23.11. 2011 Kuukauden kasvo

Henrik Karlsson: Short-term employee in sales and business management

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Henrik Karlsson describes himself as a short-term employee. He is the only employee in the company he founded last year, and according to his business idea he actively seeks work from other employers who need help. In the aftermath of the recession in 2008-2009 Mr Karlsson decided to realise the idea of employing himself. The result was Rikson BMC which sells traditional sales, marketing and management consultancy services, and above all Henrik Karlsson's working time and expertise for the client companies' strategically important tasks.

A part-time managing director hired for six months or a year or a sales manager committed to developing the company's sales may offer a safe and inexpensive way for small, growth-oriented companies to utilise the experience and expertise. It applies especially, if the alternative is a salaried director with a high pay who requires an employment valid until further notice and possibly an expensive recruitment process.

"The focus of my work lies in commercial aspects. Sales and marketing issues and tasks related to founding, growing and managing a business are my strongest areas in which I have decades of experience. One has to remember, however, that as the projects are of fairly short duration, the job description needs to be carefully defined", Henrik Karlsson says.

Using a hired director is quite a new phenomenon in Finland. Mr Karlsson says that the biggest obstacle for the breakthrough of operations is the attitudes: it's easier to give help than to ask for it.

"Entrepreneurs don't always want to admit or even think that they are 'the second best' in something. In many cases they are professionals in their own field who know their products and services very well. However, it may be difficult to look for a broader perspective for the work on your own. You should also be able to question your own views. As a result the original view either becomes stronger or then you have to find other, alternative solutions."

Hiring an interim director calls for openness and commitment

Mr Karlsson considers it important to go as deep as possible into the client company's background.

"It is necessary for successful working of an interim director to form an outsider's opinion of the company without obstacles. My principle is to tackle the job in earnest, "hands on", and in that case openness and knowing the background of the company are requirements for the co-operation. I have to see to it that the agreed issues have been put into practice and the whole personnel is committed to the company's goals and method of operation."

Mr Karlsson is electronics engineer by training. After graduating from Tekniska Läroverket in Helsinki in 1981 he soon found out that he is not interested in working as a designing engineer. So he stayed in Helsinki and started work as a sales engineer. Later he became a product manager, until he returned to Turku and started work as the head of the first independent branch office of a company specialising in electrical supplies.

"I also developed an interest in international tasks, so after that I ended up for nearly ten years at Nokia as the marketing manager for special components. The years at Nokia taught me e.g. the rules of international trade, but also the controlled transfer of customers to a competitor that acquired business operations from Nokia when the company decided to focus on its current core business."

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Mr Henrik Karlsson and the eye-catcher of his studio: an old jukebox.

Mr Karlsson ended up in DIO Business Centre in 1995. It was not a question of an actual incubator business, however, although the Finnish operations of a Swedish company specialising in power supply units got started there. Powerbox grew and moved to bigger premises next door to DIO. Some eight years later, Mr Karlsson was attracted to the service of a client company to develop sales as well as the product and service concept.

"I spent four years there, until I started in my so far last salaried job as the managing director of OEM Electronics about a year before the recession that hit in 2008. The recession meant that I had to go through the less pleasant aspect of a managing director as I 'rationalised' the company's operations. Eventually the Swedish group combined all operations into one company and made me obsolete", Mr Karlsson says.

Out of the comfort zone

After Mr Karlsson finally decided about a year ago to employ himself, he founded Rikson BMC. He talks about a "one-man show" and says that his career as an entrepreneur has had a positive start. Although Rikson is not an incubator company, Mr Karlsson ended up in DIO's premises.

"I have noticed that this area of Turku Science Park has quite a few potential customers. There are small and new companies that don't always have the time to seek new customer projects or develop the business, as the core expertise takes up all the time of the entrepreneur. At the same time, the entrepreneurs may be very lonely with their thoughts focused on their own expertise. Moreover, entrepreneurs easily focus on what they already know and what they want to develop. It would be important, however, that everyone moves at least a little out of their comfort zone during the working day."

What does Mr Karlsson recommend e.g. for a one-man IT company in which a good programmer has no appeal for sales work?

"It's certainly not necessary or even possible to employ a salesman. Networks are the key thing. The markets and networks need to be analysed, and the entrepreneur has to think what kind of projects can be obtained through those channels and how much he or she can do alone. In such a situation I can mainly act as a sparring and conversation partner."

"In a company with a few employees I can participate in boosting the sales and developing the operations. As a result of my project the company should then be able to employ at least a part-time salesperson. In larger companies a hired expert provides new views and breaks the old habits and inhibitions. The truth is that the desired changes can only be achieved by changing the methods of operation", Mr Karlsson reminds.

As is generally known, there are a lot of salespersons, but only part of them make a profit.

"There are a lot of passive salespersons. They can talk and provide advice. But it easily happens with them that the customer takes the initiative, and the salesperson is unable to offer a solution. At that point the salesperson's role changes from an active provider to a recipient of orders."

"A good salesperson will listen and then offer an efficient solution to the customer's problem. This way they win the customer's confidence, ensure the continuing of co-operation, and make profit for the company."

Henrik Karlsson lives in a detached house in Kaarina. He used to play actively handball and football, but with the age he changed playing first to coaching and then to golf on which he says to spend quite a lot of his leisure. As his children have already grown up, it's quite easy for the three-time grandfather to find the time for moving on the greens. It's easier still as his spouse also plays golf.

Henrik Karlsson

- Born in Parainen in 1955
- Electronics Engineer 1981, Tekniska Läroverket i Helsingfors
- Sales, marketing and management tasks in a number of companies, mainly in electrical and electronics field
- Entrepreneur as of 2010: Rikson BMC is a sales and marketing sparring partner and interim management service
- Lives in Kaarina. Married with children aged 21, 27 and 32.