Waldemar Schmidt, the former CEO of ISS, and Nattana Utoomprurkporn have only just met, but they are talking enthusiastically about the importance of traveling, and the differences in the weather and water temperatures between Denmark and Thailand where Nattana Utoomprurkporn is from.
“I won’t go for a swim if the water is below 25 degrees,” says Waldemar Schmidt and smiles.
“Well, the water is never below 25 degrees in Thailand,” says Nattana Utoomprurkporn and laughs.
The two are meeting in Råvarebygningen in Porcelænshaven, as CBS has selected Nattana Utoomprurkporn to be the first student to receive the MBA scholarship worth DKK 100,000, which is funded by Waldemar Schmidt.
The way we do business in Denmark just works. And it works everywhereWaldemar Schmidt
“This year, we have 34 students in the class and half of them applied for the scholarship. But we chose Nattana because she wants to bring leadership skills back to Thailand and to her family’s business. And also because we need students like her who can play a significant role in helping society and companies evolve,” says Fatima Dhaif, Admissions Manager of the MBA at CBS.
Nattana Utoomprurkporn is only 26 years old and knows that she is to take over her family’s Bangkok-based business, which imports hearing aids from Europe. But she is not quite ready yet.
“I didn’t want to take over the business right away. I felt like I needed more experience work-wise, but also in terms of education, and CBS seemed like a perfect fit,” she says and recalls the day she got the news about the scholarship.
“Going for an MBA is a big investment, especially if it’s abroad. So when I got the email that I had received the scholarship I ran downstairs and told my parents. It means a lot to me, as I can focus on my studies without being too stressed about needing to find a job right away. And I don’t have to look at my bank account all the time,” she says.
The Danish way
Waldemar Schmidt, who is also an Adjunct Professor of strategy and service management at CBS, has been donating the royalties from his books to CBS for several years. His aim was to create a scholarship that allows foreign students, especially ones from Brazil, to take up an MBA at CBS.
“It is so important to live abroad, especially at a young age, because you get a whole new perspective on your home country. And staying abroad is something you will never forget, so I thought this was a good way to help,” says Waldemar Schmidt, who has previously lived in Brazil for 10 years.
Nattana Utoomprurkporn has traveled a lot and has been to Denmark before. She attended a conference hosted by the Danish hearing aid company, GN, which her family’s business imports from. This trip got her thinking about how the Danish way of running a company differs from how companies are run in Thailand.
“At the conference, GN, for example, gave training and information about new products to the sales representatives. Then the CEO of the company walked around and mingled with everyone. To me, having an approachable CEO is very Danish. It’s not like that in Thailand,” she says.
Waldemar Schmidt agrees that an approachable CEO is the result of having a flat-structured company, which is how almost every Danish company is structured. But it is indeed quite unique.
“I have worked in companies that have had maybe five different canteens for their employees. One for top management, one for women, one for men, one for apprentices and so on,” he says.
Waldemar Schmidt explains how he has tried to implement openness and a flat structure in every company he has been involved with, and the results are clear:
“The way we do business in Denmark just works. And it works everywhere,” he says.
And this is what Nattana Utoomprurkporn hopes to get an insight into while she is in Denmark and at CBS.
“At CBS, I get to learn about responsible management, different leadership styles, and that combined with insights into the structure of Danish companies is very useful for me,” she says.
A piece of advice
Waldemar Schmidt is a little more than 50 years older than Nattana Utoomprurkporn and got his first CEO job when he was 29 years old. Now, he is 78 and has written several books about his experiences as a CEO – especially as a Danish one.
He takes out a book from his briefcase. ‘The Job of the CEO’ is the title and Waldemar Schmidt is the author. He hands it over to Nattana Utoomprurkporn and gives her a few pieces of advice for her future career as a CEO.
“Transparency is everything. Don’t keep secrets. Have a clear vision of where you are going with the business and include everyone in that vision. And make sure you bring people together with different tasks and knowledge,” he says and adds:
“It can be tough at first to introduce these kinds of values to a company, but I tell you, people like it, and when they like their job, they stay.”
Transparency is everything. Don’t keep secrets.Waldemar Schmidt
Nattana Utoomprurkporn knows that she wants to follow this way of leadership when she takes over her father’s business. And it seems that others from her generation are striving for change too.
“I’m observing a sort of pushback from the younger generation. We want to work in companies with open and flat structures. But there is some resistance to change,” she says.
But change is on its way in Thailand, it seems.
“How many women are doing an MBA in Thailand?” asks Waldemar Schmidt Nattana Utoomprurkporn.
“It’s not 50/50. That’s for sure. It is still dominated by men, but I’m not the only woman doing this,” she says.