Göran Mayner is a Finance professional with 25 years’ experience. Most recently, he was the Chief Financial Officer (SE, DK, IS) at DB Schenker in Sweden, where he worked for eight years. He started his career in the banking sector, before moving into Controlling.
Göran first became a CFO in January 2005 when he worked for Willys Hemma & Willys, and has since been CFO at Student Travel Schools, Blomsterlandet, and Gothia Towers.
How did you get to the level you are at? What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and what risks have you had to take?
I have always been curious - curious about people, business, and how we can improve. Curiosity can sometimes be offensive, but, if you are humble, kind, and honest in the way you are asking questions, and trying to honestly improve, it will be noticed by people and management. That is a way to climb the ladder, but also a way of challenging yourself while enjoying the climb.
I have never been shy about speaking up and have almost been naïve in my thoughts and belief that every employee is doing their best for the business and not for self-gaining purposes.
I always take the risk of saying how things really are and how I want to contribute to the next level. Saying how things are is also sometimes offensive to people, but the honest approach of seeking to improve usually helps.
You need to have a backbone and integrity and have faith in what you believe in.
How do you combat those situations where someone has taken offence?
I immediately confront the person and I share my purpose, my views, and how I see things, and honestly try to get their view. Usually, it’s a misunderstanding and we can work together to find solutions.
Of course, you will encounter people who will see you as a threat, and - no matter what you say over the following days or weeks - they will still see you as a threat.
But don’t focus on them – focus on the 99% of people who you can collaborate with, who want to help and want to see you improve.
How do you surround yourself with the right people?
It’s a matter of getting people to trust you, and that’s not done in 30 seconds. It’s done by being present and walking the talk, listening to understand, and by taking an interest in people and the time to understand them. Usually, they ask questions during conversations and the communication gets better while creating the environment to be vulnerable.
There are a lot of opportunities to do this. For example, having a conversation at the coffee machine, sitting down for lunch in the lunchroom, and having a chat - over time, this dialogue will develop. Take the time to talk to each other. Eventually, you will discuss areas of improvement, and no one will be afraid to share their opinion or be open about mistakes.
We are all trying to improve, but you need to set the context, and that’s not a 30-second job. It is a long-term job, and you must be vulnerable, too - admitting you don’t know everything and owning up to your mistakes.
Is that a mindset you’ve always had?
I always try and be vulnerable, honest, and show interest. But, earlier in my career, I was more stubborn when I met people who didn’t agree with me or saw me as a threat and were trying to push my ideas in a different way. However, with age, I learned that you can’t force it – it’s a concrete wall; find another way around it and move it. The wall won’t be there forever.
We had a situation where someone close to the very global top was saying no and it was totally illogical. We were trying to prove it any way we could, but the door was closed. We prepared the case and did whatever we could to improve without that permission to change – it took a couple of years, but that concrete wall was totally gone. Don’t waste energy on a concrete wall.
How do you take risks when you have those discouraging voices around you?
I still believe everyone wants to improve the business, get better value for the owners, better customer experience, sell more, earn more, and have fun while they’re doing it. Usually, the global management or the board has the same opinion, but - somewhere in the middle - the communication is lost. I still believe that we all have that purpose when we start the work.
Someone once told me I was brave for taking such fights. To me, it might be brave, but it is also a duty and has led to a lot of progress in each company.
My ability to make those decisions and take those risks has contributed to the position I am in. 99.5% of the time there has been a conflict, it has been solved. That will lead to increased progress and development.
Taking those risks is part of developing yourself and the business. If I hadn’t taken those risks, I would have limited myself and developed the business at a slower rate. As a manager, people will come to you with suggestions, and you are supposed to support them, challenge them, and communicate improvements to those higher up. That means you are also standing up and taking risks for others, which leads to trust, because you have their back.
What are your personal motivators?
To see people in my old team taking on new positions and seeing them develop and that fire in their eyes. Highly motivated people, who can be vulnerable and feel confident, proud and have a sense of trust, develop business and help the business become more profitable, all while developing themselves.
