From leading IKEA, one of the world’s largest furniture brands, to championing sustainability and innovation, Jesper Brodin’s journey is a remarkable tale of leadership and forward-thinking. As CEO, Brodin has been instrumental in steering IKEA towards a future-oriented business model, emphasizing the importance of long-term investments, embracing change, and the delicate balance between profitability and positive impact.
In this episode of Culture Leaders Podcast, Jesper Brodin shares his insights on leading through times of change and the significance of having a vision deeply embedded in the core operations of a business. He reflects on his encounters with IKEA’s founder and the invaluable lessons learned about thinking long-term, not just in terms of years but centuries.
Join us on Culture Leaders Podcast as Jesper Brodin takes us through his journey at IKEA, sharing his thoughts on sustainable business practices, leadership challenges, and the exciting yet uncertain future shaped by technological advancements.
“The vision of IKEA is actually… not an after construction or not a sideline, but actually deeply embedded into the heart of what we do.” – Jesper Brodin
“I suffer from a bit of optimism. So I tend to, you know, put some faith in also the unknown.” – Jesper Brodin
“What scares me at the moment is leaders who don’t take a greater responsibility than the position they cover.” – Jesper Brodin
“To earn money is an amazing way to gain resources so we can expand what we do, including then creating jobs, having a positive impact on people and planet.” – Jesper Brodin
“AI holds such lovely opportunities to create effectiveness, quality upgrade, and all sorts of benefits. And it has such scary risks for humanity.” – Jesper Brodin
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Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Jesper. I am so thrilled to have you here and so thrilled to learn from you. I would love to know, the first question we always ask is, what is your personal why?
Jesper Brodin: My personal why.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, what’s your why? What wakes you up in the morning?
Jesper Brodin: Very good. I think over the years I’ve become more and more engaged in creating, making things better basically. I’ve learned over the years that whatever we were taught in school that it’s good, better, best. Actually, better is better than best. And the opportunity of contributing and making things a little bit better for people is what drives me in the morning.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, that’s a good one. Better is better than best. Because at best you’ve stopped working, right?
Jesper Brodin: Mmm.
Jesper Brodin: I IKEA
Exactly. I think it’s a typical IKEA thing also. We are good at recognizing and celebrating when we ship something, but then we’re quite good at thinking, okay, what do we do from now? How do we take things to the next level? And to be honest, I think over the years when I started with the company many years ago, there were a lot of things that excite me. But over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate that the vision of IKEA is actually…
not an after construction or not a sideline, but actually deeply embedded into the heart of what we do. So the aspect of creating a better life for people, obviously in life at home, being in IKEA, but also expanding that to our value chain and people who are engaged in what we do, and maybe a bit beyond when it comes to areas as people and planet as well.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So you mentioned making a better life for people, but what exactly is the mission statement for IKEA?
Jesper Brodin: So it’s the mission statement is to create a better everyday life for the many people. It was I think it was it was written the first time and shared internally back in 1980. But it was sort of very early with our founder Ingvar Kamprad who started the company about 80 years ago. I do believe as a 16 year old that he was actually by back then his father had to actually co-sign for the company. He was not even.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm
Jesper Brodin: Old enough to own a company in Sweden back then. But from the start it was about entrepreneurship, earning money, creating success. But there was always some passion from him to see what we could contribute with to society and a bit of depth in his own personality to want to go beyond just making the euros or dollars or Swedish kronas. So that’s what we are about. We are actually today, not many people know that, but we are a foundation.
So at the top of my organizations, the owner is a foundation and the only way, so to say our dividends can be spent is through philanthropy. So it’s an interesting way of serving that purpose in many ways through the business and through the ownership structure actually.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Wow, I was just interviewing someone who said that their goals for each year in their business is not the ability to earn a certain amount of revenue for the company, but rather is in their ability to give, how much they can give away at the end of the year, which does require earning revenue, but there are not a lot of organizations out there that have that kind of structure. I mean, I think that is some of the tension you’re seeing right now in the world around people’s perception of corporate greed generally and not a lot of people know that about Ikea. Do you feel like that makes a difference in your culture?
Jesper Brodin: Absolutely. And I get reminded when you say that I need to write on my list for the next year to get better in spreading that message. Because I think the one hand it feels right and important, but it’s also I think to give people a couple of more reference points on what I believe is the new and the modern way of leading companies. You know, and having that said, I think for us, you know,
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.
Jesper Brodin: Let me put it like this, to earn money is an amazing way to gain resources so we can expand what we do, including then creating jobs, having positive impact on people and planet, making lives at home accessible for people and so forth. And what I tried to do is to resist the myth that being a good business and doing good
Jesper Brodin: In any way controversial or in conflict with each other. But on the contrary, I think through my years in IKEA, I’ve discovered over and over again, through so many examples, by being a good business, we actually do good business. And when it comes down to start reflecting on that, it makes a lot of sense. But I have to admit also that there is, we are at the tipping point in the world right now, climate questions, people questions where…
where it also becomes obvious that there is a short-termism in the world that I think needs to be challenged and would also from a corporate perspective would be a bad idea when you think about the young generations going up, how they choose their brands and their employers of the future.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So I was talking to a CEO offline a couple of weeks ago and they were saying that they feel just as exploited as the frontline worker. That was their quote. And I asked him what he meant and he said, I don’t have nearly as much power as the people in my company think I have. I am controlled by the investors in the business who have shareholders and expectations. And there’s a lot I would love to do. I would love to invest in other areas. I would love to give more to my employees.
