined the company. As a smaller family business, he had mentioned he preferred this organizational structure, which allowed to quicker decision making within the company. However, after attending a seminar with the IMD Business School, focusing on development of family businesses, Torben and Simon had begun to see similar patterns with various family businesses, and how the need to professionalize was evident.

Because of this, Torben and Simon had decided to add two more independent board members, and move Simon’s mother and sister to a family council, since their expertise did not lie in future investments and business decisions. However, the addition of board members was an issue that they were initially skeptical about. Simon mentioned it was “like an investment” as the time and energy needed to get the new board members up to speed was quite tedious. In time, the two soon began to see the value of the additional members, with inputs that were more creative, direct, and different than they were used to from their internal discussions within the family. With this change, the company flourished even more in the next years.

IMG_6695
Head of Engineering getting the students familiar with the facilities

Looking ahead, we had asked Simon about his thoughts on the next generation of family members entering the family. Currently, the third generation includes Simon’s and his sister’s four children, all of whom are still between the ages of 8 and 14 years. Simon had said that he did not envision any of his or his sister’s children entering the business, since not only did neither of them express an interest, but also since he felt that the chance that they would be the best candidates to lead the family business would be lower than the previous generation. He expressed that he believed that this was so as the larger a business grows, the stronger the need for candidates of better fit rather than just passion for the business. He also felt that it would be unreasonable to pressure his children into entering, but was not completely closed to the idea, should the idea arise later on.

IMG_2497
Professor Patricia Angus with Founder Torben Christiensen and two MBA students
IMG_2475
Students examining the wood pellets
IMG_2465
Simon Charistiensen speaks about the various phases of the facility
GIP Nordic group ready to take the train to Stockholm!

Overall the family business story of the Copenhagen Merchants Group was valuable and highly relatable, in terms of the lessons with their business and those that we had learned in our five weeks of class. Tonight, the group heads to Stockholm, Sweden for the final leg of the program, with a fairly packed day meeting three family businesses companies!

-Marty Lopez ’18

Hilsen fra Danmark!

nordicbanner

Today marks our first official day for the Nordic Family Enterprise Global Immersion, and what an exciting day it was! The group started off with a visit to Maersk Tankers, a Danish shipping company which is wholly owned by the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. To those unfamiliar with the company, A.P. Moller-Maersk (also known as just Maersk) is one of the largest family-owned businesses originating from Denmark, and is a conglomerate which focuses on transport, logistics, and energy. It is also the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world.

Model of Regina Maersk vessell
CBS Group photo with Mr. Christian M. Ingerslev of Maersk Tankers

At Maersk Tankers, the group met with Columbia Business School Alumnus, Christian M. Ingerslev, who graduated from the EMBA program in 2011. In this intimate gathering at the Maersk headquarters, Mr. Ingerslev shared with the group about his 20 year journey at Maersk, starting from his beginnings at the company right after his high school graduation, to working with the current CEO of the A.P. Moller-Maersk, Robert Maersk Uggla.

IMG_2299

Christian M. Ingerslev (CBS’11), CEO of Maersk Tankers

Apart from talking about the company’s rich history and forward-looking strategies for 2018 and onward, Mr. Ingerslev had also spoken about his experience working for a family businesses, and how it had shaped the person he has become today. When asked about the best thing about working for a family business, Mr. Ingerslev had mentioned that what had impressed him the most was the family’s dedication to their company values. Mr. Ingerslev has seen family’s strong commitment to the companies values far-reach and influence decisions from the executive board, all the way to managers for their individual vessels. Whether refusing bribes to speed up costly processes, or having to let go of executive members in the company who do not necessarily align with the company’s core values, the family has always been fully dedicated to what they believe in. Similarly, Mr. Ingerslev had mentioned that apart from sticking to one’s values, he had also seen significance in recognizing these values when making key decisions for the company. He has seen how every decision made by the family had been a reflection on their core values, and how it had positively impacted the longevity of the company and also created a positive perception of stability for Mr. Ingerslev and other employees within the company. He shared insights into finding success as a non-family manager.

IMG_2310

After the meeting with Maersk Tanksers, the group was treated to a typical Danish lunch at the Nyhavns Færgekro restaurant. We ate Smørrebrød, which consists of pieces of bread with a variety of typical Danish toppings such as smoked salmon and a variety of cheeses. The restaurant was located in Nyhavn, a canal and entertainment district, which began as a fishing port in the 17th century.

