CELEBRATING 15 YEARS - LESSONS ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP, CHINESE CULTURE AND SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS LEADERSHIP IN TODAY’S VUCA LANDSCAPE
Meet Per Linden, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Scandic Sourcing
Meet Per - business chameleon, managing director and (our fearless) leader. He is the mastermind behind (most) things happening at Scandic Sourcing, both creative and operational. From running high-performing teams to spearheading new business initiatives within his companies, Per has created an organisation with the mission to test and forge robust links across the global supply chain network.
Fresh from celebrating Scandic Sourcing’s 15 year anniversary, we sat down and asked our CEO and newly appointed Chairman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Shanghai Chapter a few questions about his journey, success and inspiration.
Could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
As Founder and CEO of Scandic Sourcing, I lead a company of engineers and supply chain management experts who are actively problem solving and using their industry knowledge to address increasingly challenging international supply chain requirements.
Scandic Sourcing is a globally active company offering sourcing and procurement management expertise to clients spanning the Asia-pacific and Europe. We bridge the procurement-supply chain divide and work with industry leaders in the engineering and manufacturing sectors.
It is my job not only to lead for excellent suppliers in order to guarantee a smooth flow of quality supplies for our partner brands, retailers and importers.
We do this by deploying our on-the-ground engineers and quality control experts to assess manufacturing capacities and capabilities and are regularly conducting compliance and performance audits to check for internal problems that can delay supply orders. One of our most popular products is our award winning supplier code of conduct programs which not only gives clients a clear picture of how well their China suppliers meet their environmental and social requirements, but also utilises a continuous improvement process to stimulate suppliers to work toward modern standards.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I moved to Shanghai, and this month marks the 15 year anniversary since Scandic Sourcing was established.
What are your biggest lessons for successful market entry into China and doing business with Chinese people?
Many Western business people arrive in China with a list of etiquettes - how to eat fermented chicken feet or drink snake’s blood and similar handy tips - tons of business cards, an army of interpreters and so on. This may get them through the door, but not enough to sustain a prolonged relationship. Western business people have great benefits if they try to understand the broader context of Chinese culture and values.
Spending time acclimating yourself to the local culture is really important. Developing an understanding of Chinese thinking, etiquette and the way in which business is conducted here can help you put your best foot forward when negotiating with Chinese business people.
I really recommend learning some basic Mandarin and especially learn a little about the written language. The very different structure of the Chinese language is very intriguing and indicates a different way of thinking. You may find that cities like Shanghai and Beijing are more ‘Western’ and open-minded, but for many regional towns where many of the factories operate, many have not studied abroad nor had any exposure to foreigners. I always find that a willingness to learn about the local culture and language helps to break the ice in a formal setting.
Do you have any favourite books, TV shows or podcasts that you’d like to recommend?
One of my favourite books is called Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, which is about a turbulent time during the unification of China around the year 200, and the lasting impacts of key historical figures on modern Chinese approaches towards business strategies. The texts can be quite heavy for first time readers though - I actually gave up reading after the first few chapters, but then my son Anders got interested in the TV drama and following the story became a favorite pastime of ours.
I can also recommend another Chinese classic text called “Outlaws of the Marsh” by Shi Nai’an.
Even if these two books are written in the 14th Century, you learn to recognise situations, different human behaviours and apply your observations to the real world.
While these books are about war and basic military strategies, they’re classic Chinese texts every Chinese person will have studied. These strategies are summarised in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. For Western business people entering China to negotiate a deal without some knowledge of these texts would be like walking into a battlefield without ammunition.
What does a day in the life of Per Linden look like? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Living in metropolitan Shanghai has given me the luxury of having my office within 300 meters from my home. Every morning I make sure to have a full breakfast with my kids and catch up with them before they go off to school. Sometimes I walk them to school.
In the office we kick things off with an internal debrief with my management team over coffee to go over everyone’s daily schedule, and anything that requires my support. It’s a great way to connect and team build before diving into our projects.
We have several engineers travelling to visit and audit factories. As often as I can, I like to join in these trips. Travelling in China has become very efficient and you can basically get anywhere with a high speed train and flights in 2-3 hours.
It’s coming up to 15 years since Scandic Sourcing was built. How do you work to achieve your goals?
China is both a complex and fast changing country. With this comes many opportunities. I’ve always been passionate about business leadership. China is a typical place to adopt VUCA leadership principles - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. These principles have allowed me to build a strategy to suit the context of today’s world - which has been particularly helpful throughout the pandemic.
The pandemic has seen people lose jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normalcy will return. The VUCA principles help to identify what the business needs are in a rapidly changing environment, one of which is to reach out to on-the-ground supplier audit professionals. In a volatile global trading environment, managing your business risks starts with solidifying your supply chain.
While the pandemic has affected international supply chains, the international border closures have actually benefited our business, and I believe this is due to our unique approach.
Do you have any last thoughts that you’d like to share with us?
People here remain very serious about new business prospects. International firms are looking for suppliers to help them bridge communication with local suppliers, while existing suppliers in China need us more than ever since they need people they can trust on the ground in China. We are very proud to have been able to build this trust over these 15 years with our clients around the world.
We hope you enjoyed reading about Per’s journey to success in China as much as we did writing it. We’re really excited about the next 15 years to come and look forward to celebrating many more milestones together!