October 24, 2013

Being Norwegian

Some times we Norwegians feel tough in our pajamas

Today I opened the newspaper and read a short interview with the CEO of Coca-Cola Norway. After reading it, I felt good about being Norwegian. As I drank my tea for breakfast before the newspaper, I had felt utterly stupid. Who do we think we are, anyway, we Norwegians? We are smaller than a small state in the United States, yet we behave as if we rule the world. I am sick of this. What do we really think we can contribute to the world, beyond oil? When I say things like this, my dad gets annoyed. He starts listing all the valuable aspects of Norway. Then for a while, my inferior complex is calmed down. I know this oscillation between self-flagellation and self-aggrandizing is normal for us Norwegians – it may be argued that it is a hallmark of being Norwegian. 

One of my generation’s most favorite songs is a song by the Norwegian band DeLillos. It is called Tough In Pajamas and it goes like this:

I'm so stupid
that when I look in the mirror
I get irritated
I feel stupid in pajamas
I feel stupid in a coat
and when I get on the bus
then everybody sees

here comes stupidy, stupidy, stupidy, stupid
here comes stupidy, stupidy, stupidy, stupid
wow, wow
yeah, yeah
that’s the way this chorus goes

Now and then
I am so tough
that when I look in the mirror
I am impressed
I am tough in pajamas
I am tough in a coat
when I get on the bus
then everybody sees

Here comes toughie, toughie, toughie, tough
here comes toughie, toughie, toughie, tough
wow, wow
yeah, yeah
that’s the way this chorus goes

Now and then
It’s like this
that when I look in the mirror
I don’t see anything
I don’t wear my pajamas
I don’t wear my coat
and when I get on the bus
then everybody sees
then everybody sees

then everybody sees..?

Here is DeLillos on YouTube performing Tøff i pyjamas:

Here is the interview with the CEO of Coca-Cola Norway – somebody who makes us feel lovable. Translated by yours truly. 

CEO of Coca-Cola Norway - Ignace Corthouts

Now he quits at four o’clock

As the new CEO of Coca-Cola Norway, Ignace Corthouts felt embarrassed to leave work that early. That was before he broke the Norwegian code.

By Marita E. Valvik
 Aftenposten, October 24, 2013

-You are born in Belgium, and have worked there as well as in the Netherlands, Los Angeles and London. How is it to be a manager in Norway compared to the other countries you have worked in?

-In Los Angeles, people give you an evil eye if you leave the office before six thirty. In Brussels, you had to stay until five thirty, and in London, nobody left before five. Here many people leave at four. People are careful not to accept meetings after three o’clock, because then they might not be able to leave until after four or four thirty.

-Are you skeptical about the fact that we work considerably less than employees in other countries?

In the beginning I was. Now my answer is no. I have understood it is not about when you leave work, but how much you get done while at work. I am impressed with Norwegians; we are so effective here. Surprisingly effective. When we enter a meeting, we are not always 100% prepared, but we make decisions and implement them. This makes Norwegians unique.

-What about you; do you leave at four?

-In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable leaving the office before five thirty. It is quite a task to explain this to the managers outside of Norway. Now, I am proud of myself when I leave the office at four.

-In what way?

To work in this country adds quality to life. I have discovered how wonderful it is to have time for other things beside work, like making dinner every day with my wife. Or, go skiing in the evening. I am simply very happy here.  

-But are the bosses in Atlanta happy with a country manager who doesn’t work night and day?

-It is the results that matter. To accomplish what we want in Norway I have to make them understand that people in this country are unique – in a positive way. For instance, when we want to launch an Easter campaign, the other managers need to understand the concept of Easter in Norway. Try explaining to a foreigner that everything in this country shuts down for a week. In other countries, it is one day. They don’t understand that it is possible to shut down the whole country for a week.

-You have worked in many countries. How do you adapt to the different cultures?

-The most important thing is to understand why things are the way they are. With understanding comes respect. With respect one can begin to like it – and then to love it. Understand, respect, like and love. That’s the principle I live by.

-How does that work out, in practice?

-When I came to Norway, I understood that the only thing people talked about on Monday was what they did in the weekend. Everybody had been skiing. Then I had to try that. It was fantastic. Now I have packed away my bicycle and am waiting for the snow.  I look at the cabins, the locals sitting in the snow with Norwegian flags, barbequing hotdogs. Now I feel I understand Norwegians, and I love it. Such understanding makes it easier to work together, to pull in the same direction when decisions need to be made.

-Earlier in the interview, you said that we often are not fully prepared, but we make decisions and implement what we have decided. Do we often make mistakes?

-Things move faster, and we make some more mistakes. But, we take risks here that I like taking. I myself am not a person who follows the flow.

-In which ways does this impact the managers outside of the country?

-When they send us a list of activities they want us to carry out, the items on the list may not be suitable for this country. Then we have to dare to do it in the Norwegian way.

-It sounds like the other managers meet some resistance?

-Yes, my wife can affirm that I push the boundaries, and that I take calculated risks. You can’t achieve success if you don’t take risks or do things differently. My job is to make sure we develop the Norwegian business; to do that we must push the limits.