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THIS IS ISSUE 11 OF THE QVARTZ ANNUAL Publisher QVARTZ Editors Elin Bäckström Stage Torsten Hvidt Design and art direction Jacob Darfelt Portraits Ricky John Molloy Illustration Mercedes deBellard Published in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Singapore, USA and the Netherlands Printed at Narayana Press Contact www.qvartz.com

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Contents 06 10 16

Combine Editorial

When a banker lends you an umbrella Meet Henriette Fenger Ellekrog, Head of Human Resources at Danske Bank

40 44

With love QVARTZ Con Amore engagements

Rebel, rebel Karsten Petersen and Joachim Allerup, founders of Vertical Strategy, like to turn things around


Adding to the fabric QVARTZ in numbers


The A-Team QVARTZ Analytics is a force field of analytical power


Where the oxygen comes in Meet Lars Sandahl Sørensen, COO of the SAS Group


Inevitable growth Greetings from our four new offices



A bigger piece of that pie, please Meet Manuel Nothelfer, EVP of Sales at ERGO Direkt



If it looks really challenging, it’s perfect Meet Christian Frick, Partner and Head of Financial Services, Advisor to Nordic Capital Funds

Dear Mathias A letter from Mathias Leth Geertsen, Engagement Partner at QVARTZ, to his younger self

Gems from the 2017 treasure trove Some of our most iconic moments revisited

Unleashing the potential Portrait of entrepreneur and visionary Aiman Shaqura, founding partner of Charge Incubator





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Combine is a word that defines QVARTZ. No less. It defines our internal modus operandi, our ways of working with clients, our strategy, our end goals and indeed our beliefs about the world. And even though the latter sounds grandiose, it’s worth remembering what Bobby Kennedy famously pointed out; that the Gross National Product counts napalm, cigarette advertising, riot gear for the police, the locks on our doors and the jails for the people who break them, whereas it does not allow for the health of our children, the joy of their play, the quality of our poetry or the strength of our marriages. Figures like the Gross National Product are important, but the qualities and challenges of nations cannot be expressed solely by numbers. Neither can the qualities and challenges of companies, or indeed individuals, be expressed solely by numbers. We have to combine. Numbers and letters. Quantity and quality. Results and relations. Capitalism and humanism. The stories in this edition of the QVARTZ Annual reflect this premise. We combined with companies, such as Nordic Capital (p. 16), Danske Bank (p. 10), SAS (p. 52) and ERGO Direkt (p. 30) on some of their most critical business priorities. We also combined with intriguing organisations such as Charge, an incubator for first-generation immigrants in Norway (p. 36), which is just one Con Amore initiative out of many around the world (p. 40). We combined our strategy consulting expertise with skill sets that are different from ours, in order to address the rapidly increasing complexities in the world of business. Most notably, we established QVARTZ Analytics (p. 24) and acquired a majority stake in Vertical Strategy (p. 44). These entities add to the multitude of skills found in our ecosystem where we have forged close partnerships with world leaders such as Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Teradata.

In addition to this, we combined our original Nordic footprint with new offices and colleagues in Germany, the US, Singapore and the Netherlands (p. 28). Furthermore, we added a critical alliance partner in India to the ones already in our ecosystem, placed in Central Europe and Australia. To create and maintain relations, we combined with a lot of cool, big people at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, the OverOslo festival in Norway, Vårsalongen in Stockholm, the Club Q Friday Lounges, the QVARTZ Soccer Challenges and at various inspirational events with Harvard Business School, Cisco and Salesforce (p. 64). And finally, we combined internally. We adhere to a self-invented model called IUCP (Individually Unique, Collectively Perfect), which stresses that we all contribute to the whole, and that without each other, we will never get close to perfection. We need analytical skills, indeed, but combined with social skills. We need extrovert go-getters, for sure, but combined with introvert thinkers (p. 62). The word Combine is at the core of humanism as it is the one thing that separates human beings from our fellow primates. We have, within us, the will to combine with others and collaborate without short-term rewards. That is inspiring, and we hope that the combined stories of this publication will inspire you. Team QVARTZ






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Danske Bank

When a banker lends you an umbrella

New financial institutions with fresh business models and little history are popping up on every corner of the internet. Fintech firms have begun to offer new ways to provide money transfer services and online credit to customers and have thereby become direct competitors to banks; other businesses develop disruptive technologies that they later sell to the financial industry. No doubt, the competitive landscape of the money world can bring sweat to the foreheads of any traditional banker. 10

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Danske Bank


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tion are the five forces of change that set an entirely new environment for us to operate in”. With these five forces coming together at a previously unseen pace, Danske Bank has been pushed to rethink its operating model – only to discover that the key to future prosperity was in fact right at its doorstep.

What Twain said American author Mark Twain reputedly said that “a banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain”. There might have been more than a grain of truth to this statement in past times, but for the Nordic-born banking giant Danske Bank, the winds of change are clearing the halls of old truths and ways of doing things, and bringing in a steelyeyed focus on the one component that drives all capital – people. “We have been around for almost 150 years, so what we have been doing as a company has not been bad. Not all companies survive that long, but with the shifting environment, we need to change the way that we operate”, says Henriette Fenger Ellekrog, Head of Human Resources at Danske Bank. Today, she says, all financial institutions operate in a context of change. “Macroeconomics, customer expectations, digitalisation, disruption and competi-

Folks before finance Dating from the 1870s, Danske Bank is no newbie in the banking business. The company currently boasts three million clients, ranging from private customers to big businesses and institutions, and it is present in 16 different countries. Danske Bank’s impressive tenure and its success in building such an extensive organisation are testaments to its inherent force – and a will to keep improving, pushing forward and avoiding becoming too comfortable. However, in such a huge organisation, turning the wheels in a new direction is sometimes a cumbersome process, and it is of pivotal importance to get things right from the very start. “We needed to take a hard look at ourselves and say: are we organised in the right way, do we have the right capabilities, is the way that we work the right way, and so on”, says Henriette. She continues, “While most major banks have a good grip on digitalisation and economy of scale, we detected one increasingly important field in which we could excel – customer experience”. To get there, Danske Bank knew that the focus going forward would need to be on two closely intertwined aspects: people and culture. From the inside out The very first strategic step was for the entire management team to realise the influence they had on the direction the company was heading. If Danske Bank were to move in a new and different direction, the entire management team had to be living this change as well. Otherwise, the entire plan would fail.

“We asked ourselves: ‘How do we work on delivering the right culture, the right people? It’s a question of defining what it is that we want to achieve. One thing that definitely drives the culture is leadership, and we need to work with what kind of leadership will drive us in the right direction. Another driver is the performance model: who are the heroes in the organisation, who do you celebrate, what are the success criteria? Both in terms of the standard KPIs, but also the more hidden success criteria. Also, we need to look at the people that we bring on board and the kind of capabilities they have. Are they all men in their 50s with suits and ties, or is it also people with different kinds of experiences who bring about a much more diverse and agile workforce?” In order to reshape its operating model, Danske Bank did not necessarily need to go through dramatic cultural changes, explains Henriette. But what the company did have to do was to define what kind of culture it wanted to achieve, and then get down to detail on what elements were driving this particular kind of culture. In this case, the main drivers were the leadership, the performance model, and, not least, the people and how they were organised. No fluffy stuff Danske Bank’s ability to execute on its strategy is what defines whether or not the banking giant is successful and becomes number one in customer experience, explains Henriette. This means that the right people need to be on board and everybody needs to work in the right way in order for Danske Bank to be able to execute. “Fortunately”, she says, “everybody gets that in the organisation, so there’s already acceptance in terms of saying: people and culture are not a part of the strategy, they are the strategy”.


