Senior management: Three women strengthen building materials giant
Building material retail group Stark has gone from zero to three women in its executive committee since 2016. This has resulted in progress on several fronts.
Cloudburst. Mud. Bring it on. Watch out. Get to work. Every day.
The words adorn the pages of Stark’s catalogue, accompanied by images of big, strong men in work gear. The magazine with the bearded men and tools now lands in more stores than it did just a year ago.
Stark Group, which owns building material stores all across the Nordic region, has enjoyed sufficient financial gain to expand after a turnaround. Together with that turnaround came three new female executives, who together with their five male colleagues in the executive committee of Stark Group have turned dwindling revenue to growing turnover and profit.
“It has been an incredible experience to see that we were able to sell the company while also delivering the best results in seven years in Stark’s Danish branch, where we also managed to increase employee motivation,” says CEO of Stark Denmark, Britta K. Stenholt.
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None of us were selected because of our gender, we were selected because of our competencies. CFO Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen, Stark Group
Britta K. Stenholt is one of the three women who have been recruited to Stark Group’s executive committee since 2016. The other two are CFO of Stark Group Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen and HR Director at Stark Group, Lene Groth. They joined an executive team that had previously consisted solely of men, but is now more diverse, which has had a positive effect on decision-making, explains Sisse Felsted Rasmussen.
“In my experience, men can behave like flock of male elephants at management meetings. At Stark Group, the dynamic in the conference room is different, with open dialogues that result in more nuanced and better decisions,” she says.
From deficit to market success
It was the newly appointed CEO of Stark Group Søren P. Olesen who, starting in 2016, was responsible for a clean-up of the group after a few years with a bottom line in the red. His strategy to do so involved assembling diverse executive team.
The clearest example of the new strategy’s success is Stark Group’s Swedish branch, Beijer Byggmaterial. Here, profits had been falling, and employees were fleeing. HR Director Lene Groth helped reverse that trend.
“We stepped in and put a new CEO in charge of Sweden. Together with him, we put together a new team in Sweden, where half of the Swedish management was replaced. We used the same strategy of searching far and wide for the best candidates. And this has resulted in a brilliant team in Sweden – which includes two women in management,” says Lene Groth.
The new management was able to turn the results, and now the Swedish branch is outperforming the market – for the seventeenth month running.
“In Sweden, they’ve expressed how big of a difference it has made to be part of a close-knit team that has differing views. Together with Geir Thomas Fossum (CEO of Beijer Byggmaterial, ed.), the new management has created an environment that cooperates really well; they’ve really turned the tide in a very short amount of time,” says Lene Groth.
Good management is diverse management
In addition to impressive numbers on the bottom line, all three executives emphasise that they enjoy the openness and sense of community that characterises the new executive team. According to CFO Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen, the executive committee works like an orchestra.
“Every member is extremely good at playing his or her own instrument, but it doesn’t sound great until everyone plays together. The same goes for our management. None of us were selected because of our gender, we were selected because of our competencies. And those competencies harmonise well,” she says.
All three agree that the key to the executive committee’s harmony is diversity. And although they do not believe anyone was appointed due to their gender, all agree that management teams require women in order to bring more perspectives into discussions. HR Director Lene Groth adds:
“After thirty years in the job market, my experience is definitely that the best management teams have a good gender balance, because it helps bring other views to light. It becomes more intuitive, other kinds of questions are raised and viewpoints are less one-sided. This means you get a diversity in discussions that ensures strong, collaborative and efficient leadership,” she says.
Naturally, it takes a lot of time to get a management team to work this way. But CEO of Stark Denmark Britta K. Stenholt notes that it is precisely the will to dedicate time to recruitment and, afterwards, to the cohesiveness of the management group, that is decisive for results.
“We spend a lot of time on recruitment, and we spend a lot of time on getting to know each other really well in management, and that’s how we create results. Some may be sceptical about spending so much time on recruitment and teambuilding. But the fact that we also spend time on other things than the bottom line and finances mean that our management and thereby Stark Group can deliver impressive results,” says Britta K. Stenholt.
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Spend time on finding the best management!
The three women at the top of a male-dominated industry have a word of advice for other management teams: Expand your search when recruiting.
“I don’t think we’re lacking women who want to join management. We’re lacking companies. They need to get better at making their headhunters broaden their search for candidates. It simply isn’t true that there aren’t female candidates – they just haven’t looked hard enough,” says Lene Groth.
And companies should not hesitate to set the same demands for women as they do for men, adds CFO Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen.
“I’ve been in male-dominated industries before, and I’ve had job interviews where I’ve been asked how I would handle the position with small children. Once I could help but blurt out: Do you ask the men that too?” says Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen.
Britta K. Stenholt
Appointed CEO of Stark Denmark in February 2017 after two years as Director of Sales. Prior to Stark, 10 years at TDC, most recently as Senior Vice President.
Sisse Fjelsted Rasmussen
CFO of Stark Group since August 2018. Joined after 10 years at Scandinavian Tobacco Group, most recently as CFO. Board member of TV2 Denmark and Co-Ro.
HR Director at Stark Group since October 2016. Prior to this, two years as Group Director at Coop and 12 years at IKEA, most recently as Global HR Director.