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BOOK REVIEW: A new take on business management

Nov 03 2015 06:23
Ian Mann

Inside Pandora: A Simple and Unconventional Approach to Business by one of the Key Players Behind a Billion-Dollar Global Enterprise, by Jesper Nielsen

I WAS introduced to this book by a friend who was taken with the unusual approach to business management. The author, entrepreneur Jesper Nielsen, was instrumental in creating billion-dollar, worldwide Danish jeweller Pandora. It is the third-largest jewellery retailer in the world, with about 1 000 stores.

What makes someone choose to dedicate him- or herself to a particular business? What does it take to establish a business and ensure it keeps growing? Inside Pandora is a description of how Jesper Nielsen did it. While neither his account nor any other is a prescription for success, it is an insightful tale with much to be learned.

Jewellery is not an essential product required for survival. Rather, its function is to create positive mental states in the buyer and the wearer. Assembled jewellery, such as Pandora, has the additional characteristic of specificity, as it reflects the wearer’s personality, life and experiences.

Many who were initially introduced to Pandora’s unique style found it “too Indian and hippie-like”, but Nielsen saw the potential. “I had a strong gut feeling about the items – luckily I choose to trust that instinct.” This reliance on instinct in a variety of areas is a strong part of Nielsen’s style.

Authenticity permeates the management style and practice in Nielsen’s KASI Group, the marketers of Pandora in Western Europe. When hiring, Nielsen ignored CVs in favour of a single, but very important, question: “Who are you really?” The decision to hire was based on two criteria: personality and character.

Nielsen would often offer his card to people he met in the bakery, for example, and tell them: “I have no idea what you can do or what your background is, but based on the way you have just served me, I’d like to hire you. So if you ever need a different job, feel free to contact me.”

In KASI’s interaction with customers, customer relationship management systems did not play a role. Relationships with people were to be created through genuine interactions that cannot and should not be formalised and automated, but need to be a function of relating at a personal level.

Authentic relationships with customers or suppliers were to be nurtured so there could be trust. When trust has been formed, the right things happen by themselves; this is true for friendship and business.

To get the most out of the people working for the company, Nielsen believes the CEO needs to ensure that conditions are created so that staff can be successful. “If you can create a company with 500 employees who are given the feeling of being successful every time they start to work, that is when magic happens.”

Achieving this “magic” requires a culture that is enabling rather than one that is in itself an obstacle to success. For jewellery to be sold successfully, Nielsen believes, the company as a whole should exude a culture of success and energy.

The power of physical presence

With the advent of technology it is easy to miss the power of physical presence. Being physically present to staff, suppliers and customers is a critical element in generating the energy that is necessary to make various levels of relationships work. It starts with the CEO, who must be present to suppliers and staff, and function as the face of the company. Presence is the only way to move people at an emotional level.

Nielsen never “wasted time on mission and value statements”. The three most important values to the KASI Group were “fun, fun, fun – It has to be a blast to go to work.” Only under these conditions can you get the commitment of people and 100% dedication.

Creating a culture that makes work a pleasure requires action to make this possible. All too often the desired culture is left to chance and only spoken about.

Nielsen’s KASI Group had many good practices that sustained and enhanced their culture. These are scattered throughout the book. Included is receiving quick and very specific answers to the questions you ask the CEO. “My default position is 'Yes'," Nielsen explains.

From early in his career in a gas station 24-hour convenience shop, he realised that “… the customer can tell that you always listen and understand because you are constantly doing all you can to find a solution that makes the customer happy”. The jewellery business was no different.

Idle gossip not allowed

A dismissible offence at the KASI Group was to gossip. So much interpersonal damage is done by gossiping that it is strange that more companies do not take a hard stand on this issue. It gets back to the old teaching – if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.

Socialising is taken very seriously, and staff are expected to be able to spend the night keeping customers company in the bar and still be ready for an eight o’clock meeting. Relationships need to be forged and cemented.

Nielsen admits to having made many mistakes throughout his career. Recognising this, when an employee has made a mistake “I would never dream of getting upset or angry or rebuke or berate him or her”. If a mistake occurs, making someone feel guilty is uncalled for.

On one occasion an executive extended the Christmas lunch to more drinking at a very expensive bar, and ran up a company bill of $9 500. He came in the next day dejected, clearly understanding what he had done. There was no need to go over the problem - rather, Nielsen told him that with all the effort he had put into the business, he would be quite happy to give him a bit of leeway. Mistakes should be seen as growth opportunities.

Nielsen chose to leave Pandora when the majority stake in the holding company was acquired by private equity group Axcel. Their primary concern was to extract value for shareholders, while Nielsen’s was to grow a company made up of fun-loving, unpretentious, genuine and friendly jewellers.

So Nielsen, ever the entrepreneur, started his new jewellery venture, Endless. This time he was armed with connections and depth of experience.

This book makes interesting reading for anyone who believes in conscious capitalism as a force for doing good in the world, and having fun while doing it.

Readability:  Light -+--- Serious
Insights:      High --+-- Low
Practical:      High ---+- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.


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