Danske Bank

henriette fenger ellekrog, Head of Human Resources at Danske Bank. When Henriette was a child, her biggest dream was to become a fighter pilot. She was very disappointed to find out that to women, this profession was off limits. However unfair the experience, Henriette says that in fact it taught her something important: to redirect rather than to come to a halt when faced with an obstacle. Today, Henriette says she would rather be working with people than being alone in a cockpit, but her love of flying remains unaltered. Across Danske Bank, the shift to a more people-oriented strategy has been surprisingly well-received. “It has been a relief to many people to understand that culture isn’t something funny and fluffy or this very non-transparent or academic stuff”, Henriette says. “It’s actually very much hard-core work”. While saying that people and culture are the strategy is easy enough, the actual implementation is where the challenges truly begin. “As a leader in this transformation, you need to be very stubborn and persistent when trying to get people to go in the right direction. There is a natural tendency to go back to old patterns or old habits. You need to find a personal drive in terms of actually engaging and inspiring people on this journey”. At the start of the transformation, there are many low-hanging fruits to pick, but once you have taken the first step up the ladder, things start to get difficult and you need to augment the expectations and the deliveries. “I think it’s really important that we say what it is we are striving for”, emphasises Henriette, and continues, “the culture is not a goal in itself; it’s a means to an end and that end is delivering on being number one in customer experience. When I’m asked: ‘How can you measure that you’re successful?’ and ‘When do we have the right culture?’ I always answer, ‘When we’re number one in customer experience’. I can’t measure it by having satisfied employees or great leaders, if we are not delivering on our overall objective”, explains Henriette. Tasting your own medicine In Henriette’s small part of the big Danske Bank organisation, in which much of the strategy work in fact originated, the change was especially tangible. “We had a small project meeting in HR, halfway down the road, where


we sat down together and realised that we were actually scared of moving forward. We had a feeling of ‘Oh God, we’re going to shake things up and take a very daring step’, and that was very difficult for us”. However, with this realisation, Henriette and the rest of the HR team became wiser on what the large-scale change process would demand from the rest of the organisation – but also on the rewards that lay ahead. “We realised that this is the change process that we’re telling the rest of the organisation to join. It was a very good experience to feel on our own body that this was an audacious task to take on, but when we did it and dared to take that step, we realised afterwards that it was the right step to take. Even though it was hard and perhaps difficult to imagine where it would end, we could see that it was the right thing to do and that really inspired us to carry on”. Henriette explains that in HR, things don’t fall into neat professional boxes. Instead, they go cross-organisationally and cross-processes. And same as in the rest of Danske Bank, the operating model in the HR department has been fundamentally changed by bringing in new competences; people with analytic skills, process skills, project management skills – and not only the traditional HR profiles. Keep the umbrellas open Gazing into the future, Henriette does not see an immediate end to the journey that Danske Bank has embarked on. Significant workforce changes are coming, the labour market is still changing and so is the workplace. Also, she adds, the constantly changing outside environment makes it increasingly important to keep close to your customers. “We need to adapt”, she says. “Our customers will experience this in terms of new ways of interacting with us”. However, Danske Bank’s main emphasis, people, will remain a cornerstone to success in a digital future as well. The banking giant will keep on sharing its umbrellas and work hard to keep a close connection with its customers – come rain or shine. Because, as Henriette puts it, “in the future, everything that can be digitised will be digitised, but then what cannot be digitised becomes even more important”. •

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Nordic Capital

If it

Few adore a constantly disruptive environment as much as private equity firms. Embracing change and always aiming for sustainable solutions, these guys can turn turbulent times into gold mines in a heartbeat. Nordic Capital, one of the biggest private equity funds in the Nordics, has a particularly well-trained nose for fields undergoing massive change. When the financial crisis hit global markets in 2008, few would have expected to benefit from it. But for the investment-hungry fund managers at Nordic Capital, the new and disruptive environment turned out to be an eye-opener. Soon, they discovered a new favourite beat: the financial services industry. 16

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looks really challenging, it’s perfect 17

Nordic Capital


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in five primary industry verticals: Healthcare, Financial Services, Technology & Payments, Consumer Retail and Industrial Goods & Services. Its current portfolio consists of about 30 companies with some EUR 10 billion in revenue and close to 50,000 employees. Always on the lookout for leveraged buyout transactions, Nordic Capital tirelessly scans the market for new investment opportunities. In recent years, Christian and his colleagues have found a new Eldorado: Financial Services.

The charm of change If you want to soft-soap a Nordic Capital partner, make sure to smile when you mention the word “change”. Nordic Capital, a private equity pioneer in the Nordic region, founded in 1989, has encompassed that word ever since the fund’s earliest days. “Nordic Capital really has a true passion for driving and supporting change in the industries it focuses on”, says Christian Frick, Partner and Head of Financial Services, Advisor to Nordic Capital Funds, of his employer. “Given the industry’s own ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, I think we embrace change. That’s why private equity also represents a very good governance model for companies that face not the same challenges, but the same challenging circumstances”. Nordic Capital’s main pursuit is to find, invest in and build stronger businesses by helping their management accelerate growth and adjust to new circumstances. Companies that see change happening faster than their own ability to keep up are the main gems that the fund is hunting for. Almost three decades ago, Nordic Capital started out as a local private equity fund in the Nordic region. With time, sweat and patience, it then grew to largely dominate the Financial Services and Technology Payments sectors in Europe. It also became a global top dog in Healthcare Investing. Today, Jersey-based Nordic Capital has advisory offices in all four Nordic countries and in the UK and Germany. It invests

A helpful crisis Nordic Capital had taken more than one glimpse at the financial services industry before deciding to enter it. The private equity fund, super sensitive to good investment opportunities, knew deep inside that there was potential in financial services. Investments were made in the electronic payments solutions company Point International in 2004, and in the course of this ownership, it became evident to Nordic Capital that it had a lot to contribute with in the sector. But still, the Nordic Capital advisory investment team wasn’t completely able to crack the code in terms of their own role. Not until a major catastrophe hit. In 2008, the financial crisis shook global markets like a high-scale earthquake. For Nordic Capital and many of its peers, it became quite the wake-up call. In the aftermath of the crisis, the effects that changing regulations, digitalisation and new customer behaviours had on the financial services industry became ever-more evident. Many financial services firms were confused and wondering how to adapt to the new environment. All of a sudden, Nordic Capital detected an entryway into the industry it hadn’t noticed before. “That’s when we really saw that there was a role for us to play and what that role would be”, says Christian. “The global market for financial services is undergoing tremendous change and will require companies to meet those changes and act upon them, and that’s really our core expertise, to support them in such situations. So that’s why we see that there is a great opportunity for us to participate and support in that change”.

Oh the struggle Nordic Capital isn’t a big fan of lingering. Naturally, the moment the decision was made to enter the financial services sector, the Nordic Capital team was ready to jump. The industry it was about to enter was, however, not as enthusiastic. Despite what Christian and his colleagues tried to say, private equity was by many simply not considered a good governance model for financial services. “We met a lot of those sceptics in the beginning”, says Christian. “I think, as we always do, we convince them one by one by simply delivering, or even over-delivering on our promises, and showing that Nordic Capital does actually deliver good value and supports the building of sustainably stronger companies”. Christian soon learnt that his natural boldness very well could be played down a tad, and that he and his colleagues had to work on sharpening their focus instead. “We constantly try to stay focused on certain parts of that large industry because that really leads to increased understanding; you know where to look and what to look for, and it also gives you the courage to go after opportunities where others might only see challenges”, he says. “It’s difficult and probably also sometimes good not to be that bold before you have actually seen the results”. With results at hand, however, one can say it was definitely worth the efforts. In 2012, Nordic Capital invested in Resurs Bank, two years later in Lindorff, and what subsequently became Bambora. In 2016, it invested in Nordnet, and in 2017 in MFEX and Nordax. These days, Nordic Capital is the biggest and most successful investor in financial services in the Nordic region. Bang for the buck Nordic Capital has certainly made a mark on the companies it has acquired. After buying consumer credits firm Resurs Bank, it supported the creation of what is today the leading independent consumer finance group in the Nordic countries. “And that was based on a much smaller platform, which today is about four times the size of what it was only five years ago”, says Christian.


Nordic Capital

Nordic Capital’s investment in online and in-app payments provider Bambora, he adds, is an even better, if not “fantastic”, example of the positive impact private equity funds can have on a business. “It wasn’t about changing existing business and making sort of incremental change, but really gathering many different companies and bringing the best out of them and creating something completely new in an established industry”. Bambora is today a pioneer in terms of challenging norms and standard ways of approaching payments. In the case of online broker Nordnet, Nordic Capital has been completely aligned with the management team and the founding family, set on building the world’s best user experience in online savings. Currently, they are investing heavily to do so, and, as Christian says, “We strongly believe they will reach their targets”. Finally, at credit management outsourcers Lindorff Group, Nordic Capital has been instrumental in supporting the firm in becoming the world’s largest debt collection firm, in particular by facilitating the merger of Lindorff and Intrum Justitia. For Christian and Nordic Capital, the foray into financial services has for sure been an affirmative ride. “It’s a privilege to be able to work with really world-class people on a daily basis, which we have at Nordic Capital, and also to be able to support and cooperate with world-class board members and management teams”, says Christian. “A very positive experience has been the level of impact that Nordic Capital has been able to have on the companies, and the level of impact that those companies have been able to have on the industries in which they operate”. It all just started Although already a triumph, Christian says he believes Nordic Capital and private equity’s involvement in the financial services sector has only just begun. “My thesis is that private equity presence will increase, and given the way that we operate, I think this means that the level of change will increase as a result. With the size of the players in the industry,


I think there is a natural tendency, almost like the law of gravity, for private equity to focus on challengers rather than incumbents. And again, given my belief in this, in what we do and how we operate, my money is on the challengers rather than the incumbents”, he says. Christian, who himself bumped into the financial services sector quite by chance early in his career, has learnt to appreciate what he once considered a “devastating” business. Today, he calls his position an “extremely happy place”, and adds that he hopes to be part of the success as it blooms further. “I think the beauty of this industry and what I really like about it is that it constantly changes, and this means that whatever plan I have made for myself doesn’t really mean anything. It really depends on what the industry brings. But if there is one thing that I would like to do, at least I hope that I will be able to continue building the best team in financial services within Nordic Capital. I think that’s really important for us to continue the success, and then we will see what happens to me”. •

christian frick, Partner and Head of Financial Services, Advisor to Nordic Capital Funds. After being in an up-tempo job all week, Christian enjoys relaxing with his two best friends – his children – or play a round of golf during his time off. He also takes delight in a good stretch, more specifically yoga, which he practises as often as he can. By his turning 45, he aims to have successfully completed a yoga teacher education.

