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“Communicate the purpose of the change and what role the organization has in the society”

Via Nordic Interim, Mikael Wikner has been engaged by PostNord and MTR Pendeltågen, assignments that have been both tough and complex, but also fun and developing. We have talked to him about his views on Interim Management and his career within the production- and service sector.

From industry to the service sector

Mikael began his career as a trainee at Saab Automobile and went through the entire company, from all production stages to all white-collar departments. With a focus on products, he learned the whole business. He continued at Saab in a cross-functional role within product development with a focus on how design and production should work together to get customized and quality-assured products. The next step took him to Ericsson, a company in rapid growth and a great need for civil engineers. He quickly advanced from working with planning and logistics development projects to becoming head of a product unit with P&L responsibility and 1,500 employees. After a CEO role within LGP Allgon, Mikael joined Stoneridge in 2005 as VP of Quality & Operations with factories in Sweden and Estonia. The responsibility grew and he also became Operations Manager for Scotland, Mexico, and China. In his last role within the company, he was active in Operational Excellence for the entire group and was responsible for the company’s industrialization of new products. Production was to be streamlined and he ran several projects according to Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma and built a central unit that offered support to all twelve factories. “Important questions were how we would handle investments and in which countries production would be located. We standardized production processes and supplier agreements and achieved a very good collaboration between the factories.”

After 13 years, Mikael decided to work in a more flexible way in new industries as an Interim Manager.

“It’s fun to work with completely new industries at an experienced age! You have so much experience that it does not matter which industry you enter. Leadership is the most important thing in all roles.”

In 2019, Mikael got his first interim assignment as Head of Operations & Technology at PostNord via Nordic Interim. The assignment was changed fundamentally after half the time when a major restructuring took place and a large part of the management team had to leave the company. The strategy was changed, and the countries would now become more independent. “We had to change according to the new conditions, and I went from driving development issues to reorganizing and downsizing. When you come from outside the company as an interim and do not have the same personal connections, it is easier to be loyal with your assignment and do what is required, but with humility and respect of course.” says Mikael.

The next assignment also came via Nordic Interim and took Mikael to MTR Commuter Trains as Traffic Manager with responsibility for train drivers, train hosts and the Operational Center. In a function that is crucial for the society, you need to always be alert: “Something always happened 24/7! MTR has a well-developed contingency organization for incidents, and I am impressed by the organization. My assignment was to lead a large and complex organization with 900 employees. We worked closely with SL, the Swedish Transport Administration and the entire MTR organization.” There were tough improvement goals, both in terms of the business itself and the financial key figures. “The way to good results is a safe operation for the travellers and employees, satisfied customers and trains running on time. Our remuneration from SL was partly based on how we succeeded with these points, and we further developed the collaboration with internal units, such as Train Maintenance and Central Planning, but also with external units such as SL and the Swedish Transport Administration. We improved all the key areas, which was great fun.” Mikael concludes.

When does it add value to an organization to engage an Interim Manager?

“When you have a business-critical vacancy when you need to run a turnaround or make a change journey. It is often beneficial to engage a person from outside who does not have personal connections and who can focus fully on the assignment. It can be about securing or improving daily activities, solving a complicated problem, or developing something new for the future. It is cost-effective to hire an interim who focuses on the assignment for a limited period of time.

Why did you choose a career as an Interim Manager?

“I find it extremely fun to try out new things, face new challenges, meet new people and be able to contribute with my experience. Even though interim assignments are time-limited, a good process for performance management needs to be secured and you need to get a good picture of what the competence situation looks like. The daily work must continue even if the task is to focus on change. Another important thing to understand early on is how to effectively implement improvements or other decisions about changes in the organization. To always face new challenges is the charm of working as an interim.”

Is it possible to take on assignments in different industries?

“Regardless of the industry, it is always about the leadership and the people. Operations, quality, and customer satisfaction must be improved. Observe, ask questions, and listen. Trust that team has the right competence and make a plan for the future together. Let key people be ambassadors for the change.”

What is your view on leadership?

“You have to communicate the purpose of the change and get to the bottom of why the company exists, including what role you have in the society. It is extremely important that the management and middle managers are on the same page. However, some key people may not like the change. These people have usually not understood what you want to achieve, why and what his/her role in the whole thing is. My experience is that everyone wants to do their best and feel that they are contributing. When the organization pulls in the same direction with high participation and high commitment, change happens fast!”