During my earlier career, I was more motivated by myself. Now, I am motivated by seeing that drive in people’s eyes. When I meet with my fellow management colleagues and they say, “What a great person you sent yesterday,” and to see the improvement of every KPI team, together with Sales, Procurement and Legal, prompting communication and the building of a network.
That’s important, as – usually - that’s what I’m trying to rebuild in Finance. Traditionally, Finance has been reactive, and I try to make it proactive. The cashflow work has been part of that proactive and communication work, and it’s part of the transformation.
Also, for each company and department, you need to look at the process on a deeper level. If you don’t have the right people, put the right team in place and use the OKR (objectives and key results) method to develop and fulfil the strategies you set, instead of rebuilding the strategy each year.
This is not only related to Finance, but acting as a business partner and being proactive helps the business. That is important to me.
Another highlight would be when I became a CFO. I was able to reduce the team by 40% and improve the outcome, while having fun every day at work. For me, that just shows how transparency and engagement can lead to efficiency and fun, doing a complete - sometimes painful - transformation of a Finance department together as one team.
What is the worst/best interview experience you have ever had?
I have had a few bad interviews and conducted a few myself.
However, I will focus on the good ones, which are experienced through real and honest communication. Sometimes, that means we can agree that a position is not suited to them. For example, one candidate, on the third interview, we agreed the position was not right, but told him he had made an extraordinary impression and we would remember him for future positions.
So, I called him after half-a-year, and I reminded him who I was. We then employed him, and he made a tremendous turnaround on one of our entities. He moved on after four years, but made a turnaround I had never seen.
During the years, I have developed people through different positions. When interviewing, it might be for one position, but that changes. Another example would be when I employed a lady and I said, “I have changed your role, as you would be perfect here instead.” We had a dialogue and she really liked it; she did tremendous work in that position and then went on maternity leave.
But I called her late on in her maternity leave and said I was going to make another change. Initially, she wasn’t too comfortable with that idea, but then I explained that I needed her skills and expertise to tackle certain challenges. Now, after three years, she has totally reconstructed that area and is moving to a global level.
The pieces in the puzzle must fit in the position, but it could also be like a Swiss army knife that can be reconstructed and fit elsewhere.
Would you say those relationships have contributed to the development of your career?
Yes, a lot. Finding the talent and identifying the skills these talents don’t know they have or are not using their full potential has helped build relationships. I also try to identify and find talent everywhere in the organisation. When they are in different positions, I try to talk to everyone, maintain relationships and learn about people, their names, families, the names of their dogs, etc.
People come to me asking for other challenges and asking if I’ve seen certain issues, and I listen because it develops me, and it develops the business – this is what I like about being a leader.
If you are building a context of trust, it’s not about being in a higher position - I may just be further along than you and doing different tasks.
I extremely seldom use the CFO title when I’m out in stores, branches, and different departments. I am just the guy in Finance and present myself as Göran. They don’t need to know who I am, as it’s not important. How we can develop is important.
What is your advice to aspiring leaders?
Building on from my last point, don’t use the title, as it will close more doors than open doors. My advice would be to stay authentic, interesting, and curious. Try to develop the business, ask questions, and challenge, while being authentic and honest. When challenged, you get new challenges and attention from leaders. Also, when challenging, try to pinpoint and suggest solutions, otherwise, it’s not challenging - it’s complaining.
Start with how you would like to live your life and have close relations. I am not calling people colleagues; I am calling them friends. Making friends is not a bad thing, but divide friendship and business, because focus is about developing the business.
When you develop a business, you need to face challenges, as it has a lot of old truths, habits and processes - that’s also why it’s good to come from different companies and areas with fresh eyes.
I usually let the numbers speak, and I have a track record of creating better efficiency. If you look at the employee survey index, for five years in a row - despite COVID-19 - we improved. It’s about trust and communication, and you cannot communicate too much.
In the organisation, I have been trying to lift women, as some are not pushing themselves when compared to men, who would push themselves up faster. But, when they are lifted, they have extreme confidence.