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qvartz Analytics



A force field of analytical power; QVARTZ Analytics is definitely the data whizz-kid of the QVARTZ family. With a knowledge base ranging from computational engineering to mathematics, digital marketing, data science and algorithm development – just to mention a few – the combined skills of the QVARTZ Analytics team are applied in everything from major digital transformations to artificial intelligence. Pair this with the eight different nationalities represented in the +10 strong team and ‘Diversity’ comes out as the given team screen saver. Read on as the people behind QVARTZ Analytics unravel their take on the three key elements that rock their world: Data, Analytics and People. 24

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qvartz Analytics

A connected future After four decades of exponential increases in computing power, the world’s immense amount of processing power is now doubling every two years, which is leading to astonishing leaps forward in technological capabilities. As technology is continually becoming cheaper, the demand is met at lower price points, fuelling an explosion of devices with endless connections. Sophisticated artificial intelligence devices are now mass-market and better known as personal assistants by the names of Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant. Earlier this year, we were paid a visit by Peter Schwartz, one of the world’s premier futurists, innovators, authors and business strategists. According to him, we can expect technology to have a vast effect on mobility, connectivity, speed of change, intelligence and productivity in the future. The combined effects of new technologies – mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence, sensors and analytics, among others – are accelerating progress exponentially. And as soon as we overcome the physical and chemical limitations that are inhibiting exponential gains in mass-market technologies such as battery storage and wireless charging, it’s likely that the pace of change will accelerate even faster. In our increasingly digital world, says Mr. Schwartz, data is the new oil, and we are the wells. However, a vast majority of the data we gather today is not useful – and 97% of the data that is indeed useful has yet to be analysed. The rise in data and the reduced cost of accessing and processing it has fuelled organisations to utilise even more data to better understand their customers, create new products, offer new services and optimise their operations. All with the aim of creating a new competitive edge.


‘A’ for Analytics Say you want to understand the performance of a specific brand. The classic approach would be to do a survey or to poll a group of customers. An alternative way, however, would be to use social media data and sentiment analysis to map brand perception by consumers across all channels. By combining such insights with the sales data, a new kind of transparency is created, allowing a deep understanding of the brand and its impact on revenue. That’s the power of analytics. For the QVARTZ Analytics team, focus always revolves around one decisive question: how can data be utilised and analytics applied in order to help clients implement a strategy and/or solve a business problem? When looking at a business strategy, the team first articulates what is happening in the specific business today; then they predict the future of the industry and lastly, they make critical choices as to where the scarce resources of the business should be placed in order to maximise value in the predicted future. To scan what’s going on in a specific business – instead of collecting samples and extrapolating the information – QVARTZ Analytics uses a large volume of structured and non-structured data from a variety of sources across the organisation for processing and analysis. Why? Because this approach reveals much more insight than what can be deduced from the traditional approach of analysing several data sources independently and drawing cross-data conclusions afterwards. In the great majority of businesses, a fair amount of energy is spent on considering, evaluating and sometimes worrying about what lies ahead. In order to predict the future, statistical tools have traditionally been used to create trend lines – by looking at one dimension at a time. For example, a 12-month rolling sales forecast has been predicted by looking at the historical trend of actual sales. More complex predictions such as market trends, brand development and competition, which all include multiple internal and external variables, have, however, been considered too time-consuming and

costly, inhibiting organisations to even think in this direction. But with the growth in technology and the use of machine learning, the cost of prediction has been reduced in such a way that they are becoming part of new disciplines that were not even on the horizon a couple of years ago. In QVARTZ Analytics, machine learning is employed to predict the critical outcome of various business parameters. As an example, by identifying patterns between sensor data, machine utilisation, operators, last maintenance cycle, weather conditions, etc., critical-asset breakdowns can be predicted. Another application is designing recommendation engines, which can predict the products that customers are going to buy next. Customer churn, future demand curves, optimal pricing for a new product and store performance are other examples of how businesses can be enabled to make better decisions driven by data. On top of machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) is the new analytics frontier; in addition to exploring the strengths of machine learning, AI interprets the context of user needs and predicts what might be the most suitable response to address those needs. This entails a quantum leap from reactive marketing to prescriptive marketing: it’s no longer about understanding which product a costumer will purchase next, but about pushing a new product into the market in the most effective way. QVARTZ Analytics uses such technologies to simulate various complex scenarios for businesses to better understand how they can allocate their resources as well as which risks and rewards are associated with each move. There is no doubt that machine learning and AI are here to stay. However, maximising the value from analytics, AI and machine learning isn’t just about technology, but just as much about what drives all technology: people.

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analytics people

The human factor QVARTZ Analytics focuses on three key aspects to extract maximum value from advanced analytics, AI and machine learning: people, skills and change management. First and foremost, the area of application and usage of machine learning and AI are still driven by people. While machine learning can automate and make decisions that are performed by human beings today, there are still many strategic and at times ethical choices, which cannot – or should not – be made by machines.

Situations that require ethical judgement or emotional intelligence are not easy to articulate by algorithms and hence difficult, if not impossible, to teach a machine. As an example, AI can predict the probability of a patient to wake up from a coma, but the actions and medical decisions following such a prediction can’t be made by machines. A holistic and human view has to be adopted. Machine learning and AI are continuous processes. The machines learn from the data they receive, including human responses to their predictions, so that AI can improve and understand the wide complexity of the choices a human mind makes. To achieve the best results, human beings and machines need to work together. The second key element to maximising the value from analytics is to upgrade the skills of people working in a human + machine environment. As an example, organisations might tradition-

ally have maintenance staff who understand the mechanics of the assets they are maintaining. It’s not a trivial task to train them how to utilise machine learning-based predictive maintenance. The engineers need to unlearn the old ways of doing maintenance by just following a maintenance cycle and acting upon the predictions from the machine learning models. The same is applicable across almost all divisions of an organisation, be it Marketing, Sales, Forecasting, HR or others. The third and most important aspect is to understand that machine learning and AI not only represent technological evolution, but also require change from a human standpoint and thus require change management. However easy it is to calculate, identify and communicate how machines will improve productivity, equal attention needs to be given when defining the new roles of the teams involved. If the change aspect of the workplace is neglected, the misconception of humans vs. machines will be increased when in fact, a new way of collaboration of human beings and machines is what is required. •



Inevitable growth The past year brought 317 QVARTZ vagabonds to all corners of the world, doing exciting work for inspiring people. Out of all the cool places visited, we chose to set up permanent camp in four key epicentres. Nordic heritage, global presence.

New York

Greetings from New York where we are busy building relations, delivering results for our clients, finding the best coffee spots and familiarising ourselves with this amazing city. Breaking new ground on the home turf of management consulting is challenging, but the market for consulting services in the US is, as everyone knows, enormous (most things are over here). A large company in Scandinavia is “only” a mid-sized company in the US – and there are a lot of those! So, we have a lot of opportunities to pursue and we are receiving very positive feedback from potential


Amsterdam future colleagues – some fresh out of school and others who have been in the industry for a long time. Our aspirations and values seem to resonate very well and I am very excited about the calibre of the people who find what we do, and how we do it, interesting. Obviously, we are still a small team here and our projects take us in every direction of the country. Therefore, I really treasure our Fridays in the office where we all get to catch up. We have already had the pleasure of welcoming a bunch of native compañeros to our space on 1185 Avenue of the Americas, and soon, we will be able to show you a new and very cool office. All the best, Henriette

What better way to kick off a new year than by opening a new office? When the leading management and corporate finance company in the Netherlands, Boer & Croon, presented us with the proverbial “offer that we couldn’t refuse”, we made the only reasonable decision and went all-in. Boer & Croon were looking for a collaboration partner to strengthen their client offerings, as they did not wish to move into management consulting themselves. After researching the industry, they came up with QVARTZ as their first priority, and from there, things moved on pretty

quickly… For QVARTZ, establishing a base in the Netherlands is a golden (or orange) opportunity to solidify our European presence and let us move even closer to the most important hubs in the global economy. So far, the collaboration with Boer & Croon has exceeded all expectations. For me personally, the decision to spend the majority of my time in a city as vibrant and exciting as Amsterdam was really a no-brainer. Now I am here, in the country of tulips and windmills, and I am very excited to see what’s around the next corner. Hup Holland Hup, Jesper

