- My vision is to make myself Obsolete

When the time between new emails in the inbox becomes steadily longer, Nils Agnar Brunborg knows that his job in a company has been completed. This means that decisions are being made much further down in the organisation and that he is about to become obsolete. Just the way he wants it.

Nils Agnar Brunborg started his personal "industrial adventure" in Indonesia at the end of the 1980s. The newly graduated civil economist from Bergen had set two clear goals: Work internationally and work with industry.

As controller for Dyno industries in Indonesia, he got the best of both worlds in his first job. He is grateful for having had the opportunity to spend a total of 15 years in Dyno Group, working in several different countries and functions.

With the exception of a brief digression into the communications industry, Nils Agnar Brunborg remained faithful to industry, taking the helm of several large production companies since 2004.

Putting businesses in the black

The fact that the last three companies he agreed to manage were in the red was a motivation, rather than a worry, to take the CEO role.

- I have deliberately chosen to manage large production companies during change processes, explains Brunborg, who is happiest in a leadership role when it includes a real challenge.

- When things aren’t working in the value chain, a lot of time is used up on distractions. The more financially stressed an organisation is, the more the distractions. The flow in the value chain must be optimized to increase profitability, and this entails larger changes, he explains.

So far it has taken him from two to four years to move the figures from red to black in the companies he has turned around. Under his leadership, both building materials from Isola and fish hooks from Mustad have been given new opportunities and new markets. Now it is Jotul´s turn, another major Norwegian manufacturing company with traditional products.

Weather, headwinds and interim management at Jøtul

In January, Nils Agnar Brunborg took up the position of interim CEO in the proud stove and fireplace production company Jøtul. The company, which has its head office in Fredrikstad, has a history stretching back more than 160 years.

Barely a month after Nils Agnar Brunborg took over control, the media reported that 30 man-years would be cut in the traditional business during the first quarter. Recently (August 2017) came the news that Jøtul was shutting down a factory in Halden with 17 employees.

What reactions are there in an organisation when an interim manager arrives and tears things up like this?

- People usually understand that changes are needed. Jøtul has lost money for many years. When revenue cannot be increased, spending must be cut. That's just how it is. But, of course, this affects some more than others, and it is never nice to inform employees that jobs need to go.

Brunborg explains that he has a skilled HR manager to support him with the issues and decisions concerning personnel. Jøtul has struggled against a headwind for some time, and has been through several restructuring processes including both decreasing and increasing the workforce.

- Mild winters will continue to come. We cannot influence the weather! Therefore, we need to stop talking about it and do something that can be done. Such as product development, says Nils Agnar Brunborg.

- If Jøtul succeeds in implementing efficient and appropriate product development, and in addition takes larger market shares in Europe, the foundation will be laid for volume, profitability and jobs.

In order to structure the processes of managing the product portfolio and product development for Jøtul, the company brought in another experienced manager from Interimleder AS.

Impatient locomotive

Nils Agnar Brunborg describes himself as clear and determined in his leadership role, and extremely impatient under pressure.

- I want things to happen, but need to be careful not to move too fast. You are the locomotive, but must have the train behind you. It is a balancing act.

He explains that he is good at making decisions quickly. The decisions that are taken straight away are not always the correct ones, but then you go back and correct them. The most important thing is that something is done when something needs to be done.

The decisions he makes are based on experience. And facts.

Too many assumptions are a sign that things are not well

Nils Agnar Brunborg cannot stand long meetings where the discussions are based on assumptions.

- I will just leave, he says forthrightly.

He means this seriously. It costs him nothing to leave meetings that do not have a fact-based agenda. Assumptions and guesswork are not compatible with characteristics such as impatience and the urge to do business.

- Too many assumptions are a sign that things are not well. Around 90 percent of the discussions in a meeting should be about the facts. Then you can permit the discussion of 10 percent of assumptions, he adds.

Vision: Become obsolete

In response to the question of what vision he has when he takes the helm of a new company to be turned around, he is at first quiet. Then unsurprisingly he has a concise answer to this as well:

- My vision is to make myself obsolete!

Long decision-making paths or a general lack of decisions, is according to Nils Agnar Brunborg, an ongoing challenge in large production companies, where it impinges on efficiency and profitability.

- Changes that will be implemented must contribute to making things flows better in the value chain. In practice, it's about getting decisions made as far down in the organisation as possible and making people self-motivated.

He says that he knows when he has succeeded:

- When I am almost no longer receiving emails. Then I know that people are managing by themselves. I have made myself obsolete.

The tone is perhaps a bit facetious, but nevertheless Nils Agnar Brunborg paints a very good picture of change management that has succeeded in practice. We cross our fingers that there will be fewer and fewer messages in his email inbox at Jøtul as well.

Nils Agnar Brunborg is one of the speakers on INTERIM DAY 2018