Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to “Spread Love in Organizations”, a podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
This episode is very special. In partnership with ESCP Business School, I’ll be giving the mic to students, our leaders of tomorrow, to discuss with incredible healthcare executives about their journeys and leadership beliefs.
ESCP Students: Hello, we are Guillaume and Johanna, students in a specialized master’s program in biopharma at ESDP Business School, and we are thrilled today to be speaking with Anette Steenberg, the CEO of the Medical Valley Alliance located in Denmark. Anette is a leader in health innovation in Europe. She graduated in International Trade and Negotiations and worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. After several years in that institution, she joined the Danish pharmaceutical company, Leo Pharma, where she had leadership roles. Anette is now the CEO of the Medical Value Alliance and board member of multiple organizations, such as the Red Cross and Healthcare Denmark.
Aneette, thank you for taking the time to be here with us today. We are so honored to have you. We would love to first hear your personal experience and story and why did you decide to take part in Medical Valley in Denmark.
Anette Steenberg: Thank you so much Johanna and Guillaume and thank you for inviting me for this podcast.
I’m really excited about talking to you and I hope I can bring you a couple of insights or ideas for you and your exciting The future that lies ahead of you as leaders and the talent. We great needs in life science and other sectors as well. Well, my personal story a bit like what you already very briefly mentioned is that I have worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for many years, actually two decades before that.
And even after that, I’ve traveled extensively. So I would consider myself. Some of the two common themes and threats in my career and my life has been international and it’s been internationalization of especially companies, but also basic collaboration across border and international. So that’s some of the key areas that I’ve always been working with.
I have spent 15 years abroad as well. I’ve been very fortunate to study in France, uh, though, do not switch into French. I do understand most of it, but my, my memory of speaking it takes a little time, maybe a week in France, then I’ll get back to that. Um, but, uh, I truly believe that the traveling and visiting, working and living and studying in other countries has been very valuable to me.
And I’ve learned a lot from that, including from my wonderful time in France. And, uh, yeah, you asked me why I I’m here where I’m at right now. Well, it’s just, you could say another step, uh, on my path of internationalization and collaboration across borders. I have now worked for about 10 15 years within life science.
It is an extreme international business as well. So in that sense, it’s, it’s not a big surprise I ended up in that area. It’s an area that’s growing. International is becoming always more important. At the same time, We also have a lot of exciting new innovation that is good for all of us, uh, as patients, uh, and as human beings wanting to be healthy, strong and live a long, good life.
ESCP Students: so much for your answer. And now I’d like to know, as a multiple board member and because of your career working as a CEO, which qualities do you think are necessary to be a great
Anette Steenberg: leader today? I think, of course, you need to be a strategic thinker. You need to have the long view, some clear targets on where and direction of where you’re heading.
At the same time, I also think as a leader, you, you don’t have to be the expert, but it’s very important you great at setting the right team. I think the team you have, whether it’s a small team or it’s a huge company, it’s extremely important that you’re good at setting a strong team. And what is a strong team?
Well, a strong team, of course, is experts within the areas that you are working within, but it’s also a diverse team. It’s, uh, it’s very important. It’s not the same type of people that comes out from the same mold, whether we talk diversity in gender, it could be nationality, it could be also background in terms of different education, I don’t believe the best team.
Is the team where you all graduate from the same, even if it’s a conical. But if you’re all from the same school you’re all from the same, maybe line of business, basically the same age, maybe even the same gender. I don’t believe that will make a strong team I do believe diverse team is very important.
And you as a, as a CEO, as a managing director need to be able also to dare to bring on people who are much smarter than you. Um, that’s actually the best team you can get, uh, what you need to do. Of course you need to be, you could say you are the conductor of this team. Um, and you need to be able to, to make sure a team, uh, compliments, uh, each other.
I also very much believe in being a genuine leader. Uh, this is something I have always looked for in, in the people I have, um, I have had as managers. It’s, it’s a quality I really, uh, respect and appreciate. And I try to be that. Being a genuine leader is also a leader that sometimes makes very difficult and very unpopular decisions, and you have to be willing to take that.
I do believe people rather have a genuine and honest answer and direction than being unpleasantly surprised at maybe an unfortunate situation. Well, that said, I would also say, uh, I believe that, um, you need to be willing to take risks and you also need to accept and be willing that sometimes you make mistakes.
Even yourself or your team, of course you need to, uh, learn from the mistakes. And of course, you shouldn’t be making too many mistakes, but if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t take risk, and I don’t believe you, you develop, you’re not innovative enough. And I, I truly believe in most line of businesses today.