Smørrebrød, a typical and popular Danish dish.

In the town of Veksø, 45 minutes outside of Copenhagen, the group met with Hatla Johnsen, a 7th generation member of a family business. She welcomed the group to her farm, Egedal Gaard, which she purchased in 2016. She currently lives and works at Egedal Gaard with her family, running her farming business and a new start-up focused on online education. Ms. Johnsen spoke about her family business, the Scandinavian Tobacco Company, founded in the 1860’s. She mentioned how despite being a part of a growing family of over 30 members, none of them were working in the business; they had decided to hand it over to professionals to run. The family continued on as majority shareholders. The family decided to sell the company in 2008, with differing opinions within the family as to where the business should go. With a large amount of liquidation once the company was sold, Ms. Johnsen and her family had decided to set up a family office to take care of their various remaining assets and investments, which her siblings and mother continue to grow.

Ms. Hatla Johnsen speaking about her experiences as a 7th generation family business member.
Students enjoy time with miniature ponies at the Egedal Gaard Farm.

Tomorrow the group will be meeting with Copmer, one of the largest brokering companies in Europe. It will also be the group’s last day in Denmark before heading to Stockholm.

– Marty Lopez’18

Off to the Happiest Country on Earth!

Nordic

That’s right— The United Nation’s World Happiness Report had ranked Denmark the Happiest Country on Earth between 2013 to 2015, with Sweden rounding off the Top 10. 

Before starting off the MBA at Columbia Business School, I had been told by several students in the Family Business Club that the Global Immersion Tour to the Nordic countries was definitely going to be a trip that couldn’t be missed. With everyone’s glowing recommendations in mind, I knew that this was going to be one of the immersive CBS experiences that I would have to most definitely have to be a part of. Finally, after five weeks of in-depth learnings into Nordic Family Business Enterprises, our group of 26 Columbia Business School students, will finally begin our Global Immersion Tour to the Nordic region. The week-long tour will kick off in Copenhagen, Denmark, and will continue on to Stockholm, Sweden.

Snapseed 3.jpg

Over the past few weeks, our class has had the opportunity to learn everything from political, economical, and family business trends in the Nordic region, to various aspects of Multi-generational Nordic Family Enterprises.  With guest speakers such as Anna Throne-Holst (granddaughter of Marabou founder) and CBS alumnus Nikolai Jensen (from the Jensen group), the class was also able to gain in depth insights into family politics in Nordic family enterprises, and how the region’s culture had affected certain aspects of the business, such as governance and succession.

For some of the students in the class, this would not only be their first time in the Nordic region, but also their first time to have taken or been exposed to a family business course during the MBA. Professor Patricia Angus had stressed the importance of understanding ideas such as the Three-Circle Model, to better understand the dynamics in a family business, as well as certain inheritance laws, and stakeholder theories that make doing family business in the Nordic region so unique to other countries. All of which will be extremely valuable when visiting and learning from various Nordic companies, and meeting influential individuals from family business such as Peter Wallenberg, who was recently at CBS’ Family Business Conference, which was held at Columbia University last February 9th.

Our extensive five-week preparation, and exploration into Nordic heritage will surely be an asset to all of us, as we gear up for a week of intense immersion into the region’s culture, which should allow all of us the chance to exchange our ideas and insights on the highly innovative Nordic countries, and how they have uplifted the entire region to an aspirational status.

I’m excited to share all our new experiences and learnings from our 2018 Nordic Tour!

-Marty Lopez ‘18

Nordic GIP Part 3: The Lessons Taken Home

Kit O’Connor ’17

NEW YORK – This is, alas, the final time you’ll be hearing from me. Which sounds so morbid, but really, it’s just because my work as the social media guru will conclude with this post, and then I’ll graduate and won’t be able to take week-long trips around the world on random Spring Breaks anymore! A single tear rolls down my cheek…(to match the single dollar left in my bank account).

FullSizeRender.jpg
The gorgeous Nyhavn district in Copenhagen – be sure to take the canal tour (bottle of wine or six-pack optional, but highly recommended).

But! Sweden! Denmark! Families! Business! That’s what this is about. I struggled a little bit with structuring this post, so like any good consultant, I ended up with three main takeaways: one negative, one positive, and one that’s purposely a bit amorphous (I know, I know, show, don’t tell). Let’s get started.