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Sharing the same values, quality standards and growth ambitions, Bülow & Consorten decided to join the QVARTZ civilisation in June 2017. This has added a new office to QVARTZ in what I believe is Germany’s most beautiful and exciting city, Hamburg. The Nordic, Hanseatic spirit of Hamburg is culturally close to Scandinavia, and a geographically good starting point from which to reach some of Europe’s most important markets. Our office has added not only in-depth knowledge of the German market, but also more knowledge in our focus segments,

Singapore a high reputation in German strategy consulting plus a lot of cool and talented colleagues to the QVARTZ civilisation. For our German clients, the merger improves access to knowledge and market insights, more international coverage and additional capacity for more widespread projects. All in all, the combination of competences and relationships from QVARTZ and Bülow & Consorten greatly enhances our offering to our clients all over the world. In terms of culture, the merger has been a truly amazing journey for us at the Hamburg office. The exceptional QVARTZ DNA is enriched by German genes and new perspectives, and we really believe that in this civilisation, we are all individually unique – and collectively perfect. Grüße aus Hamburg, Stefan

Since we made the announcement about our entry into the Lion City, the reception from clients, consultants and future relations has been nothing short of phenomenal. There is a strong recognition that Asia has interesting growth pockets with a booming middle class and fast-paced innovation; and yet Asia is so complex that you can’t deploy a one-sizefits-all approach. Singapore is at the centre of it all, many of the biggest names and also most interesting start-ups have chosen to call Singapore home, as there is a lot of support from the government, and also an abundance of

cool talent. For me, every day has been extremely challenging and fulfilling. A typical day could be some recruiting interviews in the morning, followed by lunch with a potential client, and calls with the Copenhagen project team in the afternoon. Setting up an office is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am revelling in all the different pieces right now. It helps that most days are hot and sunny, giving rise to an improbable, never-ending summer… We are a brand new office, and I am looking forward to what the coming months and years will bring as we build our tribe to challenge the consulting norm in Asia. Cheers, Amanda


ergo Direkt


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A bigger piece of that pie, please

In the German insurance market, there is little, if any, room for new entrants. The reason is simple: the pie has already been sliced. Where many traditional insurance companies have seen this lack of new competition as a good excuse to stick to business as usual, Nuremberg-based ERGO Direkt sees it as an opportunity to dramatically change the way people handle their insurances. Combining traditional tied agents with state-of-the-art online competences, it now aims not only to attract more customers, but to wake up an entire industry in deep sleep. 31

ergo Direkt


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A go-slow industry If you’re one of Germany’s insurance veterans, you know what to do. You sell insurances, yes, and you sell them either through tied agents, third-party channels or a direct business. Until quite recently, this seemed to be the only way to stay on top in Germany’s huge insurance market. But then ERGO Direkt, owned by one of the country’s biggest insurance groups, decided it was time for the industry to stop trudging behind its customers. “The industry is still in its baby shoes in regard to getting digital and getting online. If there are strong relationships between customers and tied agents, there are of course a lot of direct interactions between them, but the fact is that customers are moving more and more into online”, says Manuel Nothelfer, EVP of Sales at ERGO Direkt. “Today, customers see their tied agent, or they receive a call, or they go online and buy something. Perhaps they send an e-mail to their insurance provider, calls are made and then the customers buy, renew or adjust their insurance contract”. But, he adds, most insurance companies have not fully utilised all the different ways in which they could interact with their customers. What Manuel and his colleagues at ERGO Direkt are working towards is to make one holistic customer journey out of all of these different contact points. When Manuel, whose professional background is in consulting and as a digital entrepreneur, came aboard ERGO Direkt in February 2016, he was surprised to see that seemingly no other company had been thinking the way he had: to combine the strengths of a traditional insurer with the most fresh and innovative online strategy.

“In order to inform themselves about various topics and to gain insights about what is going on in the market, people will go more and more online and receive more and more information. So to combine this, the existence of both an offline and an online part is really the key thing”, he says. “We have an exceptional team for mail and telephone here, and now we’re adding more and more special expertise in the online segment”. People at their hands ERGO Direkt emerged from a rather unusual project, and little did people know back then how much value its odd history would later offer. It all began when Germany’s mail-order retailer giant Quelle found out that it could use its extensive customer base to start selling insurances. And so, people were hired, customers were called, insurances were sold. Soon, the business thrived. When it later was divested, the business became what is today known as ERGO Direkt. And this, which may sound like a fun, but rather irrelevant background story, has proven to be one of ERGO Direkt’s keys to success. Because of its origin, ERGO Direkt today has what most other insurers lack. It combines massive customer records, a historic competence in direct channels and data collection. Pair that with a small size and fresh-minded employees and you get history, agility and a horde of innovative ideas – all in the same place. “Compared to all other players in the market, ERGO Group has an extraordinary advantage by having a direct insurance player – one of the best in the market – in its portfolio as well as one of the best primary insurance companies”, says Manuel. “At least in Germany, there is no other player who has these different competences within one group and within one company”. ERGO Direkt’s owner, the ERGO Group, is one of Europe’s largest insur-

ance company groups, with between 30,000 and 40,000 employees and some 10 million customers, and it is part of the global reinsurance market leader MunichRe. The much smaller ERGO Direkt has, as the name implies, historically been its owners’ direct centre, meaning it would base most of its revenue on direct contact with customers through mails, calls and online advertisements. Today, ERGO Direkt is present in Austria and Germany, and said to be Germany’s most popular direct insurer. Shifting time When digital native Manuel entered ERGO Direkt’s corner office in Nuremberg, he had his plans all laid out. His main goal was to gather all the contact points that the company used to sell its insurances into one coherent journey. In an instant, he began pulling strings. “You might have your first contact point just reading a newspaper about ERGO. Then you see a display ad and click on that; then you might go to a tied agent and after that, you buy an ERGO product online. All of these different points have a value as part of the customer journey”, he says. “What we now want to change is to give every contact point a certain value based on the effect they had on the buy in the end”. According to Manuel, ERGO Direkt’s focus is now rather on selling and retention and being in charge of sales and marketing than on after-sales processes. This way, the company will be able to adjust more efficiently to its customers’ needs. One of Manuel’s plans is to utilise its collected data in an even smarter and better way. “Based on customers’ current situation, if they for example had a child recently, we make an offer based on what we assume they might be interested in. The next thing is based on predictability: the more data we get, the better we understand and predict customers. Knowing that people who do this or


ergo Direkt

that and have that kind of history will be or might be interested in certain products really drives new customer acquisition. We drive the penetration within the customer base based on the optimised kind of interaction”. ERGO Direkt wants to offer more and more thought-through digital offerings, allowing its customers to communicate with their tied agents in an online portal or through other digital channels. The end goal is to make people feel they are treated in a coherent, relevant and comfortable way, Manuel says. Even the fast are slow sometimes Seemingly little has been standing in the way for ERGO Direkt’s digital transformation. However, Manuel explains, old habits and practices have slowed certain processes down more than he would have preferred. “Obviously, some existing structures are not appropriate to something you would start tomorrow or yesterday or just off scratch right now”, he says. “We have to make sure that we adapt what we already have in terms of technology with what we want to build in the future. That takes time. Actually more time than expected. That’s a learning for us”. To cope with this, Manuel and the rest of the ERGO Direkt team have aimed to adapt what the company already has in terms of technology with what they want to build in the future. In addition, Manuel adds, creating an insurance product is a lot more complicated than creating general digital products like the ones he worked with earlier. Not only are there a lot of regulations that have to be followed for every move you make as an insurer, but the company’s stakeholders also have widespread opinions on how to digitise and optimise selling. “Obviously, the tied agent is still at the centre for us, as he or she brings most of the value to the customers. However, we still have to make sure that all of the parts surrounding the agent have the chance to optimise the overall potential”, Manuel says.


manuel nothelfer, EVP of Sales at ERGO Direkt. When Manuel isn’t digging deep into the most exciting technology news, he likes to listen to hip hop. And not any kind of hip hop. As a true German, Manuel’s heart belongs to rhymes in his mother tongue – and he attempts never to miss a concert.

“Beyond that, I think it’s all about execution: having the right talents on board, doing the right things at the right time. So this is what has to be done – besides the millions of products we still have – to make sure that we prioritise everything in the right way and in the right order”. Invincible future Manuel says that the ERGO Direkt team still has a lot of work to do, but that the company is already on its way to becoming the most innovative player in the German insurance industry. ERGO Direkt’s ability to combine the old with the new will be the clue in years ahead, he says. And although peers may follow ERGO Direkt’s lead, Manuel believes the company’s unusual position will remain an indisputable advantage, even if competition toughens dramatically. Manuel also hopes to be given an opportunity to expand his digital plans to the entire ERGO Group in the future. And he isn’t discouraged by the fact that it may very well prove to be quite a challenge. “Historically, insurances have generated a lot of money and been very successful in their own right. And now, understanding that the model might change; that we have to amend the way we attract customers, treat customers, build products and handle service interaction cases is a big issue – a big difference. We have to make sure that we understand what the benefit is in every single item, how digitalisation can help to shorten periods and optimise customer experiences in every aspect. I think that is the biggest challenge we will face”. •

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qvartz Con Amore


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Unleashing the potential

Entrepreneur and visionary Aiman Shaqura has built five prospering companies from scratch during the past six years. Nevertheless, he has decided to sell off most of them in order to dedicate himself to a cause with the potential to create even bigger financial impact and social effects. Aiman is now fully committed to helping refugees onto the job market and incubating first-generation immigrants to break through the invisible glass ceiling of the Norwegian business market. 37

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Aiman Shaqura, Charge Incubator. Aiman is married to Hana, who works at TV 2 Norway, and together, they have two young children. According to Hana, Aiman is an expert at getting free upgrades at hotels, and he gets a kick out of bargaining prices – regardless of how small the deal is. A couple of years ago, Aiman was very much into sports, but these days, he considers raising two children sufficiently exhausting.