Jesper Brodin: Yeah.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: But if I do that, I would be pushed out and then the next person would come in and they would put the shareholder needs first and we would be in a worse position. So what do you say to the CEO that doesn’t have the kind of structure that you have that is in, let’s say, an American public company that has shareholders that they’re accountable to that loves what you’re saying but feels like they’re stuck?
Jesper Brodin: Interesting.
Jesper Brodin: Yeah.
Jesper Brodin: Good luck. I think, you know, now to be a little bit serious, I have deep respect for that. To that point, my life is much easier. Being a fund, again, the shareholder of the company, the foundation, if they put pressure on me and us to do more and faster when it comes to investing long-term in the future business model.
Allowing us financial means to do long-term investments and so forth. I can give you a side note, it just popped up in my mind now. One of the last meetings I had with our founder before he passed away, 91 years old, I asked him, sharing a coffee, a sunny summer day, and I asked him, how should we think about the future? Just, you know, a nice conversation. And he said, you should think long-term. I said, okay.
So how long term? He said, yeah, 200 years would be good, he said. And he stays with me, you know, and of course, those companies and the, if you like, the business model of the 1900s or such, where, so to say, the over emphasis on capitalism and short term gains is of course, I think, not the optimum model.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Ha ha
Jesper Brodin: And I would say, obviously, I’m not anti-earning money. On the contrary, I think there is a risk we short-term is, you can strive for result and push the agenda, get decisions made, action taken, but you also might avoid doing the right long-term investments. And I do believe in times of great transformation, these are the companies that are at risk of existing, right? Because they might wanna get the dividends rather than making bold investments in transformation.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: Now, tell me any industry today who is not undergoing a transformation, whether it’s digital, whether it’s climate, where, you know, I think people are waking up to understand that climate is not an adaptation from companies. It’s a transformation of your business model, energy, raw material, consumption, mobility, etc. And these are topics where there is no gray zone, really, I found. But it’s either you’re on that train.
You take the risks, you take some pain off it, but you also ripe the benefits off it economically. And if you’re not, you know, I think you might have some years of okay dividends. But at the end of the day, I think the same CEO might lose the job because you haven’t fought enough for the long-term investment and doing what is right for the brand and for people. So again, with the deepest respect, I think we have to ask ourselves sometimes…
what is the worst, you know, to lose our jobs or lose our self-respect when we have the opportunity to do what is the right thing to do. Again, it’s not easy. I love that they are open about the challenges. That’s important.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: There’s so much deep personal work that needs to happen for any business leader to make that decision, that I’m gonna not lose self-respect, instead I’m gonna risk losing my job. I mean, how do you encourage people to do that reflection to get there? Because we are in a system that encourages us to just go, go. Have you seen anything that’s in your mentoring relationships?
Jesper Brodin: Mmm.
Jesper Brodin: I would like to believe that. I think I’ve struggled myself and do struggle still, you know, with some of the dilemmas of the times and leading as we do. I think maybe one of my, you know, I don’t know if it’s a benefit maybe in this case is that I suffer from a bit of optimism. So I tend to, you know, put some faith in also the unknown. But there is a logic behind it, I think, you know, if you take, for instance, the climate, challenge that is in spite of all the calamities going on in the world currently, we believe is the greatest, the most dangerous threat to humanity and it’s not a distant threat, it’s happening as we speak. And the thing is that you know if we even park the ethical and moral topics around it, which I think should be motivation enough, if you look at any brand out there today.
What we know from an IKEA perspective, we recently concluded an interview with 30,000 people in 33 markets. And I’ve been running this data together with Potsdam Institute and others to say this seems to be statistically incorrect. So we have in our markets no less than 64 percent of our consumers deeply engaged, deeply worried when it comes to the climate crisis. The difference between US, China, Sweden is not that big, to be honest.
The difference comes when you look at age groups. And if you go down to the 30 and 25 something, it’s up in the 80s and 90s. Meaning that the global awareness is much larger than we thought. And if you ignore that even from a brand or from an employer perspective, wanting the best competences, it seems to be unwise. Then the third thing, which I try to advocate for in those, in all the opportunities I have, through…
you know, reason also, but if you look at a company like IKEA, we are a massive consumption industry, basically from forest all the way to people’s homes and thereby mitigating, you know, the fringes of that business model doesn’t take us to a 50% reduction of carbon by 2030 or yet 90% by 2050.
Jesper Brodin: So the only way we can do that is by transforming consumption itself, material equations, strive for investing into renewable energy, not a little, but a lot, and so forth. Electrical vehicle transports and so forth. You have to rethink your business model to a certain extent. And the interesting thing is, as raw material prices have continued to rise, virgin material prices, every deal we strike on circularity is a good deal.