The bad: One of our first visits was to the American Embassy in Stockholm, where we met with a number of senior embassy officials and learned about their initiatives for American interests in Sweden and how they can help US businesses make inroads around the globe. That meeting was perfectly fine, and we were impressed by the number of speakers who made time out of their day to meet with a group of Columbia MBAs.

However, the security protocols necessary to get into the embassy honestly made me embarrassed to be a United States citizen – I saw a young girl, who couldn’t have been more than four years old, shouted at through a glass wall, forced to take off her coat on a chilly day, and contort her feet and body to prove, I guess, that there were no threatening items on her, all while her mother had to stand twenty feet away (yes, we all had to do the same). I’m proud of my country and believe there’s a reason that our mantra of freedom above all attracts the most innovative and accomplished people to learn, teach, and start businesses – by no means does that mean that our people or politicians are always correct, though I do like to think that we represent the opportunity to make life better, no matter who you are or where you come from. But when I’m reminded of that scared little girl and her introduction to America, I wonder whether we’ve become a bit too possessive of our liberty.

(steps off high horse)

IMG_7951.JPG
OK, so, the candles aren’t exactly the focus of this photo but they really are everywhere!

The good: Hygge! Hygge, the Danish concept of “everyday togetherness”, which has certainly seeped across the border into Sweden, and definitely enjoys a robust ad campaign in the US.

There are a couple ways that hygge was present during our trip. The first is in the purely physical, and can be represented best by the abundance of candles in nearly every conference room that we met in. What would certainly be a fire hazard in America is a source of coziness and serenity in Scandinavia: proof that work in the Nordic is supposed to be comfortable in addition to being productive.

The second is the attitude that work in Sweden and Denmark is generally a two-way career contract. I alluded a bit to this in prior posts, but it deserves a specific callout here: employment in Nordic is designed to last much longer than in other areas of the world. Compared to the two ends of the spectrum – the US, where workers are used primarily for efficient productivity, and, say, France, who has extensive protections for employees to keep jobs – Scandinavia firms seem to invest more in training and education for their workers, and those workers in turn accept slightly lower wages for a career that can span decades rather than years. I will put a caveat on this: my belief may be skewed a bit due to small sample size or meeting exclusively with family firms.

 

The fuzzy: Speaking of family firms…another student and I were talking with Professor Angus about one small family firm’s search for a CEO. We wondered why the search never seemed to find a good candidate: the business was established, profitable, and had a well-oiled supply chain and production facility. In fact, we softly felt that just about any of the students on the trip would be well-positioned to run the company after our education at CBS.

However, Professor Angus asked one question: “Could you run the firm AND deal with the family issues behind the scenes?” We immediately shook our heads and realized THAT’S what makes family firms different – it’s never just about the money, contracts, or factory. It’s about everything that came before and the legacy that will be. One founder noted, “That’s my name on the jar. What will it stand for after I’m gone?” Will an outsider ever be able to live up to that attitude?

So in the end, neither the Nordic region nor family businesses can really be put into neat little boxes (classic consulting again: it depends.) But, like each Chazen trip I’ve experienced, I feel I now truly have an informed opinion on the region and will be better able to understand and transact with my future Swedish and Danish colleagues and business partners. Thanks again for reading along with my journey, and looking forward to my next chapter after Columbia!

IMG_7977.JPG
A trip we’ll never forget.

Nordic GIP Part 1: A Swift Summit in Stockholm, Sweden

Kit O’Connor ’17

STOCKHOLM (or at least begun on a train from STOCKHOLM to COPENHAGEN) – Hej again, reader(s? one can dream!). My upmost apologies for the lateness of this post; I’ve been quite waylaid with a combination of seemingly every non-lethal upper respiratory infection possible. For those of you keeping track at home, countries I’ve visited during CBS when I haven’t had to spend an entire day floating in and out of consciousness in a hotel bed: Dominican Republic, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Curacao, Mexcio (twice!), and Vietnam. Countries where I’ve missed seeing the assembly of the most expensive bed in the world: Sweden. Go figure.

IMG_7982
Mike Conway ’17 hanging out in a FAR more luxurious bed than I was in that day.

 

ANYWAY. The meatballs. You want to know about the meatballs, not my health. They’re great! We did have to wait until the second day to taste them, however, as the first night included an even more unique Swedish dish: reindeer!

FullSizeRender
Not quite Instagram-worthy, but Dasher tasted wonderful. There was a very Christmas-y vibe.

