Profile: Jo-Are Bjerke

What do you currently do?
I am Managing Director of HÅG UK and Ireland. HÅG is owned by Scandinavian Business Seating, which is among the top three seating specialist manufacturers in Europe. I drive their sales within the UK and Ireland, assisting the regional sales managers by targeting small to medium-sized businesses as well as individual customers. Our factory is located in rural Norway but we have subsidiaries all over Europe – I oversee the distribution of HÅG chairs to our sales partners and individual outlets.

What is your inspiration in business?
Treat companies how you would treat people; with respect and trust as well as being open minded. HÅG operates according to the principle that every company has responsibilities above and beyond simply earning money and we try to be as conscientious as possible when manufacturing our chairs – there is a high focus on quality from product development through to customer service and all our chairs come with a ten year guarantee. Over the years I have come across people who show impeccable integrity, keeping their promises even if they will not benefit from doing so. I am very impressed by somebody who is always able to say “a promise is a promise” and act on it.

Who do you admire?
Companies that manage to stay true to their morals, whatever the size of their organization, whilst still meeting targets. For example, Eurostar’s ‘Tread Lightly’ carbon neutral initiative, which is part and parcel of their product rather than just a marketing tool, shows real dedication to their environmental credentials. Being in the design industry, I also appreciate innovative creation and I particularly admire Peter Opsvik, who has collaborated with HÅG since 1975 and created nine seating models for us including the design classic, the HÅG Capisco.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
Of course, but I believe that we all learn from our mistakes and that we can use them to determine who we really are – as a company and an individual. The recession has made everyone adopt a “more for less” attitude, proving that we are able to actually get more out of each pound or each hour than we thought possible. This requires tough decisions and prioritising – hopefully I will remember to apply these when the good times are back.

What defines your way of doing business?
At HÅG, we strive for a corporate culture where all employees take initiative and responsibility to build a better business. As Managing Director, I want to be trustworthy and predictable towards partners. They should know what I will do in certain situations, if not they will always wonder if they should have negotiated harder. The focus should be generating value, not creating an adversarial attitude between partners.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t plan your career too much and always be open to change. Focus on doing the best you can in your current job and be receptive when talking to people and companies about new career opportunities: communication is key.