Every shift we do from meat-based to plant-based food is a great business opportunity. Every investment we have done in a windmill, we have more windmills than IKEA stores today, has given us independence, energy independence, and economic benefits. And I can continue, the list is long. And I, you know, to finalize that, I recognize there are some hurdles and some barriers that we need to overcome, but it’s definitely a myth to think that sustainability should come with a premium.
It’s the opposite. If you work it right in your business model, you will be able to find economic benefits. The problem to your question is you can’t do that in a quarter or two quarters. You can do that in a three to five year perspective, but not in a quarter. And thereby that form of capital can actually be dangerous for the future profits of the company.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What CEOs that you know that are working right now do you look up to? Who’s your inspiration?
Jesper Brodin: Wow. Well, I think there are so many today, luckily. To start with, a few years ago, I was in 2011, I had the opportunity to meet Paul Polman at Junilever. I remember that meeting. I don’t think he remembers me, but he was on stage and he was, I think, one of the clearest voice of that time to with courage in, you know, on a listed company actually leading from the
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Thank you.
Jesper Brodin: Understanding that we need to transform. So that he was definitely a big source of inspiration from clarity, but also from courage. There are many leaders within IKEA that I’ve admired over the years also. My former boss, Anders Dahlvigge, who was the CEO when I was assistant, was the person who brought in topics like gender diversity and environmental aspects on the agenda the first time in a very modern and natural way. If I continue, I would say,
Six years ago, seven years almost ago, when I started this assignment, APARTEC took a meeting in Davos, in World Economic Forum, with the WEF Climate Alliance, and I decided to not continue our engagement there. So afterwards, in a call with friends from WEF, they asked me why, and I told them, because there is no commitment and no agenda, so we didn’t see the value of it really. And then they asked me if we would change that, would you consider to be a co-chair?
And obviously, hard to say no. And if I look six years down the road there, back then, no commitment, no plan. And I would say very little competence, at least with myself, but I think I can speak for several CEOs. Today, that group is 129 of the biggest brands in the world. If you add up the carbon footprint, this is the size, it’s like top three countries in the world, which is a problem, of course, on one hand. But these are CEOs who are today committed.
They are competent. We understand the cockpit of climate and the impact on both business and carbon, so to say. And we are Paris committed and we have come quite a long way also in planning. Not every problem is solved, so to say, but most of us have plans in place and are acting and delivering on it. This has taken six years. It’s one of the fastest development I ever seen.
So I can give you at least under 29 people that I look up to in that constellation.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.
Amazing how you opting out allowed for transformative change in such an impact in such a short period of time. Yeah, okay, maybe, maybe. So here’s a question. We’re fascinated with culture. And I hear a lot of CEOs complaining about, not complaining, let’s say curious about how to maintain a uniform culture across different geographies.
Jesper Brodin: I was tricked. Classic trick.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Actually a goal or I wonder if that’s the right question because why does each geography need to be uniform in culture? And yet I look at your organization and I feel like you are the masterclass in that. How do you do that when you have nationality culture conflicting with corporate culture, which one trumps which and what is the right question or what is the lesson you’ve learned?
Jesper Brodin: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: You know, it’s an absolutely fascinating question. I think, you know, maybe I will never find out fully the answers and the insights around it. It’s complex. But I have a couple of experiences that has been important for me. I’ve had the pleasure to work. My first job was actually in Karachi, Pakistan. Second job was in Indonesia. I do believe culturally, the difference between Pakistan and Sweden was less than Pakistan and Indonesia, for instance. I lived and worked in China many years.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.
Jesper Brodin: I even lived and worked in the strange place called Sweden, you know. So I’ve been exposed to a lot of cultures as such. But I had a moment when I first joined in Hong Kong in China back in 2008, I think it was. I met a gentleman who was running culture programs for IKEA. They were quite popular. But there was something with his proposal that made me hesitate. And I couldn’t really figure out what it was.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Thank you.
Jesper Brodin: So I asked for some time to reflect and the next day, it came to me the insight that the program was focused on differences. And at that moment, I had the insight to say, I think we need to focus on what we have in common and similarities between us and try to, we can laugh at them and understand some of the surface differences that we need to maybe be educated in to decode each other.
And to have a deeper and faster understanding of how we communicate. But beyond that, I found through my years that we are the same, you know, we have the same human needs, we have the same ways of reacting, the same sadness, the same grief, the same joy and the same need of respect, independence and so forth. So what I believe is from my leadership and also through IKEA’s years, it wasn’t through design at all.
It was more or less I think, you know, lucky for us that our set of values were really coming from common sense and from grounded values from ordinary people and they seem to resonate with people all over the world and quite rarely we have any confrontations around those values being quite straightforward and the second point which I found interesting is that and to be honest, when I joined IKEA back in 95, I had a bit of difficulties to, so to say, accept the values. I felt they were a little bit imposed to me that I need to change in order to fit in, which is interesting to a certain extent. Maybe culture should pinch a little bit, you know, but then I realized that actually the values were my own and similar or same, so it worked fine.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm.
