Anders Ankarlid: “Make your vision larger than life, to create a fantastic work culture”

… as a society we need to ask ourselves if the culture of increasing revenue, growth and profit as central targets is relevant and fair? Is it sustainable that we push towards higher efficiency and lower price points while a vast class of people can’t afford food, damage their bodies due to long hours and […]

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… as a society we need to ask ourselves if the culture of increasing revenue, growth and profit as central targets is relevant and fair? Is it sustainable that we push towards higher efficiency and lower price points while a vast class of people can’t afford food, damage their bodies due to long hours and climate-change is accelerating? Someone always pays in the end, and we as a society should consider transforming our way of life.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anders Ankarlid, a serial e-commerce entrepreneur, and a father of three. Having worked in e-commerce for more than a decade, both as a founder and a consultant, Anders one day decided to build an entirely different kind of e-commerce company. His new venture, A Good Company, is a reaction to what Anders views as mindless consumption, and its mission is to help consumers across the globe to form conscious and responsible consumption habits.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! It started in the summer of 2018, which was one of the hottest summers on record in Sweden, and all of Europe for that matter. At the time, my family and I were at our country house, a farm two hours south of Stockholm. Sweden. It was unbearably hot, and we spent nearly all of our time trying to keep our 10 cows alive. Our well dried out, and all the grass was burnt, so there was no food or water around. At night during that summer I started thinking about my kids’ future and what type of world they would have to grow up in if climate-change was going to be left unchecked. I ended up deciding to quit my job, three days before our third kid, my first son, was born. A Good Company was formed as a result of the panic I gradually had started to feel.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of our biggest challenges was transport. We spent over three months trying to figure out how to transport our products in an environmentally friendly manner, without compromising on quality. It sounds easy, but we failed at least 15 times. When we finally got the first batch of our inner box and envelopes in Stone paper, a biodegradable material from reused stone, I was so proud of myself and our team.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

A Good Company exists to create elegant, thoughtful and environmentally sustainable everyday products. We think hard about the future. What do we want tomorrow to look like, what type of products will our customers be using, and how can we go about creating these products in the most environmentally friendly way possible? Our first product-category are notebooks and sketchbooks made from Stone Paper, a fantastic biodegradable alternative to traditional wood-pulp paper. We have some other exciting things in the pipeline too, like beautiful plastic-free mobile phone cases that I really like, and lots of other stuff. All made without compromising quality and sustainability.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

That’s a very relevant question. I think people are more value- and purpose-driven in their work-lives than we like to admit. If you lack a sense purpose at work, it’s hard to feel fulfilment in your every day, and over time you grow unhappy.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Before starting A Good Company, I was a consultant for nearly six years. I spent those years among hundreds of different organization. With that experience in mind, all three will be affected. Having said that, if the employee’s health and wellbeing are at risk that’s a much more significant issue than productivity and profit. People are always humans, not numbers.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1. Make your vision larger than life. Without uncertainty, the energy from our team at A Good Company surpasses all other companies I had and advised, and the main differentiator is the vision.

2. Give and oblige accountability. A team with accountability will always deliver better decisions and move fast enough. I have observed so many examples of top-driven organizations where their solution of lacking growth numbers only leads to further steering and more KPIs to follow up upon.

3. Demand health as a priority one. This is the first company where we demand that our staff focus on training — physical or mental. As a father of three and this new company, time is minimal, but we make space one hour per day for mindfulness or exercise.

4. Go Remote. My reason for having a remote organization might be controversial, but we as leaders must help our colleagues to become less nervous about different cultures and meet other backgrounds. It is also a lot easier to find high potential and performing people that share a vision if we can have the world as a platform rather than a city or an area. I grew up in a mixed middle-class neighbourhood with a significant number of friends with another ethnic background than me. In Sweden in the 1990s, a lot of immigrants came from the war in former Yugoslavia. I am so fortunate that I at an early age got to play with a mixed society from different classes, religions and countries. Working with a remote team from many cultures will make us less scared about different cultures.

5. Focus on being proactive. The worst reactive organization I have observed was a large med-tech corporation I consulted for about 2 years ago. The company was a matrix mud of dotted lines. I calculated that at least 50% of the job was to defend a position and react on CC emails. My advice is to focus on what’s most important. My role as a leader is to support team members removing obstacles to continue to be proactive.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

First and foremost I suppose that we as a society need to question ourselves, is the culture of increasing revenue, growth and profit as central targets relevant and fair? Is it sustainable that we push towards higher efficiency and lower price points while a vast class of people can’t afford food, damage their bodies due to long hours and climate-change is accelerating? Someone always pays in the end, and we as a society should consider transforming our way of life.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My management style is, at least when I am not too stressed, to empower people to be accountable and communicate what we try to accomplish. Being a leader is about to understand that team members have different capabilities over time. One illustration of this was from last week when I coached a team member, who I noticed was very stressed, too literally work less. Anders, 10 years ago would never make that move, but helping my team to discover a work and home balance will make them perform better over time.

None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One individual is never an island. There are people everywhere that I want to say thank you too for encouraging me to get where I am now. Two persons in particular. First my wife, Eva. Her profession is as a behavioural scientist, and she had assisted me to mature as a person. When we meet, I was in the midst of a nasty divorce, she supported me to heal on the inside. Every day she gives advice on how to be a better person. Secondly, I have a team of five best friends. Since we all are dads of small kids, we can’t find time to meet up that often. But we interact daily over 1 hour per day through an app and handle emergencies, jokes and everything in between. They have taught me that it is ok to be vulnerable and request help. I love them all with all my heart.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The ambition with A Good Company is to accelerate a movement in how we buy products and services online, and how businesses operate supply-chain and last mile deliveries. If we can educate and act front-runner of a change that has to happen, we will do our part. Aside from that are we planting a lot of trees in Zambia, to assure that A Good Company is climate-positive.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“From mindless into conscious decisions”. I realise that it is not the most humble way to declare since that is our own vision, but that’s really my favourite. I am not a perfect person, far from it, but I am striving to influence people through being a good example of what to eat, how to consume and educate the effects of just continue on the current path, without a behaviour change. It is a thin line within being an activist with small ears and a high voice and simply “show an alternative”. I think number two is much more compelling.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope this movement has a baseline of two components. One is that customers begin to require transparency. The second one, perhaps more critical is to influence other e-commerce businesses to use our developed shipping material in their own supply chain. We will sell them without an added margin and advice them for free.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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