As a teenager in in the southern city of Helsingborg, Sweden, Lars Nielsen spent a lot of time training with his floorball team:
– I was a goalkeeper; I think because I wanted to be at the centre of the action. At times, I would even ask my defenders to try and draw a penalty shot. Saving a penalty was a great way to make a difference, which is what I wanted.
When Lars’ floorball coach offered him a part-time job at Swedish machine automation suppliers SDT, Lars jumped at the opportunity. After some time in the SDT warehouse, Lars was made inside sales agent. This in turn led to a full-time job as field sales representative:
– It was very exciting to travel and meet the customers onsite, listen to their problems and help them find the right solution. I got to see the reality behind Swedish industry: the business- and technology decisions that make it happen. This experience set the path for my career.
Deep and wide
It didn’t take long before Lars got a recruitment call from Festo. The prospect of working for a large, global machine automation supplier was appealing, and Lars soon took on the role of regional sales representative. Later, he became key account manager.
– During this time, I learned to work in-depth with large customers, figuring out why and how they chose our products instead of the competition.
In 2013, it was time to explore new territory. After moving to Stockholm, Lars travelled throughout northern Sweden, this time in the role of system sales engineer.
– This gave me a completely new understanding of how business practices vary in different parts of the country. Northern business is quite different from the south!
The Asian experience
But Lars still had a bucket list of things that he wanted to do and experience. One item on this list was to work abroad. In 2015, he was offered a newly devised role in South Korea, as part of Festo’s efforts to grow their business in Asia:
– I was told that I would need to “wear many hats.” And I really did. One day I would facilitate a large deal in Seoul. Another day I would find myself on a factory floor in Vietnam, with a group of engineers solving a technical problem. It was incredibly fun and exciting, with lots of challenges along the way. I gained at least five years’ worth of experience in just two years.
When it came time to leave Korea in 2017, the Festo management board offered Lars a fully funded MBA scholarship. Honoured and excited by the offer, Lars ultimately chose to decline, as it would require another move – this time to Germany.
– It was difficult, but the right decision to make. Bringing my partner to Germany would have forced her to further delay important steps in her own career, and I didn’t want her to pay that price.
Looking for momentum
In early 2020, Lars was approached by Norgren, part of the IMI Precision Engineering group. Always on the lookout for new opportunities to learn and grow, Lars accepted the role as head of sales and operations in Sweden. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
– There were great ambitions, but with the pandemic everything slowed down. That’s when I got the call from Arnon.
In his discussions with Arnon Sweden, Lars soon saw a great potential and an alignment between his own passion and the company’s vision for the future.
– I didn’t want to end up in a purely administrative role, handling longstanding issues. I wanted to take part in a dynamic process of change and development, where decisions could be made and implemented without the heavy apparatus of a multinational corporation. I found all this in Arnon.
The way forward
Parts of Arnon Sweden’s current journey are relatively new territory for Lars Nielsen, such as the implementation of lean production processes. When it comes to sales, his own field of expertise, Lars emphasises the importance of aligning the company’s operations with the changing customer buying journey.
– B2B sales have become more complex in recent years. Today, decisions aren’t based mainly on history, relationships, and in-person discussion. Customers have moved on to a much more data-driven buying process, with more decision-making stakeholders than before. Becoming a trusted partner at every step of the buying journey is crucial, as this shift is accelerating.
Whatever steps Arnon Sweden needs to take in the coming years, the new managing director believes that a shared sense of participation is key:
– Everyone at Arnon Sweden, no matter their role, should have a clear vision of how their everyday work contributes to our goals. Part of my job will be to establish this vision in every corner of the company.
For now, Lars’ main focus is getting to know Arnon, its people and processes. However, the drive for improvement is always there, and this new chapter has just begun.
– I often return to my favourite quote by Tomas Edison: “There’s a way to do it better – find it!” I’m confident that together, we will find the best way forward for Arnon Sweden.