Jesper Brodin: What I found is with the values is that they have become more and more modern over the years. As people are more educated, as we realize that the borders are more an illusion than a reality between people. So values such as togetherness, delegates great responsibilities to people to serve humanity, to be part of people and planet positive and so forth, is not that difficult. And I think even more valid in the future than in the past.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s so interesting. You know, that’s the same insight that my dad had. He left on a 12-year motorcycle trip around the world on a motorcycle with a sidecar, and he would go to every country all over the world, and he had this very strong opinion about whether he would like a country or not before he went there. He thought he was not going to love Russia, but he was going to love Sweden. And when he got to Sweden, he loved it. When he got to Russia, he loved it because he found that in every country, people are kind, people wanna help,
Jesper Brodin: Wow.
Jesper Brodin: Hmm.
Jesper Brodin: Wow.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That we’re all the same in our differentness and we’re all different in our sameness. And it was a powerful lesson that he learned in getting to travel around. You know what? I’m trying to write a book about him. He’s passed away, but I wanna write the book for him because shouldn’t I? I think so. And I also have about 12 years of footage from his trip. I wanna make a documentary too. It would be a good one.
Jesper Brodin: That’s beautiful. Has he written a book about that? That’s a beautiful story.
Jesper Brodin: Okay, you should.
Jesper Brodin: I think it’s a super modern story to tell, to be honest. Because again, we are, I think, belonging to a generation growing up when there was sort of a belief or a promise that things would get better. We would overcome borders and be more aligned globally and so forth. And here we are at the time when we are taught that we are very different and obviously we’re not. But I think the message of…
what we have in common is incredibly important these days.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: And you know, what’s interesting is he was a CEO when he left, he was feeling so much pressure from deadlines and metrics and employees and customers and all of the expectations of him that he felt like he had enough and he hit the road. Do you ever feel like that? I mean, what are the things that challenge you the most that push you to the brink?
Jesper Brodin: Well, I have three teenagers at home if you… But otherwise no problem whatsoever. No, I think these last years have been incredibly challenging and I think as people, all of us, pandemic, war, economic havoc, you name it, climate change. So I do believe that the challenges of our time has been overwhelming for many of us. To the point, I also think I’ve seen a lot of leaders
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hehe
Jesper Brodin: Not manage to cope with the carrying the load of fears and uncertainty. And I’ve seen a lot of people rise to the challenge in a beautiful way. So we do. I think the answer to my question is more, how do you cope with this ever changing, dynamic environment that we’re leading in? And I do believe, back to your question on values and culture, what I found interesting is that we are, we have less of a map today, so to say, but we can have a clear compass and that’s where values help you. If you trust that and if you apply that on your organization, as I shared with somebody today actually, in the early stages of the pandemic, we were quite fast in responding to the situation. Just to give you an idea, being then a fairly analog company, we had just started our online.
Transformation and we were not there. But we were basically having periods where most of our stores were closed. So we were confronted by a scenario of mass layoffs and deep red numbers in IKEA for the first time ever. And that was, there were a couple of sleepless nights there I must say. We managed to speed up everything services, everything digital, everything online, mobilizing people both from…
energy and passion but also from safety aspects to actually land in a place that year that we only retracted by four percent in top line which was phenomenal. It’s actually I think it’s the best result we ever done and it’s funny because it’s the worst we have never before actually retracted but it was only four percent. We managed to navigate into black numbers which meant actually we decided to revert all the furlough.
Opportunities that we were we were actually decided we cannot accept money since we actually will make a little bit of profit. Now the thing that took us there interesting enough was not that I or my management group took the right decisions. And note that a lot of companies then were paralyzed because they as the dynamics and the challenges and the stakes were higher people got more afraid of doing mistake. I think in Ikea people were encouraged to.
Jesper Brodin: What was the common sense. And thereby, the whole organization took converging actions at the same time, which made us faster and more powerful. Long story short, I think it shows the power of culture in dynamic times is more important.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, that’s interesting. We just released some research that we did in conjunction with Stanford University that looked at which kind of culture wins the most often. And we defined winning as revenue growth because that’s typically what we’re seeing CEOs trying to achieve. And the culture that outperformed to the tune of 3X was an adaptive culture. The ability to be dynamic and adapt to change is the one that wins. So there’s a narrative out there though that is so hard to achieve
Jesper Brodin: Mmm.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: People just don’t care. People don’t wanna work anymore. They don’t wanna take accountability. And there’s a lot of coaching we do around that. What do you buy into that narrative? Have you seen it in your own workforce? And how do you overcome that when you do see it?
Jesper Brodin: Hmm.
Jesper Brodin: Well, I haven’t seen that. I wouldn’t express it, at least from our experience, on that note. What we see more and more is that people look for something they believe in. They look for a purpose. And if they don’t see that, money is not. Well, of course, people are different. There are people who will pursue different targets. But what we see is that the importance that we are true to our vision in IKEA.
