Christian Joergensen has been a CEO and member of executive management groups in several international high-performance companies. He has also been Chairman of the Board and non-exec member of the Board in private equity owned companies, as well as public companies. Having lived in 5 different countries and worked globally, Christian enjoys working in diverse cultures to achieve ambitious objectives. He takes pride in helping team members to advance their careers internally through coaching and development programmes.
In this interview, Christian shared some very wise and valuable thoughts and advice on what makes a good leader, the power of diversity, the importance of culture, and how mentors and role models can help your journey of growth and success as a leader at any level.
Taking control of my own destiny is where leadership started for me
I don’t think I ever made the conscious decision to move into leadership – it’s something that grew organically throughout my career. At some point I realised that I had a choice: Either I could sit back and be told what to do, or I could sit at the table and get involved in making the decisions. I took my first steps into leadership at university when I joined the student council and became Vice-Chairman of the basketball club. I realised that I like knowing what’s going on and having some influence over decisions that affect me. I wanted to take control of my own destiny – that’s where it started.
What makes a good leader?
There are several personality traits that are beneficial for leadership. It helps if you like being around people and if you are good at listening to others. Being an optimist is almost a necessity. When times are tough, the team looks to the leader for reassurance; you must give your team hope and genuinely believe that there is a way out of difficult challenges. You have to want to change things and to be part of the team that is going to make that change.
Beyond that, many of the skills required for leadership can be learned. Good communication skills are crucial, but this is something that can be honed over time. You can learn by listening to people who are good communicators, and you can take part in training courses to learn new tools and tactics that you can use in the workplace. The best way to improve though is to try things out for yourself and see what works. I definitely made some mistakes at the beginning, but I figured out better ways to do things over time. I think that most people have the potential to be leaders and these skills just need to be nurtured; often, it comes down to having the confidence to believe that you can do something.
Sport is a powerful mechanism to learn about leadership
I played basketball for 37 years and made it to the Danish national team. Sport taught me a lot about leadership and discipline. When you are part of a team, you must show up to practice even if you don’t feel like it because people depend on you. Sports also teach you about losing. When you lose a game, crying about it won’t change anything; there’s always another game coming up and you need to move forwards and focus on how you’re going to improve.
In the Danish national team, we all wanted to be on the court every match but sometimes you weren’t called to play. Rather than dwelling on it, I had to think about what I could do to make sure the coach saw me during practice and put me on the court for the next game. The key is to focus on the things you can control and plan for what you can do better next time. In this way, sport makes you resilient by teaching you how to move forwards after setbacks.
Diversity leads to better decision making and stronger teams
The most interesting part of my career has been working internationally – I’ve been fortunate to work in several different countries, including Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark. Working overseas taught me that there’s a whole world out there that’s very different from mine. I quickly realised that I couldn’t be a Dane in a different country. I had to be an international citizen and adapt to my environment – that’s part of the fun.
Meeting people from different countries and hearing their stories is a very humbling experience. It shows you what people with different backgrounds and experiences can bring to the table and it helps you to identify what you can contribute. That was how I first really understood the importance of diversity and the wide variety of people and skills necessary to succeed in the life science industry. The benefits are clear. If you have more people with diverse backgrounds involved in discussions, you make better decisions.
I could hire five people with the same background as me and we would agree on everything and make decisions in five minutes. But hearing from people with different perspectives leads to better ideas and stronger teams. I am willing to pay the price for reduced efficiency and slightly longer meeting times to have more challenging discussions and achieve better outcomes in the long run. It can be more difficult to work together – there are more disagreements, and it takes longer to reach a consensus – but ultimately you get better results.
I’m not afraid to hire someone who is smarter than me or who knows something that I don’t know. That’s how you get a wider range of viewpoints and make sure that all bases are covered. To achieve a truly inclusive work environment, culture is more important than strategy. It’s about changing the way people talk to each other and the way people view each other.
Find a mentor who will push you forward
To become a successful leader, you have to step up and put yourself out there. This is much easier if you have a mentor who believes in you. Finding a mentor who can promote you and push you forward is very important. I had a mentor in my early career who encouraged me to take on challenges and gave me visibility and exposure.
During my time as a General Manager for Western Europe at Baxter, I ran the EMEA Diversity & Inclusion programme. We set up mentorship schemes and resource groups to encourage aspiring female leaders. While at Baxter, I promoted a colleague to become the first female country manager in Europe and, having realised the potential of another female member of my team who worked for me in Europe HQ, I made sure she was on the stage presenting at conferences and events – so that everybody could see how good she was. I challenged her because I knew what she was capable of. It all starts with someone who believes in you and promotes you internally.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many inspiring leaders who have taught me a lot about how to lead a team. The late Bob Parkinson who served as Chairman and CEO of Baxter International set an excellent example of how a company leader should behave. He had a strong vision for the company that was centred around doing things for the right reasons. We had a diversity and inclusion policy not because we had to, but because we understood the true benefits of having a diverse team. We created eco-friendly policies not to enhance our reputation, but because we genuinely cared about looking after the environment.
When I worked at Hill-Rom, I had the privilege of working with former company President & CEO John Greisch. He was very straight with people and gave honest feedback. It created a strong work culture in which everyone knew where they stood and there was no room for office politics. Both leaders taught me a lot about the importance of creating an open working culture and motivating your team.
Advice for aspiring leaders
My advice would be not to stick to a rigid path or career plan but to take interesting opportunities as they arise. I got into the life sciences sector by accident. I was working as CEO for a mobile operator start-up when a recruiter called me out of the blue and offered me an executive management role in a healthcare company. The company wanted someone with a different background to the rest of the team who could bring new perspectives. It was an unplanned decision, but I have found deep satisfaction in working in an industry that is improving the health and lives of people around the world. I’ve stayed in life sciences ever since.
Leadership is about taking responsibility. When there is an opportunity to do something where you can get visibility and take charge of a project, then seize it. Get involved, get out in the front and take a risk. Have confidence in yourself and don’t let other people’s opinions hold you back. It might not always go well but you will be sure to learn a lot along the way.