 

A couple observations about life/business in Sweden. First, gender equality is extremely important – we saw just as many men pushing around strollers as we did women, and, even at our nicest meals, there was no order to the service (i.e., both men and women were served according to seat position, not gender).

IMG_7955
One of our nicest dinners was at Bread & Table, generously sponsored by CBS alumnus Per Börjesson.*

Second, consensus is critical in corporate governance. As opposed to a more hierarchical system, where a manager decides the best course of action, it’s much more likely to be a group decision at every stage of the corporate ladder. Though this necessarily can slow down the pace of action, it creates a more cohesive environment where everyone in the organization is more aligned with the overall goals (in theory, at least).

I’ll leave you for now with this picture of the oldest church in Sweden, Storkyrkan. Besides being visually stunning, it’s also ancient – on a board listing events in the building’s history, there was a gap of 292 years, which one student noted was longer than the history of the entire United States!

IMG_7934
“On this site from 1600-1892…nothing happened. Check elsewhere on the map.”

Next stop, Copenhagen!

*When visiting Per’s company, Spiltan Fonder, we were treated to rather unique decorations in the restroom: rejection letters from every firm he had applied to from CBS. I can relate to him on at least one level!

Nordic GIP Part 0: Relatively Speaking

IMG_7915This sign in our hotel lobby was CLEARLY added to welcome the CBS group.

Kit O’Connor ’17

NEW YORK – Hej! Kit O’Connor ’17 checking in again – you might remember me from my travels earlier this year in Vietnam  – and no, I didn’t make a typo on my very first word, it’s just the way that we’ll say hello at my next destinations with the Chazen Institute: Sweden and Denmark!

Let’s start with a quick quiz: what do The New York Times, Volkswagen, Walmart, and Ikea have in common (other than what I suspect would be a very weird Sunday op-ed)? They’re all family businesses! One of the really cool things about this Global Immersion Program (GIP) is the dual focus on both family businesses and the way that those firms are run in the Nordic region. And yes, Ikea is indeed on the itinerary, though no word yet on whether we’ll have to assemble the conference room ourselves.

A little refresher for those readers who aren’t based out of Uris Hall (hi mom!): GIPs, unlike other Chazen programs, involve classwork and projects before and after the in-country experience and provide the same academic credit as a full-semester class. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have Professor Patricia Angus, a recognized expert on family-run firms, guide us in our classroom experiences over the last six weeks. I’ll be sharing some of the lessons we’ve covered over the next week of blogs, but for now, two quick facts that astounded me: did you know that family businesses make up more than 80% of companies in the world? And that despite that concentration, it’s incredibly rare for a family business to survive more than three generations? One of our most highly anticipated meetings will be with The Wallenberg Foundations, which are run by a family currently grooming the sixth generation to take the reins, so hopefully we’ll hear the secret to longevity.

I’ll wrap this up for now – my next report will cover the arrival into Stockholm and opening dinner (future spoiler alert: I bet the meatballs are awesome). See you across the pond!

Innovation + CBS: Sleepless in Scandinavia

We packed so much into our time in Scandinavia that it’s hard to know where to begin. As can happen if you’re not careful, one day seeps into the next and memories become misplaced. But that’s the great thing about Chazen trips: the intensity is incessant without being particularly uncomfortable, meaning every minute is accounted for. And we made the most of our time, mixing company visits with cultural events, indulging touristic impulses and making believe we were residents.

The truth is, the culture isn’t all that much different from New York’s – though maybe the Scandinavians wear more red pants (a trend I’m sure we’re not too far behind on). And because of that, these countries are exceedingly easy to travel to. The natives speak better English than the Americans do, and everyone is helpful and nice and deeply in love with and proud of their country.

And the food, the food, the food. This being the Innovation + Business Club, our group overlapped heavily with the Gourmet Club on campus, and it seemed like everyday we were swapping stories about the incredible restaurants we were finding. Everywhere we went in Copenhagen and Stockholm was worth it, but a few that stand out are, in Copenhagen, Radio, Koefoed, Manfreds and Geist (we went twice, the second time just for the “air on air on air tiramisu”) and, in Stockholm, Fem Sma Hus, B.A.R., Pontus and Bakfickan, behind the opera house and well worth two trips for the meatballs. (Sincerely, they’re out of this world.) As for bars, don’t pass up Ruby in Copenhagen, or Fisk Bar, even though you have to walk through the dodgy red-light district. And in Stockholm, we couldn’t seem to get enough of Riche (both sides).