But also that people, not only that there is a vision somewhere, but that people feel that they are a contributor to that vision becomes more and more important. We have today being, so to say, a retailer and a home furnishing company. We are today getting fairly advanced when it comes to digital capabilities. And the organization, I would say, and the competence level is on a very high level today. When you talk to the best talents in an organization,
They all say that they choose us not necessarily for the love of Billy Bookcase, but for the opportunity to be part of a journey where it’s not only about making shareholders earn money, but I can be part of something more important. I couldn’t say, you know, how big share of humanity pursue that, but it’s definitely a growing number and particularly among the younger.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm. Yeah, I, you’re walking into the store as an experience. I mean, you just said being part of a journey, that made me think of the journey that you go on in an Ikea store and the experience that you create for people. I mean, I remember going Ikea as a little kid. My mom always incentivized me to go, first of all, I got to play in the ballroom, right? Which was just thrilling. And then we had those Peppacocka cookies, which I absolutely loved. There’s memories created in that store,
Jesper Brodin: Hehehe
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Name another store, it’s just a store, right? Was that always the intention from the beginning or did that evolve over time?
Jesper Brodin: Well, I think it was like a beautiful story of evolution and entrepreneurship. And one of the things I, since I work with the founder as assistant to him, I can’t remember how many stores we visited. And he would easily, we would easily be at the store at five o’clock in the morning to say hello to the truck drivers and to people working with the logistics section to for goods delivering, and then we could be there until nine o’clock in the evening.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: It was an absolutely, sometimes it was tiring, but it was also fascinating. And the interesting thing with his mind, which I of course could have the opportunity to observe is that he had the capability of constantly looking for opportunities. Now it all started back when IKEA was actually mail order company and decided to build its first store in the small city of town of Elmult where IKEA started. Today, some 8,000 people.
Then even smaller, can you imagine? Now they opened the first IKEA store there, and as such, they then, in order to make it work, they of course had to attract people from all over Sweden. So Swedes were driving 10, 12 hours to get to the IKEA store because the prices were amazing. So what they realized to start with was people get hungry. So the IKEA food and the IKEA restaurant was quite early on an important part.
Ingvar realized that you don’t make fantastic business on an empty stomach. So, you know, I would say it’s a story of listening to customer needs and realizing opportunities along the way and trying to find a way to not go where others are, but to create uniqueness. And as such, I think what we try to deliver to is, you know, the aspect of instance gratification is not to forget it. You can basically get anything.
in our range the same day. You don’t have to wait eight weeks for your sofa, etc. The aspect of an experience when it comes to inspiration, solutions, the opportunity to overview an offer in a fairly simple way, and then to basically have an opportunity for food and some sort of entertainment as well is part of what I think people still appreciate with IKEA.
And it’s still, I think, I would say even more in an omni-channel transformation way, where a few years ago we were of course leaning towards the digital revolution within our own business model. But then just to discover that parallel, we need to double up our efforts to make our stores better, better experience, a better service quality, more inspiration, as people are slightly less, slightly more difficult to flirt with.
Jesper Brodin: when it comes to make a journey, to spend time, to travel and so forth and come to us. And thereby, I think the store experience is right now undergoing quite an interesting time of entrepreneurship as well.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What do you see your greatest impact being on the future of Ikea? What’s your special touch?
Jesper Brodin: That’s a good question. I should probably ask myself that. No. You know, I think… You know, currently I like to think about that. There are maybe four aware choices you can make in your leadership. One, when I look back at my first days, it was really about being a manager. Manage teams, leading topics, take decisions and so forth. Then I had the opportunity to lead change and transformation, which I think helped me to realize you can’t manage.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.
Jesper Brodin: Transformations, but you can lead it. You can be in the forefront, you can put out the flags, you can inspire people, you can create a vision together with people that a community believes in. You can be there on the ground at the first examples. You can cry over the fiascos and mistakes or early stages of failures and so forth. It’s a different leadership. And then I come back to two parts that you might interest you. I think, you know, I realized over the years that leading by building culture is even more effective. It takes longer time. There could be such a thing even as bad culture, right, which is difficult to change. But at the same time, good culture is also very resilient. So when I look for part of my leadership of building resilience, I try to be conscious about how I lead from a culture building perspective. And then it leads me to what I’m thinking, you know, is maybe for me at least the ultimate stage. And that’s, I don’t know if there is a thing like servant leadership, but come to a place where you’re more interested to say, how can I not be needed in this context? How do I contribute to a movement that is not dependent on myself, my ego, my presence and so forth. And then you start to ask yourself different questions, how you empower people, what type of structures you can put in place to make more people there to take risks and find ways of co-creating the future together. So these are some of the topics that I’m spending a little bit of time these days as well. What I still find important, whatever, is that when there is a crisis or when, not only a crisis, but you know, when there is a topic, move your desk to reality. Go to the stores, go to the factories, go to the…
distribution floor, visit the customers, spend time in the homes of customers. And by having a little bit of open ears in those environments, it’s striking how fast you can come to the right conclusions without the help of consultants, reports, governance structure. And this I find is actually an incredibly modern way of leading and I should probably do more of it.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: So I want to ask you a question that might be a repetition of a question I asked you previously because you just touched on something really powerful, which is it’s humility, right? It’s the ability to not put ego first, but rather how can I lead the situation in such a way that I’m no longer needed? And I would argue that the the archetype of a CEO or someone who strives to be a CEO is less likely to have that humility at the core of their personality. Is that learned or is it, am I wrong? How do you find that or where did it come for you? How did you develop that?
