The problem solver without ropes and carabiners
Just over a year has passed since Björn Söderlund took office as Optimation’s new CEO. He now finds the total focus and problem-solving he previously found in his job as a consultant by climbing without a safety net and saving Santa with code.
Björn has been CEO for just over a year but is hardly a newcomer to the company. 16 years have passed since he was employed as a consultant and in recent years he has also sat on the board. Björn does not miss the time as a consultant, but the work is drastically different from the role of managing director.
– The CEO job is great fun but also very different. Previously, I went to work and basically knew every day what I had to do and also got to do what I had set out to do. Now I go to work and certainly get a lot done, but maybe not the things I intended to work on from the beginning. Things constantly appear from the side, he says.
The biggest challenge with the new role is finding time for all employees. The company has grown to its breaking point in recent years and despite support functions such as technology, marketing and CFO has been added, there is still room for development.
– I was hired as number three in the order and now there are thirty of us, but we are basically the same organization as when we started. It is something that we may need to look at in the future. The most enjoyable part of being CEO is the meetings with our employees. I want to take advantage of all the fantastic ideas and make sure that everyone feels seen and I don’t really have time for that today, he explains.
Björn believes that his appointment as CEO may not mean any major changes for the company.
– We have a clear vision for the company, that it should be a place that you want to work for, that you enjoy and that is good in the long term. Where all employees should feel proud, see their future within the company and be able to develop with it. It remains since before.
The journey to work at Optimation actually started already in high school, where Björn attended the science program. During the last academic year’s degree project, he had the opportunity to test scanning probe microscopy at Luleå University of Technology. It inspired Björn to study technical physics at the same university. But despite the fascination of everything from atoms to stars, mathematics still attracted more and he chose to focus on it. After a degree job in Montreal and a couple of odd jobs, Björn got a job at Optimation’s Kiruna office at the time.
– I had worked a lot with simulation in my education, so I thought that part of the business and also the control technology was super fun, but it was a lot to take on a
specialist consultant cap from, in principle, day one. For me, it took quite a few years before I had grown into it in a good way, and I have full respect for the fact that it does for our employees as well, he says.
In Kiruna, Björn met his partner, who is now also the mother of their three children together. It was two eventful years in Sweden’s northernmost city, but when the Kiruna office was to be closed down, Björn plus partner chose to move. The relocation meant double feelings for Björn.
– The last summer in Kiruna I went on holiday the week after Midsummer. On the way down to the coast it snowed and when I came back after a four week holiday the leaves had already turned yellow on the trees. Somewhere in there I thought it was time to move south. I love Kiruna, especially in the winter, but I really missed the summer and spring.
Björn changed winter to spring and the Kiruna office to the Uppsala office, where he still operates today. When he is not working or spending time with his family, he enjoys bouldering, a type of climbing that takes place on boulders without the aid of ropes or carabiners.
– Bouldering can’t be done when it’s raining, so it’s always nice weather when you’re out and quite often it’s somewhere scenic. The climb is a physical challenge that requires complete concentration so when you do it you can’t think about anything else. It is a very “mindful” activity.
Now that he is no longer a consultant, Björn has to find other ways to challenge his appetite for problem solving. When this interview is conducted, he sits with Advent of code in the evenings, one advent calendar with computer programming challenges. This year it’s about helping Santa and his elves find food for the reindeer in a jungle. A typical task might be to find the shortest path between two points, and the data to be handled requires Björn to write a program to find the answer.
– I don’t miss the job as a consultant, but I can absolutely miss the total focus, the brainstorming and the bubble effect that it leads to. But that’s why you have hobbies, he laughs.