Overall, be authentic, kind, curious, present, and be yourself. There is no reason to be anything but kind, and people will remember if your bad day affected them. You need to be curious about people, processes, and the world to further your understanding – and you will have much more fun. Being present in meetings, with people and your family allows you to become more effective; people will tell if your mind is elsewhere.
Do you have any role models?
I have a few. On the religious side, it would be Mahatma Gandhi.
Ingemar Stenmark would be another. A journalist once said to him, “You’re lucky, you are always winning,” and Ingemar replied, “I don’t know anything about luck, but the harder I train, the luckier I get.”
Also, I really admire the humbleness of Nelson Mandela when he was set free from Robben Island. Still no hate in him. The few words he said are still there, “We are one people, and we need to heal.” His body language was calm, and he was trying to heal.
My mum and dad are other people I admire. We had a really close relationship. What they taught me - and what I am passing onto my kids - is being a good, honest person, not lying and trying to help; a kind and authentic person is a good and honest person.
It’s important to be kind to everyone. Another quote from Britian is: Common sense is not that common. My advice to others would be to share what you know and share what you think might be common sense, because it might be unique. Please tell someone, please speak up and challenge, be brave.
What book would you recommend to someone who is looking to follow in your footsteps?
Earlier, I was talking about trying to make Finance proactive. Proactivity is also about having a plan, but everything else is communication. So, I would recommend a book called Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It’s about selling and communication.
Ideas, thoughts, plans, processes, investments… everything needs to be sold, so communication is essential. Sometimes, you can have the best idea in the world, but you can’t sell it. Finding the common base, expressing it that way and coming to a conclusion, that’s a sell.
Regarding other recommendations, I would say read anything that will keep you humble, authentic and curious.
One book that still influences me is Humanism as an approach to Life by Georg Henrik von Wright that I read when I studied Philosophy at university.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would say go abroad and see the world. There is so much opportunity around the world. Believing in improvement fits more in the international world and I made many more friends who could relate to a humble, constructive way of challenging.
You get totally different perspectives when you travel alone, as you interact so much more with others instead of your friends and colleagues.
Some more advice for others would be to learn about culture change and culture shock. That is not worse or better, it is just different.
Most countries are beautiful when you stop and just be present. The interesting part is, when you come home, you see your home in a different way – maybe that lasts a day or a few hours, but use that different perspective to look at your own company and hometown.
What business value have you seen from sustainability improvements?
Firstly, sustainability is close to my heart, and seeing my kids growing up in the current environment with the fires, rain, and pollution is something you need to think about. Everyone can contribute. It’s about making sustainable investments. For example, building sunroofs, and looking at improving energy consumption and trucks, what is the next step in achieving a better ROI [return on investment] using electricity?
If you look at the purpose of taxonomy, you should be comparing companies as much as you compare them with key figures and actually invest money in the future – that will build up and money will go to the good ones, instead of the bad ones. That is the future.
For countries and companies, it’s not a race about winning - it’s about dignity.
It’s totally essential. In the next five, ten, 15 years, it will be either you’re still in business making successful progress or you’re out. I’m looking at the future we can give our kids - we need to improve really fast.
As a consumer, you have power. As a company, you need to adapt to the consumer. But, as a leader, you need to ensure you are doing the best you can businesswise and for the future.
Looking at the taxonomy, businesses will be judged on different KPIs regarding sustainability. That will benefit or not benefit them.
For me, it’s hot and it’s for the future. We, and a couple of previous generations, have made a mess and we are responsible for cleaning it up as much as possible.
If you are going against sustainability in the short term, you might be profitable, but - in the long term - it would be devastating, and you will be out of business. In every instance, start now. It’s just a matter of how much you can invest and having a plan surrounding every choice and making those sustainable.
I’m shocked that the world doesn’t move faster and it’s disappointing, because all the reports will go through Finance. So, Finance needs to be prepared for this and we need to steer with it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Please develop people, because they deserve it. Have fun during the journey, as it improves the business. You can look at any science report, it will say people develop businesses; if you develop people, they will take care of the job for you.
Thank you to Göran for speaking to Hanna Gibson, Senior Consultant in our Nordics division.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.