My favorite restaurants were Koefoed and Fem Sma Hus, where, under the ancient vaulted ceilings we ate cured salmon topped with cucumber and cauliflower and mustard sauce, utterly smooth, and where I rediscovered Swedish deserts, which I had been dreaming of since I first visited the country ten years before. Let’s just say it was as smooth as I remember. Sweden may be famous for its meatballs, and, based on what we had at Bakfickan, it should be. But it seems they do ice cream like no other country can. I can hardly wait to go back for more.

Of course, I won’t have the benefit, then, of traveling with my classmates. Anyone with more time left at CBS should consider adding a Chazen trip to their to-do list. One of the beauties of being at CBS is that the hit rate is so remarkably high – in my four semesters, I haven’t really met anybody I couldn’t almost immediately get along with. As is often true even outside of business school, getting outside your regular environment is the best way to catalyze lasting relationships. Such is the case with our trip to Scandinavia. When I first saw the roster of travelers, I was excited by the fact that I had only superficial relationships with any of them. What a great way to get to know new people, I thought. And I was right: I walked the streets of Copenhagen and Stockholm with these people for a week, and I hope to keep in touch with them forever. I see them in the hallway now and it’s as if we went through something together, but I know that’s just me being romantic.

I feel blessed to have spent the nine days in Copenhagen and Stockholm under the aegis of our three organizers, Rachel, Zak and Laura. It’s clear how much work went into planning this trip, and how much effort it took to wrangle it all together. I know I’m not alone in thinking we are supremely lucky to have them as our organizers – thanks to them, everything has been wonderful, from our company visits to our meals and hotels. We owe them our deepest gratitude.

One final point, for those who may follow us to Scandinavia: No matter how persistently you ask, bartenders will not put Ace of Base on the speakers. But they will play Abba.

Thanks for reading. ~Brandon Wall

Innovation in Scandinavia: BIG and Bigger

Contrasts help define every city. Copenhagen, of course, has a few contrasts to speak of, but the one we studied is age-old: new vs. old. On our second day in the city, Bo, our local architecture professor/tour guide, led us out to a new neighborhood called Orestad, built on land that was, he said, “recently reclaimed from the sea.” Afterward we toured historical Copenhagen with another guide, Gordon, who walked us through the thatched-roof houses at Dragor and took us to the Royal Palace.

Orestad is, in all regards, still developing. The infrastructure is in place – on the brand-new and completely automated subway, it’s a pleasant eight-minute ride to the center of the city – but most of the land sits poised. The hope is that a good number of the thousand or so people who move to Copenhagen every month see Orestad as the ideal option.

So far, many have, thanks in part to work by the young but increasingly prominent architect Bjarke Ingels. His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (better known as BIG), is consistently putting out some of the world’s boldest new buildings, and he was commissioned to create three housing complexes in Orestad: the 8 House, shaped like a giant figure eight; the VM Houses, which is really two buildings, one shaped like a V, the other an M; and the Mountain Dwellings, a slab of homes sitting atop a sloped parking garage and shaped, naturally, like a mountain.

The buildings’ straightforward names belie how inventive these complexes are. Ingels, like his former boss, the “starchitect” Rem Koolhaus (excuse the pejorative), has a knack for taking standard building shapes and tweaking them into something dramatic that also solves the problem posed by the site or the programming. And with little else on the property, the architects weren’t constrained by context.

Each of the shapes serves a purpose. The “mountain” satisfied the client’s desire to build a parking garage as well as apartments. The V and the M ensure that the apartments get daylight on both ends (the other prominent shape here is the triangle, creating a porcupine of porches on one façade). And the figure eight, which incorporates both residential and office space, creates courtyards and a sense of community, with a rising and falling sidewalk connecting each of the apartments. (Even on a relatively cool March day, many residents opened their doors and sat on their front “porches.”)

That morning, we also stopped by the design-centric Bella Sky hotel, site of the 2009 climate conferences. The hotel itself isn’t as beautiful as the BIG homes, but its top-floor sky bar provides a view of the neighborhood’s potential. If we were to come back in ten years, we’d likely see less space and more structure.

Certainly, Orestad is an experimental neighborhood, and it’s not completely clear where all the demand was coming from, even if the city is still growing. But the results of this experiment are worth watching. These buildings may very well foretell a new, better, and more sustainable suburbia.

Enough words. Here’s a slideshow. ~Brandon Wall