"Change is the new black"

Anders Borg

A few weeks ago the former Finance minister of Sweden Anders Borg came to visit the do-be consulting office in Malmö to celebrate their fifth anniversary.

Focus of the day was change, with the possibilities and risks connected to it. We need to understand the world around us when working with change says Anders Holmquist, CEO and founder of do-be consulting and presents thereby the “European champion in market understanding”. This is my ethos – pathological optimist with anguished black edges around the bright future, concludes Anders Borg.

It is an audience with high expectations. Here you find a cross section of the leaders that shape and develop the business and the public sector in the Öresund region.

– To change is the new black and it is hard. But I think this is the world we live in and you don’t have to like everything in this world, says Anders Borg. This is precisely where the focus of the evening is – the one that embraces the future the best and dare to change is the winner.

Anders Borg presents the agenda of the evening, with discussions around two possibilities and two risks. He begins to talk about the, in his opinion, two greatest opportunities; digitisation and globalisation. He believes that Sweden has become a more vibrant economy, with a stronger business. Today it is not only okay to be an entrepreneur, it is great.

– Top students are attracted by small growing companies, they strongly believe that they can create global companies with a laptop and two friends, says Anders Borg.

He claims that the encouraging business culture that thrives today is a huge advantage and describes surveys that show that key leaders in startup companies are linked to each other. He stresses the importance of such clusters that are also linked to important universities. The changing views on ownership is also presented as a contributing factor to the changing business environment.

– Historically ownership has been viewed upon as not important – today we know that family companies where quarterly reports are not the main focus are more resilient during crisis. A CEO of a listed company holds the position in average five years, while a CEO of a family business holds the same position for an average of 15 years. You get a much longer perspective, which is key considering that it takes about 6-7 years before a company starts earning real money, says Anders Borg.

On the whole, we have a culture that is in favour of technological change – he says that Swedes and Finns are at the top in terms of attitudes to work with, or even have surgery performed by a robot. We are characterised, according to Anders Borg, by an openness to change and a strong welfare state that provides security.

– When you see how countries like Spain, Italy or Greece very quickly polarised, it is obvious how we in Sweden, Finland and Denmark view things differently and still have a mind set of ”being in this boat together”. We count on being able to trust each other, which creates a society with a high degree of confidence. We do not need lawyers and contracts for everything, he says.

Yet he testifies that digitisation will knock out 45-55 percent of all jobs. The fact that everything is arranged digitally and that we manage both the company and our private economy using our phone, he says, is basically very good. The tedious drawback, however, is that more and more simple jobs disappear and that many jobs now requires expert knowledge or a university degree. Meanwhile, there are things that will not be digitised – to treat, to invent, to sell or to be creative. This is where countries like Sweden can compete and develop alongside digitisation.

Conversion requirements is another effect of digitisation that may require a willingness to change. Many people will lose their security, and may be forced to re-educate themselves. – No company can expect this change to run all smoothly, says Anders Borg, and summarises the ongoing digitisation as a great opportunity from a macro point of view, but a major insecurity for people with difficulties to change and adapt. The future is as mentioned before bright with anguished black edges – a position where populism, geopolitical risks and market volatility are central.

– The tragic events in Paris have in a very clear manner illustrated the geopolitical risks. Our society is full of risks and there is a thin line between war and peace. I think we have an underlying anxiety connected to these changes and it creates a breeding ground for populism, says Anders Borg and continues: – those who feel they are losers in this new era of digitisation and globalisation – they get angry. And this anger becomes a political force.

Anders Borg believes that politicians should fight to attract young people – those who represent the future – and he also believes that those who are willing to jump political block boundaries are those with the most anger. He stresses once again that change can be hard and that there is a tendency for some people to want to find some kind of eternal truths. Antagonism leads to tensions, and politics is rougher than what it used to be. The conclusion of the evening is that it does not matter if one is municipal governor or director of an industrial enterprise – the public sector as well as the private sector needs to be digitised and streamlined. Local governments need to spend money to meet people – to nurture, educate and to secure that services are working well.

Anders Borg concludes –  those who are prepared to run with the future and lead development have a very bright future.