10 years without a home “First-generation immigrants in Norway are faced with many invisible barriers that make it hard for them to prosper. What Aiman has done to help the newcomers achieve some very tangible goals in terms of employment and growth is really groundbreaking”, says Morten Kleveland from QVARTZ Norway, who is part of the Charge Incubator core team. Aiman Shaqura was born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents. When he was just a few months old, his family had to flee Lebanon because of the civil war, and they spent the next 10 years as refugees, moving between different countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In 1991, the family came to Norway, and moved between eight different asylum centres before settling in Toten, a small town in the Norwegian countryside. “We were very happy to finally have a home, but when I was a kid, there was a gap between our living standards and those of the native Norwegians. It became very clear at school trips, which I couldn’t join because they cost money, and we had none. Therefore, at a very young age, I started working”, says Aiman. To him, growing up in the countryside turned out to be fortunate, as there were many small jobs to take on. “I did everything from cleaning boots to picking strawberries and working at restaurants. All of a sudden, I had too much to do, and so I engaged my brothers and a few friends to help out with the chores”. At this point in his life, Aiman began to realise the potential of doing business.


Aiman’s road to success was, however, anything but straight. “My first real investment was in Christmas decorations”, he says. “I had saved 200 crowns, and invested it all in decorations that I tried selling at a local Christmas market. But I failed miserably – no one bought my stuff. Eventually, I took a bus to the rich area and started knocking on doors. In this one house, a big man came out, stared angrily at me and told me to f*** off and go home to Sahara. I was 11-12 years old, and it was a really hard blow. I was about to give up on the whole thing, but eventually decided to try other doors. In the end, all of my decorations were sold”. A change of direction Upon completing his studies, Aiman went on to start several successful businesses in Norway. However, the massive refugee crisis set off by the Arab Spring made him want to contribute on a larger scale. “The way we received some of the people in Norway was devastating. Many great things were done, but I saw the potential to do more, much more. I thought, ‘what people need is basically what I needed when I was a refugee; people who are welcoming to them’. But in Norway, we don’t just start talking to strangers, that’s not in our nature”.

With the aim of facilitating dialogues between refugees and native Norwegians, Aiman initiated “Give a Job”: a series of large events throughout Norway where refugees and employers meet for a large joint dinner, entertainment and not least “speed-dating” aimed at facilitating employment. In the beginning, Aiman maintained his businesses alongside his new initiative, but he soon realised that Give a Job would never be the success he aimed for without his full commitment. “It also gave me the opportunity to end something and start something else. That’s a very inspirational place to be”, reflects Aiman. Breaking the glass ceiling “During Give a Job events, I’ve met a lot of people who have told me about the difficulties they face when trying to grow their businesses in Norway. As a first-generation immigrant, there are many invisible barriers that are difficult

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to break through before entering the job market. It became increasingly clear to me that there was a big gap to fill”. Soon, Aiman’s initial ideas behind Charge Incubator, a programme aimed at helping entrepreneurial first-generation immigrants, began taking on a more concrete form. Charge Incubator has three founding partners: Trigger, SoCentral and QVARTZ. While Trigger focuses on PR, communication and development, SoCentral is Norway’s largest incubator for social entrepreneurs. QVARTZ’ main contribution lies within strategy and business development. “Through Charge Incubator, we want to give people more than just a fair chance to succeed. We want to give them the best chance to succeed”, says Aiman. He emphasises that there is no need to create motivation among the newcomers. “These people are already motivated. What they really need is someone who is already in operation and who can very concretely help them make their dreams come true”. “For QVARTZ, being a part of the Charge Incubator programme is meaningful, motivating and educational. It’s a humbling experience to meet so many highly driven entrepreneurs who just keep on pushing to create new paths”, says Morten Kleveland. Charge Incubator differentiates from other incubators primarily by focusing on first-generation immigrants, a much underserved segment. Also, there is a clear focus on operational practices; a focus that is supported by the three founding partners hosting the entrepreneurs, instead of the other way around. “If the startups are working with their PR strategy, they sit at Trigger’s offices, and if they are focusing on their strategy, they share offices with QVARTZ. This enables us to really get to the core of things, and for all parties to contribute with what they know best”, says Aiman.

The time is now “The aim of Charge Incubator is for first-generation immigrants in Norway to see that there are people out there who are willing to help and contribute, and realise that there are endless possibilities ahead. Today, many people believe it’s so hard to succeed that they won’t even try”, says Aiman. For the future, he hopes that the initiatives are able to change things on a system level, and that more governmental institutions can start working together. “To predict what will happen on a macro-political level in the future is very hard. The only thing we can really do something about is today, so let’s just start there”. And that’s just what Aiman has done. Hands-on, he has taken his desire to help and turned it into some very concrete and innovative initiatives. •


• The aim of Charge Incubator is to help first-generation immigrants in Norway realise their ambitions of building growth companies for the future • The founding partners in Charge Incubator are project owner Aiman Shaqura, Trigger, SoCentral and QVARTZ • The Charge Incubator participants are part of a well-structured programme aimed at developing their business ideas and making them sustainable. They work together with professionals from Charge Incubator’s partners and build a network of potential cooperation partners, clients and investors. They also get help with regard to future funding, as well as coaching and mentoring • The programme is open for applicants from all of Norway • Throughout the 24-month pilot phase, 12–16 companies have been admitted to the programme


qvartz Con Amore

With love Our Con Amore engagements have introduced us to brave, inspirational and highly motivated individuals from organisations all over the world. Meet some of them here.

Alla Kvinnors Hus Sweden’s largest women’s aid.

ZADT Contributes to the recovery and improvement of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farming sector.

Trampoline House Provides refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark with a place of support, community and purpose.


Charge Incubator Incubator for first-generation immigrant entrepreneurs in Norway.

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Mongolia Charity Rally

The Welcome Party Denmark’s largest integration event for refugees, companies and municipalities.

A 15,000 km charity road trip to the rugged expanses of the ancient Mongol empire.

Center Sandholm

Denmark’s largest reception centre for asylum seekers, and the temporary home of ~500 people.

Reach for Change

LittleBigHelp NGO working for children and women in West Bengal, India.

Non-profit organisation working to improve the lives of children and youth.






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Vertical Strategy

Rebel, rebel Wrapped in a vibrant start-up culture and infused with global partnerships, the innovative consultancy Vertical Strategy specialises in creating new business models, incubation and customer experiences. Their portfolio counts cutting edge projects such as the Future Mobility Concept at Airbus, revolving around the development of flying cars, and the MobileLife incubator at Danske Bank. In this creative hub of entrepreneurship and innovation, there is no lack of ideas – or desire to challenge conventional truths. Meet Vertical Strategy, part of the QVARTZ civilisation. 44

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Vertical Strategy


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If I owned this business When stepping into Vertical Strategy’s office in the colourful, casual and multicultural northwestern part of Copenhagen, you are hit by an instant start-up vibe. The door on Bygmestervej leads directly into a bright white, gallery-like space measuring four metres from floor to ceiling, dominated by a big wall filled with large peek holes. The room is slightly messy with nerf guns, a Ping-Pong table and a bunch of Polaroids hung on the walls – but no reception, water fountains, suits and ties or pencil skirts in sight. Vertical Strategy is like that super brainy but slightly bum-like kid in class, with unmatched socks and unruly morning hair, but with an ability to ask the most unexpected questions. The one who’s really fun to hang out with, because you never quite know what will happen next. Among the 25 or so people cohabiting the office space, a question repeatedly asked is, “what would I do if I owned this business?” Just sitting around being annoyed or indifferent is not an option, whether on or off client engagements. Here, development isn’t just an opportunity but also an obligation. “Being able to keep asking yourself that question in any situation is the key to keeping the balance between making cool innovations based on technology, and making sensible business decisions. Those two always need to go hand in hand”, explain Vertical Strategy’s two founders, Joachim Allerup and Karsten Petersen.

