CEO Niels B. Christiansen on strategy and alignment

The CBS Alumni had the honour of hosting Niels B. Christiansen, in his last speaking engagement as CEO of Danfoss. And it was a double treat,  Chief Editor of Børsen, Niels Lunde, the man who had spent close to two years documenting the impressive turn-around of Danfoss in the book "The New Danfoss" (2014) was also there to guide the discussion on the impressive the transformation.

Niels B. Christiansen gave us insights into one of the most common conundrums facing most executive teams, the issue of how to manage a large scale digital transformation. He was quite direct about it - "Digital transformation was a must-do for Danfoss to stay competitive". Although they have been successful in this venture, he outlined that one of the biggest challenges in the implementation was getting the two cultures, the digital and analogue generations, to work together. 

To send a strong message to the organisation that digital was here to stay, the annual top 250 global management sessions was changed to only invite the top 150 executives and include 50 digitally-minded individuals. But now the thing that keeps him awake most at night was the issue of cyber security. To mitigate against this risk, Danfoss has invested heavily in the detection of invasion so that they can respond promptly.

As Niels reflected on his last nine years as CEO, some of his key take-aways on his success were:

  • overinvest in alignment before implementing a turn-around strategy to ensure that your entire senior team is communicating the same message to the organisation
  • Customer orientation is key to survival - quoting Jeff Bezos " Do not fear your competitor, fear your customer."
  • Do not do too many things in parallel. Focus is key.
  • Act quicker when in doubt

Niels Lunde asked the million dollar question "So what is next for you?". At this point, Niels B. Christiansen said he is merely exploring his options and finds digital start-ups interesting. Whatever his next steps are, one thing is for sure that Niels B. Christiansen has a left a legacy for the work that he did at Danfoss. 

By Khanya Vokwana, CBS Full-time MBA student 2016-17 and Alumni Representative