Jesper Brodin: Well, I think knowing you and your work, probably you have more facts than I do. So I can only speculate and you can correct me. But I think I see two types there. But to be honest, people are driven by massive egos. If you look at the best companies out there and the best leaders and the most effective leaders, I don’t see a lot of that. We all struggle. I struggle with my…
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m going to go ahead and turn it off.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: You know, my personal needs for that as well. But like we all do, but at least I have some sort of awareness to watch out for those signals within, you know, my own consciousness. But I don’t, when I look at that, if I would say some sort of alpha male typical approach to how you lead, I think it’s on the brink of being extinct, intelligent people.
Have less wish to follow that in a corporate structure. Unless you have some sort of simplicity around that makes that easier. Leading in complex environment needs humility. It needs a capacity to respond to dynamics. And it definitely needs the capacity of unleashing the power of a lot of people. So again, if you build your narrative around structure, top down, and that one person would be smart enough, I think it’s just incredibly limiting of any organization. So even if anyone would be that smart, who would like to work in that type of environment going forward, I would ask.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, I think a lot of people are seeing that and that is why so many CEOs are investing in culture now more than ever because the talent isn’t putting up with it anymore. You’re also seeing that in increased unionization in America and I know you have a lot of experience with that. What advice would you give to CEOs who are for the first time maybe dealing with unionization efforts that they hadn’t previously experienced or what is it like to be the CEO of an organization that works with unions?
Jesper Brodin: No.
Jesper Brodin: You know, there are different styles of unions out there from different countries and so forth. But I think in general, I’m a deep believer in that all systems will get smarter from feedback loops. So to say, if you have one way of leading and one approach of it, sooner or later, there is a risk that you will get stupid. If you don’t get feedback, if you don’t build in those.
In IKEA, I think we have been, for instance, we have been since, as long as I can remember, we have had fabulous instruments of giving every leader, every manager feedback from their co-workers, at least once per year. And it’s a tool where we basically, we act on leaders who are not performing to support, but also eventually to say that not everybody was meant to be a leader. And if the group is not…
performing or experience the right environment from the leader. Normally the leader is not feeling fantastic as well, so it’s actually a dual benefit. The same goes for suppliers, for customer feedback loops and so forth. So I believe feedback loops as such is great. Dialogue is important. Therefore, I think to have the courage to listen, to make yourself available.
And not to hide, so to say, away from challenges and different perspective. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have all the answers. And then we come back to what I think you said before. If your leadership style is based on that you are the smartest because you’re the CEO and that you have all the answers, you might feel a bit pressed by being exposed to other views if you think that you will be able to respond to all of them.
But I believe modern leadership is also to be accepting the and being vulnerable to accept that I don’t have the answer to this topic. I hear you, I understand, but I don’t have the answer. And also to sometimes show up and say, we have different views. It’s healthy and it’s normally in a situation to have that. And then, you know, have a bit of faith that over time we will be able to also resolve dilemmas. So that’s at least what I try to do.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s beautiful. So we have a couple callers who have questions for you. Before I go to that though, I wanna ask you one question. We believe that culture is experiences that shape beliefs that ultimately drive actions and then lead to results. You’re looking up, so I’m gonna say it again. It’s experiences shaping beliefs that lead to actions and therefore get results. So what beliefs do you want people to hold about you?
And what experiences do you create to develop those beliefs?
Jesper Brodin: Wow.
Jesper Brodin: It’s a very, very interesting question. I need to look up and down and sideways and always now, but I think, you know, I think I would like people to know me for my genuine, um, intentions. And then I would almost stop there to say, you know, so there, I don’t think there are perfect people, uh, or perfect leaders out there, but there could be perfect intentions. And if they are clear and they are honest and they are shared, um, then I think you have come a long way.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hahaha!
Jesper Brodin: So I would love for people to know my intentions. And then that we are together trying to fulfill them. I would like people also to know that I truly believe that by collectively using our collective intelligence, we will be able to create smarter plans for the future.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm, that’s beautiful. Okay, let’s go to the callers. I can’t wait to see what they have to ask you.
Jesper Brodin: Wow. Well, good question. I think, you know, I think one thing is to try to, to be a good role model by being yourself, by being genuine and when you come to work, basically continue to be yourself, the person as you are. I think also my second advice would be to have the courage to try things. This is one of the…
difficult things also in IKEA, I think in many companies. It’s a human behavior that we are a little bit, we tend to rely on the past and on the known and be a little bit afraid of exploring the unknown. IKEA, as you asked me before, also Jessica, of course, it’s been built over the years and the decades, right, it wasn’t a concept that was developed in theory and suddenly we had a store, a business model. So the importance, I would say, in particularly in dynamic times to increase the level of experimentation and failure and have the courage to fail, I think is one of the most important advice I can give to people. I would say maybe a third one since you asked, the aspect of continue to learn. So you go to school, you graduate, you start working. I think we need to rethink learning. There’s so much things happening.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Beautiful.