Turning incumbents into rebels Vertical Strategy is a fusion between a consultancy and an innovation agency, made up of a team of diverse profiles with a strong record of building agile growth cultures and innovative business models. The companies they work for all have one thing in common: they want to identify growth – whether inside or outside of their core business. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Grundfos and you’re selling a pump, or you’re Danske Bank delivering a financial service, in the future you know that you need to sell a new and complete experience. Or if you’re Maersk and you feel that your core business is under pressure, and you know you need to reinvent and move into completely new business areas”, explains Joachim. The Vertical Strategy team helps clients detect new growth avenues and ventures by applying a different set of capabilities – with an emphasis on strategic understanding, customer insights, entrepreneurial executions and concept design. “We help our clients design and execute new ventures by utilising a different set of tools that are new to strategic thinking”, explains Karsten. “It can either be as standalone growth projects or as larger transformation projects where we help organisations find a new way of working by applying these capabilities, tools and mode of execution into their existing organisation. That way, they make the move towards being digital rebels or growth rebels rather than being caught as incumbents in the old world”. Why corporates are left behind Karsten and Joachim’s motivation behind founding Vertical Strategy was sparked by the many new digitalisation technologies and business models that

are changing the rules of the corporate game as we know it, and also the way we behave as consumers. With these changes come many new opportunities to create growth, and right now, large tech companies like Google and Amazon, combined with a lot of startups, are reaping a lot of these opportunities. “The reason why they can do this is that they work in a different way, leaving corporates behind”, explains Joachim. “They involve customers more, they have more digital capabilities, they experiment in their way of execution and they are much faster and bolder in their decision-making”. Vertical Strategy’s approach has been to look into these ways of working and into the new toolbox that has created growth adventures in the new economy. “We anchor our approach in this toolbox, but also in a new set of capabilities where we combine strategic thinking with customer understanding, concept design and entrepreneurial execution”, says Karsten. “Then, we tie those different competences together in a strong team that is able to design and execute in a unique way”. Karsten and Joachim both have backgrounds within management consulting, and their extensive resumes include a number of start-ups within innovation and digitalisation. However, with time, they have found that experience isn’t always a good thing. “We have actually had to unlearn a lot of what we knew because we have understood that 20 years of experience is to some extent a limitation as much as it is a benefit”, explains Joachim. People have asked him and Karsten numerous times why they have spent 20 years being good at strategy, only to decide to start over and rethink it all. “If they don’t understand that, if they


Vertical Strategy

only think it’s a benefit, then they miss out on some of the opportunities that require you to think totally differently”, explains Karsten. The ability to rethink and relearn is what give the two Vertical Strategy founders the possibility to assess themselves and know when their experience is of value and when it’s actually a limitation. This, says Joachim, is something that many consultancies are struggling to figure out. Speed is of the essence Often in consultancy work, the solution presented to a client is the result of a very thorough and step-bystep process. In Vertical Strategy, this approach is often turned upside down. “Usually, what we see among corporate clients is they create ‘maximum validated products’, taking 3-4 years to do a certain project of a certain size. We want to go in there and help them create a new business in half the time”, says Karsten. And it’s not because Vertical Strategy is twice as good as competition, but because they believe in prioritising speed and making fast decisions. “We seek out situations where hierarchy isn’t standing in the way of moving ahead”, explains Joachim. “Then, we design the absolute minimum of what we can bring to market and that’s what we start building, rather than imagining a perfect product and trying to build that. That’s a pretty big distinction between us and how a lot of other innovation is happening”. In a steady attempt to avoid confining decision-making and process development only to pre-scheduled meetings, Vertical Strategy aims to involve the clients in the entire innovation process. To many, this is an unusual way of doing things. “Showing solutions and decisions in design opens up the eyes of a lot of people, as opposed to ‘death by PowerPoint’. It’s actually easier for them to see what we’re trying to get at when we can show something that’s a little more tangible”, says Joachim. To him and Karsten, creating the right setting for innovation and speed boils down to postponing the corporate inertia or immune system, which prevents people from making decisions. “There are so many things that people want answers to, which they can’t have until they actually get out there and do it”, says Joachim.


However, while working hard to challenge “death by PowerPoint”, tedious processes and inflexible strategy frameworks, Vertical Strategy is still much closer to a consultancy than a design agency. Joachim, Karsten and the others don’t build experiences and products because they are great for the customer per say; instead, they build for profit. “We understand the strategy, we understand how to build big, valuable businesses and we have that in mind all the way through”, says Joachim. “But we also take into account what the customers like and want, because we strongly believe that this drives profit”. In continuation of the pursuit of speed lies an ability to see the value of something failing. Joachim and Karsten explain that in many businesses, when something starts to fail, people start covering up. Once they have covered up the failure, it becomes more complex and people spend a lot of time working on something that should have been shut down, because no one believes that a failure can be a success. However, by having a very involving process, where decisions are made fast and ideas are continuously tested, there is a built-in room for failure, ultimately resulting in a much more proof-tested and robust end product, believe Karsten and Joachim. No end game in sight With more and more corporations facing the challenges of the new technologies and changing customer behaviour, focusing on the customer view alongside innovation and technology is going to be essential in any strategy project going forward, say Karsten and Joachim. And this development is what motivated the merger between Vertical Strategy and QVARTZ in the spring of 2017. “By combining our competences, we can offer a better and more holistic support to any large corporation out there”, says Karsten.

“Clients are very happy to see the combined knowledge we can bring. And I believe this is a very good value proposition; the combination of our innovative strength and QVARTZ’ strategic structure”. Also, adds Joachim, the company cultures have many common traits, with very flat hierarchies and a strong belief in the power of people. Going forward, Joachim and Karsten see no full stops on Vertical’s journey. “The end game is change”, explains Karsten. “We need to build a business that is actually capable of transforming itself as part of its DNA, rather than trying to find the right formula for doing these things now”. On the Vertical wish list, however, lie a couple of new offices in new locations. Joachim and Karsten have had some close collaboration partners in Tel-Aviv and will open in both New York and Hamburg within the next 3-6 months. “We want to create small tribes where innovation is happening, and where it makes sense”, says Joachim. Yet, to him and Karsten, expansion must never ever overrule the core of Vertical Strategy. “We want to build smaller tribes in more countries faster, that’s the start-up way of doing it”, they say unanimously. •

karsten petersen and Joachim allerup, founders of Vertical Strategy. Karsten is an engineer gone consultant, who then moved into an array of businesses before co-founding Vertical Strategy. Joachim Allerup had a stint at QVARTZ many years ago, before moving to Australia, founding a couple of start-ups and then joining forces with Karsten. Both gentlemen admit to being adrenaline junkies, and while Karsten loves fast motorbikes, Joachim prefers rock-climbing. Somewhat surprisingly, says Joachim, Karsten is the undefeated office champion in PingPong, despite never practising and age being against him.

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Contracts signed

53 Countries visited

Annual revenue


Still in QVARTZ after two years

Adding to the fabric A four-leaf clover of new offices. One new vibrant newcomer to the civilisation. A myriad of inspiring people. Behind each number from last year lies hard effort, dedication and a countless amount of smiles. 50

QVARTZ travellers

Different nationalities

91% 317


DKK 512 million


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Applications received

Consultants staffed cross-offices



Returning clients


Organic food in the canteen


Employer Branding events


Unique master's degrees




SAS has just delivered the best results in 20 years, inducing the seasoned airline with a well-deserved sense of pride and satisfaction. But among the +10,000 employees and the equal amount of outsourced workers, no one must lean back and revel in the moment for very long. Instead, everyone at SAS is busy realising yet another transformation programme – one in the line of many. In an industry characterised by extreme pressure and few certainties, SAS has found that constant transformation is the only way forward. However, this is sometimes easier said than done when most things are – literally – in the air. 52

