A Global Lesson from Scandinavia on a Business Culture that Works

Zabeth Teelucksingh, for GPA -- On April 3rd, I was privileged to attend the Scandinavian Business Values Symposium organized and hosted by International House Philadelphia. A panel of six Senior Executives from the Philadelphia area spoke on the Scandinavian way to do business.

Jan Campbell-Westlind, the Moderator and Honorary Consul of Sweden in Philadelphia wowed us with the many accolades recently bestowed in the press on the Scandinavian countries for their economic success in these difficult times. He also noted Scandinavia’s high score in the “World Happiness Report”, the Earth Institute survey that ranks 156 countries on quality-of-life barometers that promote human wellbeing. There ensued a thoroughly useful debate on the ways in which Scandinavian companies differed from each other and how they had come about current successful outcomes.

The showcased companies were happy to be in Philadelphia and are well represented as a body in the region by their Chambers of Commerce and the Scandinavian American Business Forum.

It occurred to me that many of the goals they aspired to in their home country – quality of life, sustainability, good value, proximity to nature, expertise in design and good food are present in the Greater Philadelphia Region. When asked why they were located in Philadelphia, the corporate panelist representing two Scandinavian giants of industry SFK, SCA Paper mentioned legacy business holdings. Lars Bjork, President and CEO of QlikTech Inc. said “because it is the center of the Universe,” then followed up with references to the proximity to Europe, the talent pool and cost effectiveness compared to New York or a Silicon Valley.

The event presented at least five core-value tools useful to anyone wanting to do business with the Nordic Countries. These include:

  • A company culture that must apply all over the globe
  • Flat company structure with a value on consensus
  • Employee empowerment form the top down
  • Emphasis on quality of life as a whole
  • A flexible work place for women of childbearing age

The panel spoke to some differences also, demonstrating that they were quite willing to showcase a discussion around them. For example, the Swedes are more accepting of dissention than the Norwegians (who were jovially reminded that they were geographically closer to Russia.)

The panelists left the audience with a great feeling of energy, dynamism and a bright future. How fortunate that Philadelphia is the base of choice for these companies, their products and the business that they generate.