Blog Nordic Business Forum Sweden 2018

Speaker Spotlight: Lena Apler

To continue our NBFSweden 2018 Speaker Spotlight series, we warmly welcome Lena Apler!

Lena Apler has spent more than 16 years at the helm of the financial services company Collector AB and has over 30 years in the financial sector to her credit. She is an undisputed heavyweight in the field. It is, therefore, no surprise that she led the list of the top 15 women entrepreneurs in 2015, as ranked by Business Week Sweden.

A trailblazer in her field, Apler is keenly interested in gender equality and advocates for equal remuneration for women. She works with the NGO Hand in Hand Sweden to help vulnerable women achieve self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship. We spoke with Lena ahead of her upcoming appearance at Nordic Business Forum Sweden 2018.

Nordic Business Forum: Hello Lena! Let’s jump right in and talk about your upcoming presentation at NBForum Sweden 2018, which says that leadership is in constant change. In your experience, what makes a leader effective in changing times?

Lena Apler: Well, I think, because the changes are so much faster nowadays, I think you have to adapt to a very fast developing world, not only in terms of technology. Everything goes really fast. And that makes it necessary to be very open-minded and very flexible and not stick to the old ways when tomorrow arrives. So, effective leaders have an open mind, and a quick mind, and a preparedness for changes in their leadership, adapting their leadership to the modern world.

I think some very good advice is to be very open-minded and don’t hesitate to change your business plan if the market is changing because you have to have customers out there buying your services, your products, or whatever. And don’t stick to an old business plan, which turned out to be wrong. So I think you should have the courage to be flexible and change things in pace with how the environment and market changes.

I mean we couldn’t speak to our old typewriters when the computer came like it’s the ’70s. When Kodak realized that the digital camera would come, they didn’t fear to face the consequences. And somehow, you have to be courageous enough to realize that your product or your services or your business plan is out of fashion. Then you have to rethink and make a new one.
And it’s so hard to predict anything about the future. I mean none of us could say with 100% certainty what’s going to happen in one year.

NBF: You mentioned technology, and that’s a trend that has exploded in recent years. Do you think that characteristics of effective leaders have also changed over time as trends have changed?

LA: Well, yes, there will be differences now that we haven’t seen as millennials enter the workforce. If you look at the young leaders, I think it’s quite obvious that they are different, especially if you compare with these old leaders from a bit more industrial world. They often have another leadership style. They are more compassionate for changes. They have a passion for technology. And I think they are more like team players than the old-fashioned leaders.

NBF: And being team players must contribute to being more open to change. Coming back to the theme of NBFSweden 2018, let’s talk about a hot topic today: Lean. In your experience, how can Lean methodology be applied to leadership?

LA: Well, I’m not sure that Lean is the word to use for the most efficient leadership. It’s sort of Lean leadership if you create an atmosphere whereby you allow other people to take responsibility and lead their teams. That life of the top leader would be so much easier if you have their own team of leaders who have both freedom and responsibility to act within their areas. Lean is meaning people, I’m not sure, but I think you will use people’s ability in new ways. You let people grow, and you let other people share your leadership. Even if you exclude manufacturing in business, you should always strive to get very lean processes in your activities and operations. Lean processes, it gives more time for more important things. It sounds very boring with processes. But if you develop an efficient and lean process, you will be surprised how much time you will gain and how much misunderstandings you would avoid.

NBF: Absolutely. Have you done anything to make your processes leaner in Collector, maybe?

LA: Oh, yes. I am quite restless in processes, so I let other people do that. And it’s so obvious how much time we’ve gained from that, and how much satisfaction, and how much frustration we avoid. So it has given us more time to develop new products and grow the company, that is for sure. And it’s also given people more safety because if you know that the [processes?] are working, they don’t have to check everything three times. So I think it boosts efficiency and work satisfaction.

NBF: Wonderful! Last question for you: if people reading this interview only learn one thing from you, what should it be?

LA: Be brave and open-minded. Embrace the future.

We’re excited to learn more from Lena Apler at NBFSweden 2018! If you’d like to hear her and other leaders discuss this year’s theme of lean leadership, be sure to grab your ticket or Live Stream license today. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and #NBFSweden to keep up with our speaker announcements as we get closer to the event!