Lise Aagaard: “Respect people; let your ears be bigger than your mouth”

I have 3 management pieces of advice — 4 is too much and 2 is not enough: Be a good role model. Know that everything is temporary, be open to change. Management by sitting around. Respect people, let your ears be bigger than your mouth. I had the pleasure to interview Lise Aagaard. Aagaard is the founder of […]

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I have 3 management pieces of advice — 4 is too much and 2 is not enough: Be a good role model. Know that everything is temporary, be open to change. Management by sitting around. Respect people, let your ears be bigger than your mouth.

I had the pleasure to interview Lise Aagaard. Aagaard is the founder of the Danish jewelry company Trollbeads A/S and the inventor of the bead-on-bracelet concept. Today, Lise Aagaard is Chairmen and Creative Director in the company. She is married to Peter Aagaard and together they have 3 grown up children. Lise Aagaard comes out of a creative family of jewelers.

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

Being from a family of jewelers, I have had the lifelong privilege of being immersed in a constant learning environment of art, form, and material. Always facing the possibilities and boundaries of innovation as well as business from a professional point-of-view. With inspiration from my family, I opened a jewelry store near Copenhagen in Denmark. A constant encouragement and wishes from my customers lead to the invention of the very first bead-on-bracelet, and thereby a new concept was born.

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

A few lines in a magazine led to an unexpected story that would take me and my family to three continents — a journey that ended up making a real difference to so many people’s lives, including our own. Here’s those lines I read in the members’ quarterly magazine of the small Danish Tibet Charity organization:

“If you really want to help people in third world countries to develop economically, you must teach them what it is that you are successfully doing.”

When I read those lines an idea suddenly came to me: “we can do that. At Trollbeads we know how to make glass beads. We know how to sell them successfully. We can teach them.”

We packed our suitcases with raw glass and burners and when we embarked on our first journey to Dharamsala to set up a glass bead workshop for exiled Tibetans, I was not aware how much truth there was in this notion.

I had no idea that this “charity” project would grow to span three continents and allow me to meet all these wonderful and talented people — true craftsmen and women from worlds so different to mine — how they would embed into every Trollbead, symbols, colors and patterns belonging to their part of the planet, their geography, their culture. We added the crafting centers’ beads to the Trollbeads Collection but under their own name: Uniques.

Today, four crafting centers are run by the artisans who now are my business partners: Three in India in Dharamsala, Jaipur and Dehradun and one in Lithuania.

I taught them how to make beads, but the way they developed their skills and how they incorporate their own cultural heritage into their designs adds a very strong signature to our brand value. The meaning of “Every story has a bead” has been taken to a completely new level.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It sure was not all that fun. My first glass beads was not lined with silver, we put them directly on the bracelets. After some time our customers returned and showed their bracelets that looked like they had been filed with sandpaper. Many bracelets was replaced and we learned to silver core the beads the hard way.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We play. We play with our customers and their creativity. We have written books together, we have taken photos together, and we have shared Christmas traditions.

We once made beads with smileys on. Retailers all over the world were sent a pack of ten Smiley beads for free. They were to hide at random locations in their neighborhood. Some hung beads from trees and benches, while others gave them away in their stores. Some even sent the beads up in balloons, which when they fell to the ground would be found by anyone. Each Smiley bead was attached to a card that encouraged the lucky finder to click into the website and tell us how they had found their Smiley bead. The responses came pouring in. By the time we closed the event, 4000 people from 36 countries had told their story. I don’t mind giving things away every single day, as long as people continue to play along with me.

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

I’m always working on new, exciting projects. We are a very creative, productive company. We don’t stop with the ideas — we test them out, discard them, rethink them, stash them away, dust them off and talk about them all over again. There is always something cooking… Will I tell you what? Definitely NOT 😊

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

My advice would not be different if I was addressing male leaders. I have 3 management pieces of advice — 4 is too much and 2 is not enough:

Be a good role model.

Know that everything is temporary, be open to change.

Management by sitting around. Respect people, let your ears be bigger than your mouth.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I have no experience, please ask Jeff Bezos.

None of us are 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?

Being a family person, and having worked together with my family my whole life, both my original family and the family I have been a part of creating, ‘Family’ is the big word. And I also think of my extended family of suppliers. colleagues and distributors.

Should I mention only one very important person it would have to be my big brother silversmith and designer Søren Nielsen, without his wonderful energy and god given sculptural talent there would not have been a company at all.

And today I am very grateful that my son Robin has taken on the position of global CEO.

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

Here I have to bring the Uniques project in again. Today, 15 years later, the first crafting centers have resulted in the start-up of several other small self-sustained businesses, providing jobs for a total of more than a thousand people.

I don’t consider the glass bead workshops a charity project. I had an idea of how we at Trollbeads could maybe make a positive difference — that’s all! Once a workshop was set up it was down to the people there to make it happen. And I am all in awe of their achievements. I taught them how to make beads, but the way they developed their skills and how they have used them leaves me speechless. Thousands of people across the world adore their unique designs — but their biggest fan is me.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Know that you must manage yourself before you venture into managing others.

The ability to be open to adopt to local cultures. In a very short period of few years we went from being a Danish company to a global company. To be open and committed to adjust was critical to success.

Curiosity and asking questions are much more important than knowing. What you know you know, (and you may be wrong).

One of the most difficult challenges have been to find the right people to engage with.

Timing is everything, so if something didn’t fly right away, and it is still a good idea, try it one more time.

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. 🙂

Take good care of our earth. If we all consider two vegetarian days per week, we will slow down the global warming significantly.

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

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” — Buddha. This is important to everybody. A spiritual life with yoga makes me a happy person.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I prefer to dine with my husband (-and he is by the way an excellent cook) but of course Salvador Dali, Leonardo DaVinci or the trailblazer Elanor Roosevelt would all be very interesting acquaintances. I’m not quite sure you can tag them…

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