You need to be able to be innovative all the time to keep up and be competitive. And I actually have a little quality I learned some years back. Well, I think it’s a quality. Most people laugh at it when I say it, but with my team members over the past at least decade, I have always made sure once every quarter, um, we make the mistake of the quarter.
Competition and we also have an annual competition of the mistake or mishap, misunderstanding of the year and we celebrate it. So it’s a, it’s a little funny why you should celebrate mistakes and failure, but actually from when you look back where you’ve learned the most is typically where you made a mistake.
And if you deep dive into that, that’s actually when you learn. You don’t always necessarily learn a lot from successes. Successes are great and that’s what we should have the most of. But if you want to keep on developing, it’s important that you, uh, you also celebrate your mistakes and learn from it.
That means you are also, um, you’re willing to talk about it and you’re not afraid. And it’s, it’s not a, it’s not a shame to make mistakes. That just basically means that you are active.
ESCP Students: Thank you so much for that insightful answer. Uh, you’ve had so far a very successful and busy career. Uh, which project do you think challenged you the most as a leader? And how did you manage
Anette Steenberg: to achieve your goals? Um, I don’t know if I can find a specific project. I think one of my biggest challenges and one of my biggest learnings is to understand that people don’t necessarily respond the same to the same kind of management or leadership style.
As mentioned, I have worked many years abroad and I’m a dame, but working, for instance, in the U. S. They have a different, um, uh, leadership style and employees also want a different leadership style from the manager. And I believe that this management leadership style I came with was the right one just to find out that that was not necessarily successful to Americans.
That was a very big eye opener for me. Um, and I’ve learned a lot from it. It’s something I can still, uh, get surprised that I keep on making some of these mistakes. I believe, uh, it could be cultural differences. It could also just be even within the same culture that people respond differently to.
Different, uh, to leadership styles. It’s all going back to get who said it’s a cultural differences about, you know, power distance, uh, individualism versus collectivism, uh, avoiding uncertainty, um, time perception. So it’s, uh, even now I’m working in a Swedish organization. And for you in France. Or elsewhere, you might think Scandinavians are all alike, and in many ways we are, but in many ways we are
not. And there’s a different style of collaboration, and you need to understand what the perception is. I think that’s where I as a manager has learned a lot, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I really made a lot of mistakes. I think one curious one was in the U. S. in the Danish leadership side, we have a very flat hierarchy, which is a little different from what I remember from France.
You have a bigger power distance in France. So I maybe the French is closer to the U. S. I’m not sure. But in Denmark, it’s very flat and people get very, very upset if managers. Micro managing, uh, other, uh, people. Basically, they just want to be left alone. They don’t want their leader to interfere in their work.
Um, and that works in Denmark. But, uh, what I learned in the U. S., they actually enjoyed me interfering, um, or checking up on them, as I felt it was. And, um, and they thought that… Because I didn’t do it, it meant that, um, I wasn’t interested in what they were doing. And for me, it was just the opposite idea. I thought if I meddled too much, I would be annoying them and taking their initiative and independence away from them.
And they perceived it as me not being interested in them. So that’s just an example of my perception was totally wrong. And, um, Yeah, I learned a lot from that. And I truly believe that that is something I keep on learning from even today, but it’s something I’m very aware of. Another challenge is, of course, when you reach my age and experience, you’ve had a lot of challenges and failures and downtime.
And that, I believe, is also areas where I’ve learned a lot from, and it has been made me stronger. You have this saying that what you don’t die for, you, you, you, you get stronger. And, and I definitely believe that’s true. It’s not fun when it’s happening, but in the long run, I believe that, um, you cannot go through life that’s both professionally or personally without having bumps in the way.
Sometimes those bumps are harder than others. But if you, uh, if you really dive into it, that’s also where you grow the most. It’s from learning from that and getting up afterwards. So I would say persistence is one of the, um, resilience. Something I, I believe strongly in. It’s not easy. But I think it’s necessary if you want to, uh, to move up the ladder.
Yeah, it’s not a popularity context.
ESCP Students: Yes, that’s very true. Thank you so much. Uh, the last question I had for you today was, uh, what should leaders, today’s leaders should focus on for the
Anette Steenberg: future? I was going to say you. And what I mean by that is talent. I really believe talent is key. Uh, it’s about what attract talents.
It’s also about what rate retains talents. Uh, you, the young generation in, in general, now I’m generalizing, but I still believe it’s pretty much true of also what I know from France is that you are much more purpose driven than your parents. Your parents and even the older generation were maybe more focused on how much money they can bring.
I know there’s still a lot of young people being focused on that, but I think being purpose driven, wanting to have a work life balance. is, uh, is important. And if we as employees, uh, do not, uh, are not aware of that, we have, we, we will have an issue. So I really believe it’s one of the focuses we should have.