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Three million more passengers The revenue of SAS, Scandinavia’s biggest airline, has been relatively stable at around SEK 42 billion for the past couple of years. However, during the past year, SAS has flown three million more customers than they did 3-4 years ago. Talk about cost efficiency. “We have the same revenue, but we are flying an additional three million people; more than half the population of Denmark. That shows how aggressive the competition in this industry is, and if you can manage that, you will be successful, if you cannot, you will quickly go under”. The words come from Lars Sandahl Sørensen, COO of the SAS Group. As part of the leadership team, it’s his job to ensure that SAS utilises its resources optimally and constantly drives innovation and change to remain competitive in the harsh European airline industry. SAS’ native base, Scandinavia, is one of world’s most expensive areas to operate in. On the global aviation market, SAS competes with companies that not only have completely different rule sets, but that also pay salaries, taxes and social benefits that can be 50% lower than those of SAS. According to Lars, this is a huge challenge – but also a constant motivator to stay on top. “We have to find quicker, more flexible and better solutions than competitors all the time, in all areas of our business: in flight operations, maintenance, on the ground and commercially. These must compensate for the higher cost levels in Scandinavia”. Enormous investments ahead The current positive macroeconomic environment is beneficial to SAS and the business at large, and has contributed to SAS’ recent slam-dunk financial results. Even so, the 3-4 airlines that have gone bankrupt during the past season prove that even under positive economic circumstances, other factors have the power to cause mayhem. “This industry is unusual in the sense that it contains extreme competition, but also that it’s both capital

and labour intensive. Airplanes require substantial capital investments, but the airlines are also dependent on highly trained employees across several professions – pilots, cabin crew, technicians, and so on. There are enormous costs associated with running an airline”, explains Lars. “In order to stay where we are, and also to grow, we will soon have to place an order of new aircraft in the vicinity of SEK 40-50 billion. I don’t know of any other Scandinavian company that’s facing a one-off investment of that magnitude. It’s enormous”, he continues. For SAS to make investments of this kind, and get the board to approve them, the overall strategy has to be crystal clear, priorities have to be kept straight and detailed plans must be in place for each function in the huge organisation, explains Lars. To SAS, a current ambitious cost-out programme known as In-Shape is one enabler for the airline to stay in the game and to make the necessary changes to keep up with competitors. “That’s the vision, without it we have no chance”, says Lars. With In-Shape, SAS continues a successful history of cost-out programmes, all helping to push SAS forward and transforming the company at a sufficiently high pace in a very turbulent industry. Lars’ role in the programme is to assist his colleagues in making decisions, identify areas where SAS wants to save, create efficiencies or invest – and to orchestrate the totality of the programme to make sure that it’s successful. “As management, we need to communicate that in SAS, change never stops. When one programme is done, there will be something else. Otherwise we are not trustworthy as leaders, but of course, we also need to set specific targets along the way”.

Heart, head and stomach To Lars and the rest of the leadership team, a crucial part of In-Shape and other transformation initiatives is never to lose focus on the most crucial component of a change process: people. “No company can survive on efficiency and cost-out programmes alone, that’s not where the oxygen comes from. The oxygen comes from our customers and from bringing a safe and good quality airline product to the market”, says Lars. In order for the airline to continue delivering attractive solutions to customers while keeping the finances in check, the organisation needs to be well-functioning and the SAS crew open to constant change. Everyone must get on board for the transformation to be successful. “All big changes are difficult for people. For us as leaders, it’s very important to describe, honestly and transparently, the situation we’re in; and not just sometimes, but to do it continuously. And also to share the ambition of where we want to be”, says Lars. In SAS, new destinations, new aircraft, new equipment and new product offerings are what drive people. As an organisation full of travellers, says Lars, people are hooked on the idea of refurbishing aircraft and receiving new “big birds”, flying to new exciting destinations. “SAS is a company that many people have an opinion about, so every time a SAS employee goes to a dinner party or meets friends and family, he or she will automatically be a SAS ambassador”, says Lars. “Then it’s much more fun to be able to say: ‘We are opening this’, ‘We are getting these new aircraft’ or ‘We are the most punctual airline in Europe’. That’s what drives energy. So we all have to find that lever of change, not only in our heads but also in our hearts and stomachs”, he continues.




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No off days In the aviation industry, there is no room for errors. Safety is a top priority and punctuality is a prerequisite for surviving as an airline. At the same time, there are very few constants in this very dynamic business. No products are being produced, which can be put on stock for later times. Instead, what is flown today will go into the revenue. Seats not sold will be lost forever. “Things change all the time. Currency fluctuations, extreme weather events, crime, terrorism and changes in our political environments – these are all aspects we constantly have to evaluate. How will they influence our operations and our business model?”, asks Lars. Despite, or rather owing to the challenges related to running an airline, Lars finds it a very fascinating business to be in, and is motivated by the combination of constant change and huge responsibilities – for the company, its customers, employees and for society as a whole. “We fly people around 10 kilometres up in the air every day, so everything is planned with great attention to detail and great attention to safety. So on the one hand, this is an extremely formal and disciplined way of running a business, and on the other hand, one that demands a very creative and open-minded approach to be able to create a competitive advantage”. In his role as COO, Lars’ responsibilities range across the airline, including crew and operations control, support businesses such as ground handling and maintenance as well as wet-lease providers. Also, he is responsible for all of the management control functions necessary for having an airline certificate. Basically all the parts that keep the airline flying. Lars is glad that his role allows him to witness and execute on the ongoing transformation in SAS at the closest possible range, and he is impressed with the enormous will and flexibility among his colleagues.


lars sandahl sørensen, COO, SAS Group. Lars loves to be challenged by nature and the elements, especially together with his family and friends. During his many years in the US and Australia, he picked up a passion for surfing and used to be quite a skilled wave-breaker. Today, Lars is not quite as adept, but still enjoys surfing the big waves together with his now grownup children.

“The people in these areas, they deal with formal responsibilities, in close cooperation with the authorities, and they are the ones that can really make the changes as well. For me, keeping the team focused on all the details, and at the same time asking them to totally think outside the box and do everything differently from what we did yesterday is quite a challenge. Especially when, at the same time, I have to tell them there can be no mistakes in what we do today”. Connecting Scandinavia Somewhat unexpectedly, the recent successful results from SAS have left the management team in a bit of a pickle. Now that things are going so well, some ask, is there really a reason to keep on driving change? “From a management perspective, this is a difficult sort of challenge; to harness the energy and pride in what we’re doing at the moment while also saying ‘it’s not good enough, we need to be even better’. I think that the way to solve this is by continuing to move the ambition and continuing to create the transparency of where we stand in our industry”, says Lars. With SAS’ proud legacy of more than 70 years in the airline industry, Lars believes that a key reason behind the airline’s current success is that customers want SAS to do well. The combination of loyal customers travelling more with SAS, especially in the leisure segment, and the ability to focus investments in the right areas and take out costs at the same time is a good cocktail.

“We want to find the balance between giving our customers exactly what they are asking for and a little bit extra. But not by putting in all of those extra bells and whistles that they are not interested in”. Not only does SAS play an important role to its investors, its employees and the many companies supplying SAS with everything from food to spare parts, but it also plays an important role in bringing the Nordics closer to the rest of the world. “This is the infrastructure that brings Scandinavia to the world; that interlinks Scandinavia. If SAS were not here, would someone else come in and fill their shoes? To some extent, yes, but not with the network we have today. You would not be able to go to and from Scandinavia non-stop into the world”. To Lars, SAS’ unique position as Scandinavia’s leading airline means that it has a vital role to play in society; an important role for culture, for finance, for commerce, politically and for the quality of life of Scandinavian travellers. “I think that drives many of my colleagues. It certainly drives me”. •

the qvartz annual





the qvartz annual




Dear Mathias, I am you, just five years older and a tiny bit wiser. This letter might seem somewhat strange, but I know that you will appreciate it, as I have tried to capture some of the most important lessons I have learnt during the past five years. Get used to running metaphors. Every senior person you will work with will tell you that consulting is a marathon, not a sprint. You nod, but you utterly hate this notion. You want to succeed. Fast. Now. So you sprint. You sprint and sprint and sprint. Then you sleep – and sprint again. The only issue is that, in fact, they are partly right. Consulting is perhaps not quite a marathon – there are indeed too many sprints for that – but more like an orienteering race. The winner is not the fastest runner, the one who trained the most or the one with the brightest mind. The winner is the one who is a decent runner, knows when to train hard, and who has a strong mind. At least so it seems five years down the road. Take chances, fail fast and embrace the frustration. You are 24 years old and have just started (what will be) an amazing journey. However, during your first year, you will face tremendous hardship. You will be challenged and pushed to the edge of your mental and physical abilities. You will learn a lot. And you will come out stronger, much more robust and with a new friend that will follow you for many years. You believe that taking chances and responsibility will help you succeed. You are right. You will get extraordinary opportunities because you dare to say “Yes” to projects and tasks that other people have turned down. You will be seriously challenged, but you will always come out on top. Even at the darkest moments where you deeply regret having taken on the task or project, there will be something fun and satisfactory about it. And it will teach you two invaluable lessons. First of all, you will fail. Numerous times. Everyone fails, so you had better get used to failing fast and learning quickly. If you have been given a highly complex task, the partners and managers are in fact aware of this. See it as a gift – an opportunity for you to show just how much you are capable of. No matter what, they are always there to help you. Second, frustration and challenges are the constants in this job, which balances fun and steep learning curves. At times, you will be so frustrated that you hope someone accidentally smashes your laptop or robs your bag on the way home. It’s perfectly normal, and even five years down the road, you will still get that feeling sometimes. Fortunately, when you look back, you will see that the most frustrating and challenging projects were the ones where you learnt the most, both professionally and as a person. You start your career thinking you don’t want to be a partner; you want to be a CEO. You just have to spend 2–3 years as a consultant to figure out what you are good at and what you think is fun. You dream of big companies like Danske Bank and Maersk. You think it’s cool to wear a tie, be formal and work a lot. You think management perks like big offices, good parking spots and PAs are awesome. You will be surprised to see what happens in a few years from now. You have realised that consulting can be a career. You never wear a tie, you like companies with flat hierarchies and limited rules and bureaucracy – and you would rather work for small,


