By Christina Ameln, CSR | Sustainability Advisor –
At the beginning of February, I had the opportunity to attend the Sweden-Asia Business Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A Summit described to continue to strengthen ties and knowledge-sharing between Sweden and ASEAN in business and… sustainability. One of the sponsors, amongst other Swedish heavyweights, was EQT- a Swedish private equity firm with a long history of investing and building companies. I had a chance to sit down with Johan Bygge, Chairman of EQT Asia, and our discussion was wide-ranging, including how EQT views sustainability, how it works “from the inside out”, how company culture is part of the sustainability equation, and how urgency must be balanced against the realisation that ‘change takes time’.
Prior to joining EQT, Bygge worked as CFO within Investor AB. At Electrolux, he held a number of CEO positions, more recently CEO Electrolux Major Appliances Europe and Asia Pacific and CEO Electrolux Major Appliances International. At Ericsson, he served as Deputy Group Treasurer and Deputy Group Controller. Currently he serves as Chairman of the Boards for PSM and ILA Vietnam, Director of Anticimex, Getinge AB and I-Med. While his professional career is impressive, I am most struck by his personality and charisma. He is generous with his time, interested in people, respectful of all, and approachable. These are traits I admire.
Bygge starts the discussion by stating firmly that sustainability is essential to business. Impacts on people and environments cannot be ignored. This is even more true with a team of engaged employees who are young and educated. Bygge explains, “It is an easy topic to unite around with support also from our board and senior management. And it just creates better business.” Bygge does not think the importance of sustainability should have to be explained – it is an obvious imperative for all businesses both within company walls or among portfolios of companies.
We move rapidly onto the next topic: the role of technology and digitalisation in sustainability. This is where it really takes off. Bygge has witnessed how the pest control company Anticimex has become more sustainable and efficient by leveraging technology. Sometimes visuals are more impactful than words and EQT shows on one of the panels a visual of how Anticimex works on pest control and sustainability. Personally, rats are not one of my favourite topics…. but the message is loud and clear. For Anticimex, digital innovation secures long-term sustainability by reducing the need for physical inspection and interaction. It can manage pest control through technology and at the same time ensure greater efficiency and sustainability.
As Bygge continues, the word ‘respectful’ looms large as he moves onto core values and company culture. “You cannot be a sustainable company if you do not have a strong culture and core values. It is difficult to live and implement but if consistent, part of internal checks and preached all the time, it is a company strength.” Bygge affirms that a good company culture creates efficiencies and in turn creates processes, systems and a working environment that is sustainable. He underlines this by proudly talking about EQT core values – ambitious, high-performing, respectful, transparent, industrial, informal, entrepreneurial. All of these words are influenced by EQT’s Swedish heritage as well as its association with the Wallenberg family and its industrial roots. Responsible investments are important to EQT. Not only does it live it internally, it is integral to its assessments of which companies to invest in. “Correcting company culture is time-consuming and difficult. In addition, the private equity model means we have a time limit. On average, companies are with us for 6-7 years. If a company already has a positive foundation in sustainability and core values, this allows us to focus.”
Bygge voices a sense of urgency around sustainability and Asia. And I also I feel that the Business Summit has missed an opportunity to ‘rally the troops’ to move faster on sustainability in the region. Every country represented has different levels of action on sustainability but more can be done. Bygge says the he witnesses on every trip around the region the increased plastics in the waters and the increased pollution. So, it is nice to hear Bygge stress, “Yes, change takes time, but we have to move faster on this.”
Bygge ends our discussion by expressing deep affection for Asia and its entrepreneurial spirit. He believes that business must “take risks but not be reckless”. With those last words, he reinforces my belief that those who invest in ‘hot’ new markets should be entrepreneurial but not reckless with the environment and people with whom they work. What this discussion has proven on all levels – sustainability creates efficiency and vice versa.
First published on February 26, 2018 on Linkedin.