Lars Thinggaard: ”I build my own compass”

In an article in Denmark's leading business paper Børsen, President & CEO Lars Thinggaard, Milestone Systems, talks about leadership principles and how to stay innovative as a company.

Retrieved from Børsen on August 10, 2017

President & CEO Lars Thinggaard, Milestone Systems, a provider of open platform video management software, sets his own course for good leadership. He often brings 'scream pillows' to management meetings and he gets in touch with all of his mentors to get good leadership advice.

Lars Thinggaard is a leader who forges his own path. If he anticipates that the atmosphere during a management meeting might become a bit tense, he brings 'scream pillows'. Then the participants can leave the meeting room and vent their emotions by screaming into the pillow. After that, the meeting can continue peacefully.

He has also built his own behavior compass, which he uses to assess his managers, and which gives him an overview of the quality of management in the company. When it comes time for the managers to attend a leadership seminar, Lars has been known to engage artists who can train the team in how to visually express their strategic views. Lars Thinggaard is one of the few leaders in the Danish business community, who likes the limelight and engages in public debates. This summer, he participated in the annual People's Political Festival (Folkemødet) in Denmark, appearing in an entrepreneur panel where he spoke about a subject near and dear to his heart: how to preserve the entrepreneurial spirit in your company, regardless of its size.

An early mover in Silicon Valley
In 2012, way before disruption became a buzzword in Denmark, Lars Thinggaard started an independent, innovative unit in Silicon Valley, contributing to Milestone's growth.

"I could see that we were on our way to becoming a large organization, where complexity can make it difficult to realize new ideas. We decided to act as our own disruptors by establishing a new development center in Silicon Valley, because we wanted to be close to the newest trends and technology. The unit got its own budget, and dedicated resources that were not available to anyone else in the organization," says Lars Thinggaard.

The next innovative leap
The center now employs 20 staff members and has just received a capital injection by Milestone's owner since 2014, Canon, and is expected to employ more than 100 people within a few years. When new products are market-ready, they are transferred to the parent company that handles sales and marketing. The next big innovative leap is cloud services within video technology.

"At the People's Political Festival, I talked a lot about the countless European companies, like the Danish banks, that take these quick, week-long inspirational trips to Silicon Valley. But even as they're on the plane ride home, their everyday work is waiting to greet them Monday morning. They lose the train of thought and everything stalls when they get home. I didn't want that to happen in our case, which is why we established an independent business unit in Silicon Valley," says Lars Thinggaard.

"The best way we can bring something we want to happen to life is by creating a separate, focused unit. Safe where the big corporation isn't allowed to take the resources that are set aside for innovation."

A quick call to Dick Fosbury
Lars Thinggaard is very proactive, and when he wants to communicate his thoughts on leadership, he doesn't hesitate to pick up the phone and call the other side of the world.

"When I wanted to explain what it meant to be your own disrupter, I thought about the American high jumper Dick Fosbury, who won the 1968 OIympics in Mexico by setting the Olympic record and became world famous for his Fosbury Flop technique."

Raising the bar makes sense
Dick's trainer was really against him back then. He thought it couldn't be done. People had always jumped forward over the bar. So, I gave Dick a call to get him to visit us and tell us about the way he works. He is an engineer and runs his own business, so it made sense to use him as a model of what it means to raise the bar."

Lars Thinggaard has also contacted former Danish prime minister Poul Schlüter, who has served in several minority governments, to understand his view on how leaders can make difficult things happen.

"I interviewed him for four hours and left with two great pieces of advice: Always bring humor to the negotiation table and make sure that your counterpart leaves with something he can use. Because in politics, but also in many other areas of life, you always have to come back to these people at some point," says Lars Thinggaard.

Other role models on his list
Lars Thinggaard has called many other people. When he hears something on the radio that captures his attention, he gives the person a call to find out more.

"Many are naturally surprised when I call, but I think it's an effective way to find out something new that I can use in my work." The next in line to expect a call from Lars Thinggaard is Yuri van Geest, co-author of the book Exponential Organizations. The book has made a huge impression on Lars Thinggaard and he's planning to meet him.

"On my list of people, I would like to interview is one of the best tennis players of our time, Andre Agassi. He's incredibly eccentric, but his biography is one of the best I've read. I wouldn't mind interviewing him," Lars Thinggaard says.

Lars Thinggaard is also a big fan of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose quotes he likes to decipher and simplify in order to use them as a mantra for his management style.

"I often use the quote: To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily; not to dare is to lose oneself. Innovating is about taking chances. If you don't, you risk losing yourself and your entire business. So, it's part of my management philosophy, which I often refer to both in internal as well as external meetings," says Lars Thinggaard.

According to Lars, one of his greatest achievements is the development of Milestone Systems' behavioral compass, which is used to assess the company's management quality.

"My starting point is a compass because I enjoy sailing. It's all about choosing a course, and about the needle that points in a particular direction," says Lars Thinggaard.

The compass works well
Lars Thinggaard uses the compass to measure managers' abilities within business acumen, passion, empathy, developing others and empowerment, which is the ability to influence your own future through self-control.

"Once a year, I reward the best leader in Milestone. The reward is an old-fashioned crate full of good, Danish beer, because we practice 'beer crate speeches' [where a speaker stands on top of a beer crate, speaking in front of an audience] in order to train our leaders in speaking to and engaging their audiences," says Lars Thinggaard.

Several years ago, Lars Thinggaard bought Carlsberg's stock of wooden beer crates, which each can hold 50 bottles of beer. The winner has to share the beer with his team and hold a speech while standing on top of the crate.

"When I first started this tradition, I didn't anticipate that our winner would be in Australia. It cost me more than DKK 5,000 to ship the beers and the crate to Australia," says Lars Thinggaard.