Jesper Brodin: AI, climate, et cetera. If we don’t master those disciplines from a knowledge base only, I think we will miss the opportunity to contribute in the future. So continue to make sure that you have the opportunity to learn and upgrade yourself.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: What are your thoughts on AI? How are you thinking about that for IKEA?
Jesper Brodin: Well, we are doing something interesting now. I think for me, about a year ago, I started to wake up to that there was something called AI and it was for real. And it was a funny story because coming home from three days of strategy work with high-end managers in IKEA, my 17-year-old son showed me ChatGPT. And in one minute, he created a result that was embarrassingly good, I must say.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m going to go to bed.
Jesper Brodin: And so I got fascinated and interested. Now, I had the opportunity to meet some of the experts back in the World Economic Forum in Davos in January last year. And I took a decision back then that I need to educate myself and we need to educate ourselves as leaders. So currently we’re running actually a very interesting education for 500 top leaders to make sure that we understand the opportunities, the risks.
And the implications in our own leadership as well. The interesting thing I think, Ezeke, with AI is that it holds such lovely opportunities to create effectiveness, quality upgrade, and all sorts of benefits. And it has such scary risks for humanity. To the point, I think it questions concepts as truth and reliability to a point that we have never experienced before.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: And I think it’s here, so we need to kind of get acquainted with both sides of this topic. So you can’t and you shouldn’t be pro or against AI. But also for some of us who are a bit naive to social media, the impact of social media and other transformations, the technology transformations, it’s important to engage and have a point of view. Like everything, legislation will finally catch up. Insights will catch up. But this topic…
is, you know, has such a transformative and disruptive element to it that we cannot be too far behind the change itself, I believe. And therefore, I think make sure that you’re educated and that you stay on top. Make sure that your leaders have an opportunity to be on top of this topic as well.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Well, you said that you suffer from optimism. Does that mean you’re optimistic about the future of AI or do you have hope that we’re not all going to die in some crazy Armageddon robot war? Ha ha ha.
Well, you know what? I do believe I want to be, you know, optimist or not, you know, I want to be critical to the aspect of information and truth. The technology, as such, as it’s basically set up, makes it difficult for us to know, and even more so in the future as this technology learns more, to understand the formula of creating truth, if you like. So the input you might understand.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mm.
Jesper Brodin: But how the output was formulated through machine is something that needs to be reflected on. And I do believe, you know, my personal theory is to say that we need to, to tenfold or a hundredfold critical thinking sources, many different sources. If the impact of the information is increasing, we need to increase the level of scrutiny.
And I hear, I think, media, society, public service, every part of society needs to make sure that we are less naive than we maybe were in the early stages of social media to say this is important for us. And we’re gonna build a society where there will be different facets of information and truth in the future, but we will construct it in a way so that there are many facets and that the totality can help and guide us forward.
I’m not sure about the robots, you have to ask somebody else about that though.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Mmm Okay, I sure will. Let’s go to the next caller to see what they have.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hi Joy, what’s your question?
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Oh, it’s a question for me. Okay, well, I talked about our definition of culture earlier which is the experiences that we create for each other lead to beliefs and those beliefs are what determine our actions and those actions get us results. I think a lot of leaders get stuck in what we call the action trap, which is they wanna get a result so they focus on something that we need to do. And then they check if they got the result, they didn’t get the result, they think about something else to do, like maybe we need to implement technology or maybe we need to restructure the company, or maybe we need to do a training, and all of those actions end up needing to be micromanaged by leaders, as opposed to coaching to the beliefs that determine what actions people take. And so what we do is we help people understand the power of beliefs in shaping culture, and we help that scale. I mean, it’s actually a question I wanted to ask you about, Jesper, earlier, which is about the scale of things. I mean, you are a CEO.
Talked about going into the stores, talking to workers, going to the homes of your customers. How do you scale? I mean, you can’t be everywhere. There are probably thousands of employees you’ve never met and will never meet. How, when you have an idea or when you notice something that needs transformation to lead that transformation, how do you get it to the leaders that are actually working with those employees day to day?
Jesper Brodin: I think it’s never been easier to do that work thanks to technology as well. If you look at the opportunity we have today to connect with all our co-workers, with all our leaders, at a quite low effort today as well, it’s never in a way you can say been easier to reach out there. But also if I go back to 20 years ago, 30 years ago with our founder,
Jesper Brodin: In all organizations, I think we are looking for, sometimes it might be that we think we look for a leader, but it’s more we’re looking for what brings us together. And it should be represented by a person, an individual who represents that unifying message and force and as such, I think it’s not so much that you have to be out there and make yourself heard. There is actually a pull, there is a wish for people to.
