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7 Questions with Frank Olesen
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7 Questions with Frank Olesen
Name: Frank Olesen
Current title: COO; Chairman; Board member
Current organisation: GSV Materieludlejning; Keolis Danmark A/S; Norlys Tele.
I have spent 20+ years in IT/Tele with global and national enterprises in positions ranging from Sales/Account Management; Business Development/M&A; Corporate Strategy and Operations.
I have further spent +10 years in Logistics/Asset Management in Operations and full business management.
Since 2004 I have had executive and Board positions with full P&L responsibility for various units ranging from ~500 employees to ~5000 employees.
I have worked and lived in Taiwan, Qatar, Belgium, England and Scandinavia - and thrive in the multicultural environment.
Generally I have always pursued complexity and the untrodden ways to seek new solutions, always with IT and digitisation as a core leaver to make better results.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Out of the many challenges in the directing, developing and restricting responsibility of an executive I find the most rewarding challenge to work with people in the enterprise. Work with them to develop their full potential. Finding the right people for various teams with various objectives; let them "loose"; see and guide them to achieve and overachieve. In my view it requires all your analytical and human skills to solve the problems and conflicts involved, give the right nurturing and inspiration; and do or facilitate the"hard" decision making. When successful it is beautiful as a Ballet - and failures can be catastrophic.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
For the first 15 years of my career I worked with the front part of the enterprise value chain. In Sales/account management, business development, M&A, strategy. I worked with IBM, TDC and Belgacom in the IT/telecoms sector.
Achievements in my positions made me quickly climb into management and executive positions working with the best advisors, bankers and people available on the global scene. I learned and developed a lot from this. Along the way it became my experience, that the core of the success often resides within the Operations of a company. Making the people in Operations improve, improve and improve.
This realisation led me in 2003/2004 to pursue positions in Operations, away from sales/business development and strategy. I have never regretted or turned back. With the operating responsibility came the very rewarding full P&L and full business responsibility.
Working into operations I have always taken advantage of my career in the front part of the enterprise value chain - always finding ways to improve the customers experience with the results of the operations. Always taking the Customers position - a position that, unfortunately, often can be forgotten in the "machine room" of Operations. Working as "Business Developer" and "Customer Front" inside of operations with respect for the people working there secures a constant 360 degrees understanding of the enterprise. reality based evaluations of what is possible, what is not; what is reality and what is not; Where can we do improvements - and where not.
Both as chairman and as COO/Co-owner I now base my work on the entirety of this career.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
generally I wake up around 0630; Over breakfast I read the news from 3 newspapers and SoMe. Further, I check the latest status of the KPIs (financial, operational) and browse through my mail accounts for important mails to be answered or reflected upon. Around 0800 I go to the office, usually with phone/team calls on my way. Physical meetings start around 0830 and continue until 1700ish. Between meetings I handle e-mails and phone-calls. My lunch-break is a max of 20 min, whilst checking news and KPIs.
I am usually home around 1800 - spending dinner and evening time with my wife - and at times with our adult children. During normal week-days we (my wife and I) do physical exercise twice (1800-1930) -Cross-fit with a personal coach.
Of course Mails and SoMe are frequently checked also in the evening. The on-line world never stands still.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I have been amazed by the speed with which new IT tools have been widely accepted and adopted, forced by the COVID19 crisis. The lesson learnt is that when a crisis hits, almost anything can be done. The question it raises is - why does it take a crisis to do changes, when the change so clearly represents an improvement, in the work process and in results creation ?
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I will not point to one specific book, rather an Author.
While doing my PhD in Corporate Strategy I was very fascinated with Michael Porter and his strategy framework as laid out in his books, his research papers (published and unpublished).
Despite the weaknesses and shortfalls of the theories Porter has provided me with a consistent framework to understand industries, their dynamics and a company's logical structure.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I spend a significant amount of my time by setting the leadership team. Selecting carefully the right people, representing a complementary set of skills, experiences and personalities.
Having set the team I then continuously work with the team to improve results-creation, cooperation, coordination and direction-setting. At times I use an external, experienced facilitator to develop a specific "area".
And of course there is a continuous evaluation of the team and its members. I value a combination of fresh eyes and deep understanding of the company, thus I keep in my pocket a small list of potential in-house candidates to move into the team - providing those candidates with development responsibilities, grooming them for a leadership position.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When I worked with Belgacom (the Belgian incumbent telecom operator) we were under life-threatening competitive pressure - we were forced to do a massive change at a record speed.
It was agreed with the Unions to cut the workforce by 33% (from 24.000 to 16.000). A timeline of 24 months for the execution of all dismissals was agreed.
Leading the exercise I structured a program in the following components:
a: Execution of the union agreement of workforce reduction
b: Reskilling 3.000 workers from technicians to customer front agents
c: Implementation of IT systems and processes that allowed for a 33% workforce reduction. New systems included: Billing, Service-order, Customer service, HR/Salary, Finance and "Technical production" - each system change was so large and significant that you in a normal situation never would do more than 1 or 2 changes at the same time. We were doing all 6.
So in effect over 24 months we implemented all the new systems and processes; trained all people to work with the new processes and systems - and reduced the workforce by 33%.
By having and governing our priorities strictly ("getting the basics right"), setting and working with the team, constantly communicating and coordinating on the basics of the business and its transition we finally succeeded.
It was a result of a massive team-work across the leadership-team and across the change-program leaders. It took weekly meetings for 2 years where the change program leaders and the leadership team worked through the pains of setting priorities, "Nay-saying" to good ideas, keep the agenda, coordinate activities to match scarce resources, adjust and readjust plans - and keep everyone motivated and engaged on the journey.
The company continues today to be a successful telecom operator (Renamed to: Proximus).