Jul 12, 2019

Danish Company CEO’s are Increasingly Foreign Nationals

This week, the Danish business daily Børsen reported that Danish companies are increasingly looking to foreign nationals to fill CEO positions.

Currently, 10 of the Danish C25 companies have a foreign CEO – including Danske Bank’s Chris Vogelsang (The Netherlands), Ambu’s Juan-Jose Gonzales (USA) and Lundbeck’s Deborah Dunshire (USA).

Børsen has compiled information from the 1000 largest companies in Denmark, which shows that nearly 13 percent have a foreign national managing the company – a trend that is most likely to continue according to headhunters:

“The largest Danish companies are global and depend on top management with a strong sense of international markets and culture. Therefore, hiring a foreign CEO makes sense”, says Michael Vad, Nordic Head of the executive search company Spencer Stuart.

However, finding the right candidate is not always an easy task, states Peter Levin from the headhunting company Egon Zehnder:

“There are multiple challenges in attracting talent and top executives to Denmark including taxation. Our society is simply not geared to engage foreign leaders or specialists; even the largest banks operate only in Danish; the healthcare system is difficult to navigate; and our salary levels are generally lower than what top leaders are used to from other countries. Therefore, to attract a foreign candidate, we typically need to offer a relatively high salary package, which in turn risks generating negative publicity”, he says.

Once a foreign CEO is in position, they must then learn to manage in an vastly different work culture.

“I arrived in Denmark after having positions in the U.S. and the U.K. I was extremely focused on performance, KPIs and even tracking my team’s number of work hours. One day here in Denmark, I realized that the office was empty at 15.30 and I figured that we had a work ethic issue. People were not putting in the required number of work hours. However, as it turns out, the office was simply just made up of Danes”, says Ken Cordes, Managing Director of Emerson Climate Technologies, who has been an expat CEO in Denmark for the past 12 years.

He continues; “One of the most important Danish sayings that I think any foreign CEO should learn is: Freedom under responsibility. It says a lot about how Denmark operates – and how Danes should be managed”.

An increasing inflow of foreign nationals into the business community also requires Danish employees to consider how to navigate this changing cultural work environment. However, a recent Mckinsey study (2018) has shown that a diverse workforce generate more innovative solutions and increases companies’ competitiveness globally.

Source: Børsen on July 10, 2019 – “En ny type rykker ind på danske direktørgange: Udenlandske topchefer i hastig vækst i Danmark

AmCham Denmark runs the leading network for international business leaders in Denmark. If you are an expat leader in Denmark, please feel free to reach out to the AmCham secretariat and learn more about how to become engaged in the network.