2015-01-21: From Nothing to Top Valued – Interview with Sören Gyll

Most important is speed and to dare to take decisions, says Sören Gyll, former CEO of Volvo (when it was one company), Pharmacia, Procordia and Uddeholm. If you recognize afterwards that one of the decisions were wrong you can change it and then you have been through the analysis why it was wrong. Gyll made Procordia the second highest valued company on the stock exchange from a company that never had made any profits (Statsföretag). A fantastic achievement.

Magnus Lagerkvist: I remember 1982-12-22 when I visited you in Uddeholm. It was the first time we met. The head office was empty and the company would announce the largest loss in Swedish industry history, 800 M.SEK. What were your thoughts then?

Sören Gyll: That we should not make it did not cross my mind. I believed we could and people saw that and accepted change and moved on. We even closed all cashiers – except for salaries – to handle cash flow. And we managed.

ML: You hired a consultant from us as Managing Director of Uddeholm Svenska AB, your former job. It was a very quick decision?

SG: In situations like that you have to move fast. If the decision is wrong you can always change and then you have been through the analysis why it went wrong, which is good in itself. In this case it was the right decision.

ML: At Statsföretag/Procordia you had 52 direct reporting CEOs when you started, representing tobacco, pharmaceutical, engineering industry etc.etc. How did you manage to initiate change?

SG: I always valued to have a “process of change”. We started a strategic process where everything was up on the table. We used you as consultants to do the analysis and give proposals. All 52 CEOs took part from the beginning. It was also good to use you as consultants to test ideas. You presented ideas and I could judge the reactions – that went both for the group of CEOs and sometimes the board.

ML: You have said that the process “make soft measures hard”?

SG: Yes, in a process you normally formulate values that shall govern you in your work. Like “openness”, “honesty”, “direct communication” etc. When you then discover that a CEO or someone else violates this, potentially or actually, affecting the results, then it is easy to act and if necessary sack that person. In the process they had committed themselves and then they violated it.

ML: Statsföretag/Procordia went from being a company that never had made a profit to a prosperous food and pharmaceutical company with the second highest market cap on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in less than 7 years. An un-parallel achievement!?

SG: Of course I am proud. But again, the process was very important and also resulted in that I basically had the whole management and the board behind me. A key to success.

ML: As CEO of Volvo it did not take long after you came into office that the 1991-93 crises occurred?

SG: Here I also started processes and we took a lot of decisions rapidly, like the radical downsizing program in Volvo Cars that you helped us with. Here I had some discussions with the board that was worried that things went too fast. Sometimes I have been very puzzled by the fact that even people in boards does not see that “time is money” – you have to act and if you realize that you have taken the wrong decision ,normally you can change it again.

ML: How do you see the future for the Swedish industry? For Sweden?

SG: I have seen many managers – CEOs – being very afraid to take decisions – to move on. And I also see this today and that worries me. I also think that business leaders must be more engaged in public life. Meet politicians two and two. Influence them. Tell them how we perceive the situation. Make statements. Politics has an enormous influence over society. We have to work to get it right.

ML: My impression is that many, especially young leaders, are afraid of taking decisions because they have too much to lose – personally?

SG: I do not know so many of the younger any more but that can very well be the case. But if they don´t dare to take decisions and change they will lose anyway in the end.