Be engaged and so forth. Then I do believe it is still an important aspect to travel and be present. Of course you can’t be everywhere, but if you look at from my own platform where I try to be on all our continents in all parts of our value chain, and I would say at least half of my job is about that, to be accessible to people. And also maybe then, from a practicality point of view, make sure that you move your decision making to the reality so you can actually be quite effective as you meet people and as you travel, as you’re visiting the phenomenons of your business, move your decision points to that reality and you will find, I think, speed and quality in that decision making rather than being in a boardroom, if I say like that.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, how do you balance that with your family? You’ve got three teenagers at home. Is it hard to be away from them? I mean, is that something you struggle with?
Jesper Brodin: Mmm.
Jesper Brodin: It’s a constant struggle, I think. It is for everyone in work life, right? How do you create that balance? What I learned, I think early on, is also not to make myself a victim for that situation. I need to be able to be in control of my own work life, so to say. What I found is, it was more the intangible parts that drove stress with me, so to say. The burden of expectations or the wish to…
achieve perfection and so forth. So, and I learned from leaders that I’ve been reporting to that if I sleep two hours less, if I work three hours more, it’s so little impact for IKEA, to be honest. So the constant point is rather stay fresh, stay healthy, stay fresh, stay mentally fresh, be prepared for changes and the unexpected.
And make sure that you spend your time with the right things rather than the many things. That goes for any job and any, I think, title you would have in any company, right? And it’s not easy. It’s, I try to do, every six months, I do a calibration with myself. What did I, what goals did I achieve? What things I promised myself did I actually spend time on? I’m happy if it’s two out of three, to be honest. It’s normally never three out of three.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Hmm.
Jesper Brodin: But I try to reset myself every six months. And that creates, I think, a healthy opportunity to scale away some things, the clutter of work life. And at least every six months have some sort of focus determination. Here’s the three, four things I’m gonna really make a matter with when it comes to the next coming period.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: How do you stay fresh? What do you do in your personal time?
Jesper Brodin: You know, I think to start with, I almost started to say I sleep a lot, but at least, you know, I don’t, I don’t like to sacrifice it happens from time to time and with jet lags and traveling a bit, but I try to mind the basic needs, right? Good sleep, sports, nature. But most of all, when I when I come home,
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m sorry.
Jesper Brodin: My family is incredibly unimpressed by me and my title. So it’s very refreshing to come home and be part of an ordinary family and the joy of being married, having three kids and just being able to switch off. I think it’s one of the things I’ve trained over the years, the capability to switch off. The illusion that you need to have some sort of consciousness.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Ha ha ha.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.
Jesper Brodin: And being responsible 24 hours a day is not healthy. I think all leaders need to find the capability to switch off and then you rebuild yourself. And in my case, I love music, I love to play guitar and that’s my moment when I get just a little bit of time with myself. So when I travel for more than a week, I always look out for a guitar shop somewhere where I can go and play for an hour.
And disappoint the poor salesperson because I never buy anything when I’m traveling. But that’s my way of getting a little bit of yoga.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: That’s amazing. Well, it has been an absolute joy to chat with you today. I’m just gonna say this, whether it’s the right thing to say or not, there’s the voice in my head as I’ve been talking to you, man, is this guy for real? You are like the CEO that they write books about, you know? It’s so inspiring to hear how you talk about leadership, how you talk about the future, the responsibility, balance, taking care of yourself, being genuine. I just am so, I wanna apply for a job now at IKEA.
Jesper Brodin: Wow.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Inspirational. So I appreciate you sharing yourself. I have one last question though, and this is my favorite question, although sometimes it’s hard for people to answer. And the question is, what is one thing that you never get asked in these interviews that you wish you would be asked more often?
Jesper Brodin: What a brilliant question. It is a difficult one, but first of all, thank you for this opportunity and for those kind words. I think you have asked a lot of good questions also, like going a bit on the personal level, like what is really the true motivations. I think a question could be about what are you afraid of? That would be an interesting one, or even more difficult, what’s your favorite IKEA product?
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: I’m going to go ahead and turn it off.
Jesper Brodin: So, but I leave it to you to choose the questions.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, I’m gonna pick what are you afraid of as my final question then because you did talk about counteracting fear. I mean that is a big part of the work that you do. So what scares you?
Jesper Brodin: Hmm.
Jesper Brodin: You know, what scares me at the moment is leaders who don’t take a greater responsibility than the position they cover. I think all of us in the element of so many crises going on right now, people who define their own leadership to their position.
I think basically try to free themselves from a greater conscience and maybe a greater opportunity to influence. So that’s one of the things when I see a CEO refer only to their business and leaving the rest to the world, so to say, there is no world, it’s only us. And I do believe that in order to resolve the challenges that we have right now, we all need to step up two, three steps above our current position and jobs.
And be a bit more open and constructive with that. So that would be a fear I have. I probably have more fears as well. I need to think about that Jessica, it’s a good question. And spiders as well.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay, spiders, you can add spiders to the list. Okay, well thank you so much. This has been so nurturing and nourishing. I love this conversation. I’m excited to see more from you and from IKEA in the future. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Jesper Brodin: Thank you for the opportunity, yes, again. Thank you so much.
Dr. Jessica Kriegel: Okay!