innovative companies than old incumbents. Along the way, you will get great offers from PE firms asking you repeatedly to join, start-ups offering you CXO positions and American competitors trying to persuade you to come aboard – and still, you will say no. You seem to remain a QVARTZ guy for a long time, because you get to do cool stuff in cool ways with cool people, for cool companies in cool places. That’s a difficult combination to beat. Along the way, you will find that the advice of building strong relations both upwards and sideways will be one of the things that helps you the most. These relationships and the input you will receive will be worth much more than all your project evaluations put together. In fact, all this input is what helps you perform so well on projects, and what helps you find your way in the QVARTZ civilisation. You will lose some of your best colleagues (and friends) within the first years. You will find that continuous and steady performance is not good, but great. And you will find that your ability to structurally learn and develop yourself is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that you have. But the most important one is your ability to be humble, civilised and generous. Stay true to that. It will take you further than you can imagine. Seek balance. You believe in the power of extremes, while really, you should be believing in the power of balance. Mind. Body. Work. Family. Losing. Winning. Learning. Maintaining a balanced, reflected and positive view on the world at large, your everyday life and yourself will be crucial in the years to come. You are going to go through loads of long nights, extensive travel and cancellations of nights out with family and friends, caused by you – and only you. You are going to be engaged, marry the love of your life, have a wonderful daughter and experience the happiest moments of your life (so far). Caused by many – including you. A difficult, but beautiful new reality where you will be challenged on every single facet of your being. This will fundamentally change who you are. But some things will stay the same. You have a burning desire: to develop, to achieve big things, to conquer, to win. But the desire also burns a bit of you. It’s what keeps your mind going much longer than your body can keep up. It’s what makes you strong and what makes you sick. It’s what makes you good, crazy and inspiring – and what sometimes breaks you. I am both happy and sorry to say that you still have not found a way to balance this burning desire. In this letter, I have tried to capture some of the things I want you to know. My list of advice is by no way exhaustive and I am happy to tell you that I am still learning. A lot. Every day. One reason being that I still read. The best piece of advice I got came from one of these reads. It simply said: “Remember, in the end there’s only love”. M.

The idea of writing a letter to one’s younger self comes from a student initiative at Pennsylvania State University, which in its turn is inspired by Brad Paisley’s song “Letter to Me”. As is with great ideas, they fortunately have a way of spreading.

the qvartz annual



Gems from the 2017 treasure trove Business or pleasure? In management consulting, the two often go hand-in-hand. Looking back at the past year, many of our most memorable moments do indeed contain a bit of both.

A Swedish smorgasbord of art Liljevalchs’ famous Spring Salon presents a multitude of artworks created by professional and amateurs alike. In January, we kicked off a new tradition by inviting our closest relations in Sweden to experience the exhibition together with us. Accompanied by sweet jazz and refreshing champagne, we walked the halls together; amazed, provoked, amused and enchanted by the 295 pieces of art.

Oxford student event With great excitement, 10 QVARTZ partners and consultants set off to the University of Oxford to host our first-ever student event on the historical grounds of one of the world’s oldest universities. 60 students with very different backgrounds, ranging from neurobiology and sustainable energy to public policy and management science, joined us to learn more about why we think Nordic values are meaningful in a global perspective.

The ball keeps rolling True to tradition, the QVARTZ Soccer Challenge was played out in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. Courageous players and onlookers from some of the most audacious professional services firms around joined us for some serious attempts at the beautiful game.

The big five-oh Co-founder of QVARTZ, Torsten Hvidt, was celebrated in style on his 50th birthday. As the civilisation’s Chief Philosophy Officer, Torsten is a strong believer in capitalistic humanism, and of the strong conviction that in any given situation, people are the core. The City of Dreams On May 1, we opened an office on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City. A dream come true in the city of dreams. First, we take Manhattan.

Going Vertical In April, the innovative consultancy Vertical Strategy joined the QVARTZ civilisation. Working out of a creative hub in northwestern Copenhagen, Vertical Strategy is specialised in creating new (digital) business models, incubation and customer experiences. Surf trip to Portugal 37 energetic people from our offices in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen spent an epic four days together in Peniche, Portugal, breaking the waves and practising their surfing skills. Besides daily surf lessons, there was plenty of time for BBQs, the annual volleyball tournament, socialising and kicking back.

#1 on Inspiring Leadership We were thrilled to receive the 2017 results from Universum, the global leader in employer attractiveness research and insights. QVARTZ was ranked as no. 1 on Inspiring Leadership in the entire business category, and high achievers at our focus schools furthermore ranked us as no. 13 in Denmark.

The People’s Meeting At the annual People’s Meeting on the Danish island of Bornholm, we participated in a panel debate hosted by Trampoline House on the topic of next practice integration. The backdrop was a QVARTZ perspective presenting a new game plan for companies and refugees on how to go from competence matching to long-lasting employment.

Roskilde Festival Our backstage area at this year’s Roskilde Festival, The Secret Garden, was booming with great food, colourful drinks – and the best guests we could ever wish for. Together, we created memories that will last all the way until next summer. Rock on.

The German addition After 1.5 years of close cooperation, the German consultancy Bülow & Consorten joined the QVARTZ civilisation in the beginning of the summer. The new BÜLOW & QVARTZ office in Hamburg entails physical presence in a key European market. Spitzenklasse.

Center Sandholm The Copenhagen office spent a humbling day at Center Sandholm, Denmark’s largest asylum centre. Together with the residents and the Danish Red Cross, we arranged sports tournaments for the children, fixed and painted second-hand bikes, sorted heaps of clothes, blew soap bubbles in the kindergarten, planted flowers and prepared an outdoor BBQ for all.

A (scarlet) pleasure They say that the party is only as good as the crowd, and we had the best crowds at our Club Q in Copenhagen and Oslo. 750 people raised the roof of our Ryesgade office during a truly iconic blow-out performance by Scarlet Pleasure, and in Wergelandsveien, singersongwriter Kristian Kristensen sang his heart out to an enthusiastic bunch.

OverOslo Situated 370 metres above sea level, the music festival OverOslo offers a spectacular view of the city below, the sky above and the vibrant stage in between. This summer, we invited a bunch of our closest relations in Norway to join us at OverOslo for a memorable night. Our VIP bar was stacked with great food and cold drinks, and the sweet tunes of Aurora, Highasakite and Kristian Kristensen filled the summer air.

The QVARTZbulance Our two daredevil consultants Christian Østerbye and Rolf Andersen went on an epic journey to Mongolia – by ambulance. As participants in the Mongolia Charity Rally, they drove 15,000 kilometres to the rugged expanses of the ancient Mongol empire where they donated GBP 1,000 and the QVARTZbulance to the people of Mongolia.

Company retreat The QVARTZ company retreat in the stunning German Alps was buzzing with synergies; of brief chats and long conversations; of compañeros from all offices laughing, dancing and exploring the surroundings together. The collected energy, joy and excitement lit up the September sky, and will linger in our memories for a long time.


High spirits in the Low Countries Building on our increased geographical footprint in key locations throughout the world, we opened the doors to our Amsterdam office at the break of the new year. In order to solidify our European presence and move closer to its largest markets, our Dutch deep-dive is conducted in close collaboration with the country’s leading management and corporate finance company, Boer & Croon.

The Lion City Going global in a networked, digital world is not about having an office in every city, but about being present and close to the strategic epicentres of the world. One of these is Singapore, and in October, we opened the doors to our office in George Street. A new breed of experts The establishment of QVARTZ Analytics has further advanced our ambition of bringing next practice consulting to our clients. QVARTZ Analytics leverages advanced analytics, data science and digital solutions to solve concrete business problems and ensure the consequent implementation to increase company value creation.

#1 on Company Culture – again We were monumentally happy to learn that for the second consecutive year, Vault ranks QVARTZ as #1 on Company Culture among all major consulting companies in Europe.

Hackathon in Cologne Students, young professionals, researchers and experts came together at the INNOVATE.ENERGY Hackathon 2017 in Cologne, Germany. The participants were eager to find tomorrow’s solutions for today’s energy challenges, and the two intense days of the hackathon were bursting with countless discussions, intense concentration, coaching sessions and lots of fun.

Peter Schwartz predicts the future How will technology affect business in the future? One of the most qualified people to answer this question is premium futurist, innovator, author and business strategist Peter Schwartz, who visited our Copenhagen office in October. The room was packed with curious VIPs from leading Danish corporations, and discussions following the event were lively.

Nirvana, Nordic style Following the AWEA Offshore WINDPOWER Conference in New York, we invited a number of decision makers within offshore wind to The Great Nordic Food Hall, dubbed by The New York Times simply as “Nirvana, Nordic Style”. The Food Hall proved a perfect setting to our VIP soiree, and we enjoyed an evening of meaningful conversations and delicious food.


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The QVARTZ Annual 2017  

The QVARTZ Annual 2017  

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