That also includes the, the open mindedness, the inclusiveness, the diversity, as I mentioned before. Uh, so I believe that, uh, talent is definitely my number one and number two, and then I strongly believe in collaboration. Uh, I, I believe in, in growing the pie. I believe that if one and one, that makes more than two.
So, and that doesn’t matter whether it’s collaboration internally at a workplace or it’s nationally between maybe even national competitors or it’s internationally. Between competitors, I do believe collaborating makes you stronger also individually. So, but that’s not a, that’s not a change I think it’s always been like that, and I think it will continue being like that, but otherwise.
Challenge you guys. Thank
ESCP Students: you very much, Annette. Now I’d like to jump to another section of the podcast. I will give you one word and want to get your reaction. So the first word here is
Anette Steenberg: leadership.
Yeah, well, um, I would like a role model, just one word. You are just, you can say
ESCP Students: a couple of words as you want.
Anette Steenberg: I, I believe it’s important leadership that you show role models, and it doesn’t have to be yourself. I believe, though, a leader should be able to be a leader so lead the team and also make the difficult choices and do the hard work themselves, though I think it’s, it’s, it’s also very much this, I mentioned earlier, being a conductor.
Setting the right team, not necessarily being the expert, but being the expert in setting the right team and letting the team basically do the work for you. But, um, yeah, being a conductor.
ESCP Students: Thank you very much. The second word is innovation.
Anette Steenberg: For me, innovation equals the future. It equals what we have to live from and off.
In the future, um, especially in our part of the world, we cannot compete on salaries. We can compete on our brains and our in ability to innovate. So, um, so I believe it’s a collaboration. It’s, uh, the necessity for countries like France and, and also Denmark and Sweden to, uh, to, to develop and evolve. Thank you
ESCP Students: very much.
The third word is
Anette Steenberg: Denmark. Mm hmm. Well, when you say that, the first thing I think of is our flag, uh, but, but otherwise it’s, um, it’s a… I’ll see if I can remember this, uh, there’s a poem. It’s a famous Danish poet called Piet Hein. And, um, he has a, I’ll see if I can remember, it says, uh, it’s one of my favorite.
Denmark seen from foreign land seems like but a grain of sand. Denmark, as we Danes conceive it, is so big you won’t believe it. But let us finally compromise about Denmark’s proper size.
Since we are something about, uh, smaller than we at all. But basically what it says is that we are a tiny country. But we believe we are much more important than we are at the same time. We have a certain level of humbleness. So we work hard and we really are striving to become better. And we do that through collaboration.
So, um, yeah, I think it’s, uh, it’s, uh, it’s ambivalent in the way that, uh, we are a tiny country that’s trying to make an effect on the world. We’re very international. It goes back to the Vikings. Denmark is a wonderful little country, but we would be nothing without the world around us. We are so dependent on the world around us.
We, uh, we are wealthy and competitive because we’re good. at collaborating. These days, we do it in a more friendly way than what the Vikings did, and I hope we can continue doing that. Thank
ESCP Students: you very much for that. Uh, and finally, the last word is spread love in your organization.
Anette Steenberg: Oh, I think it’s so exciting.
I’m, I’m, uh, I don’t know enough about you, but, uh, when I learned about you, I thought it was such a great initiative, what you’re doing. So, uh, and I love the, the, The word, the title. So I wish you all the best and I would love to follow you, uh, going onwards. And I, and I look forward to, to meeting a lot of schools, also a lot of students from your school soon, uh, later this month.
ESCP Students: Yes, very soon. Thank you very much. Do you have any final words or advice for aspiring leaders in the pharmaceutical industry or just for anyone looking to excel in their roles as a leader in their own organization?
Anette Steenberg: Um, maybe a little bit of the repetition, as I mentioned, you need to be able to set the right team.
You need to be less, um, less focused on yourself. You have to be humble, but you also have to be bold. And that might be an opposite, but it can go hand in hand. You need to be humble in the way that you cannot do it on your own. You need other people. You need to set the right team. But you also need to be bold in showing the way and also allowing for mistakes.
Even your own. Don’t hide it. Share it and, uh, and if you do it, then other people would do it, too. And you can grow together.
ESCP Students: Thank you very much, Annette, for your time today and for such an inspiring discussion.
Anette Steenberg: You’re most welcome. I hope you’ll have a great day and I look forward to seeing some of you soon in Denmark.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening. We have such an important responsibility as leaders of today to plant the seeds for the leaders of tomorrow.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to Spread Love and Organizations podcast. We have such an important responsibility as leaders of today to plant the seeds for the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you all for listening to SpreadLove in Organizations podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs