FB Chain started life in Eskilstuna, Sweden in 1870 – but it’s fair to say that when the UK subsidiary opened in 1985, our mindset was initially a lot more Anglo than Swedish.
Before I started working for FB my knowledge of Swedish culture was limited to the usual stereotypes — ABBA, blondes, Volvo, meatballs and IKEA. But the longer I spend working within a Swedish organisation, the more I realise simply how much the Swedish culture and way of life has to offer.
Swedes work to live, not live to work. They place a lot of emphasis on family and a maintaining healthy work-life balance, leading to an overall better quality of life. My other board members who are Swedish often talk about the positive impact on the business of taking time out to relax and spending time with family. The underlying idea is that a happy and balanced employee is a more productive employee.
Swedish people also like consistency, especially in the way they run their businesses. Success is measured over an entire business cycle, not on one quarter’s good or bad performance, and so we must always think long-term. At FB Chain we have certainly stayed true to our core values over the years. When we opened in 1985 each employee was presented with a small book outlining the company’s values and key performance indicators. In 2012 the book was reprinted almost unchanged.
Nevertheless, while the Swedes understand the importance of maintaining traditions, they also understand the need to evolve with the times. Success builds on the ability to cater for customers’ needs and, through this, develop new business services concepts. We place a lot of importance on working closely with our customers so that we can rapidly detect changes and needs. Over the years we have embraced the internet and all the benefits it brings, but we have increased our telephone and face-to-face contact too. There’s nothing like the personal touch.
There is a collective responsibility in-built in to Swedish people. They take ownership and share success, resulting in staff who are committed and engaged. In our business employees have a large measure of independence combined with responsibility. New staff quickly learn and enjoy being part of a decentralised organisation where they can and do have control over their own role. By taking this approach right across our operations we maximise the ability of a small business to achieve long-term growth and profitability.
Environmental care and occupational health and safety have always been at the forefront of Swedish culture. We are taking steps to improve our performance in these areas month by month. More than half of the electricity used within our group now comes from renewable sources. Cost is not an acceptable reason for not making the change to green energy. Similarly, the annual employee survey is a key resource for developing expertise and operations –great financial results, but poor employee feedback, are just not sustainable in the long term.
The FB way of working combines flexibility, personal touch, the efficiency of a small enterprise and long-term thinking. We assume that the market will not do us any favours during the coming year so it is simply up to us to do a good job, in order to grow and stay profitable…the Swedish way.