Meetings No 23
Pressure on Meetings International
Atti Soenarso: “At this point, we do not believe our ears.”
Cover Story
Catherine Boissier, Astra Zeneca
“Meetings are a vital tool.”
Cities across Canada Are Attracting Global Meetings
Due in large part to academics and industry innovators across a variety of sectors.
The Cost of Not Thinking
Mark Turrell: Applying conscious thought makes a big difference.
Dubai Tourism Launches Sponsorship Scheme
Designed to empower leisure event organisers.
Economic Development
Dubai Expo 2020 to Deliver $33bn Boost to UAE Economy
Expo 2020 is a long-term investment in the future of the UAE.
Calgary’s BMO Centre Set for Expansion
Funding approved for a $500 million expansion.
Longterm Development
The Potential of Cambodia
Visothy So: “We want to attract a lot of meetings and events.”
Canada Is the First Country to Have a National AI Strategy
Canada is in the lead of a global AI race.
‘She Means Business’ Digs into Diversity at IMEX Frankfurt
Diversity and inclusion are the linchpin of ‘She Means Business’.
The Business and Power of Placemaking
Placemaking in the spotlight at IMEX.
IMEX Frankfurt Shines a Light on Diversity and Inclusion
“Diversity means diversity of people, minds, ideas, and approaches.”
IMEX Agency Directors Forum
A highly relevant and future-focused programme.
Emirates Working on AI-Powered Flight Assistant
“The advancement of the next wave in aviation innovation.”
How to Fireproof Your Productivity
Exponential gains in your exceptionality, productivity and impact.
Volvo Car Group, a Human-Centric Meeting Culture
Paul Welander: “It’s always best when you meet live; for me that’s a meeting.”
The Art of Taking the Chance
“Many of the participants said it was the best congress ever.”
New knowledge
Brain research
shows added value live events.
BTM World 2020
transitions to virtual.
post-pandemic momentum
Dubai Tourism forms Business Events Stakeholders committee,
host first meeting as industry resumes activity.
hotel news
Scandic expects
occupancy of 30-35 percent for September.
Covid developer
Scandic Hotels
launches the largest network of coworking spaces in the Nordic countries.
planned for 16-17 Sep
Update on GIAF
- New dates set for 5-6 November 2020.
Sands Expo and Convention Centre
is now a carbon neutral venue.
positive impact
The Hague webinar
celebrates partnerships and first anniversary of Ottawa MOU.
expanding network
ICCA Partners up
with Geneva International Associations Forum (GIAF).
Sponsored Content
Taiwan Ready to Reopen to the World
Over 80 events taking place in Taipei now.
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Sponsor Logo
Volvo Car Group, a Human-Centric Meeting Culture

Following the global gloom of the 1940s, the explosion of musical expression in the USA of the 1950s and its rock and roll era was just the tonic for the kind of positive living that people had been longing for. Whilst they could rock to the new beats coming through the airwaves on their radio, there was also the chance to roll on four wheels too, as the automobile industry was really taking off at the same time. In tune with the zeitgeist there was an emphasis on maximum power and flamboyant design, with hot rods and muscle cars vying for horsepower, curves and angles to the fore and polished chrome brightening the city streets.

At the same time in Europe, however, one manufacturer was taking a very different approach to what the main focus of an automobile should be. A safety cage within the body of the vehicle, padded dashboards, laminated windscreens to prevent shattering and three-point safety belts to reduce injury in accidents were all developed during the very same era that Chuck Berry was waxing lyrical about the hot rod race in Maybellene. Meaning “I roll” in Latin, the Swedish Volvo Car Group were from their Gothenburg headquarters contemporaneously imprinting their own take on what it meant to ‘roll’ in a mostly rock era for automobile development, making safety and security paramount in a wholly special approach within a packed industry. It is this kind of unique culture that they have also applied to meetings in the company, a culture that persists to this very day.

“We do have a special culture in the company and that of course affects everything, including our meeting culture,” says Paul Welander, Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor to the CEO at Volvo Car Group. “It’s quite difficult to explain because you need to feel it, but we have defined how we should live our culture and I think we do that, very human-centric, very non-hierarchical and, from an organisational perspective, we are very flat despite the levels in the organisation.”

“It’s no problem for anybody to knock on the door of the CEO or anyone in executive management. I also think we have a very open and transparent attitude, our CEO calls it ‘coffee machine culture’, where you meet at the coffee machine and you talk, and that’s important and it also helps take you through hard times, which we’ve had a couple of.”

The discussions these days around the coffee machines at Volvo, as well as most other automobile manufacturers around the world, may be more complex and demanding as the industry, alongside those of accommodation and fintech, is currently facing the highest levels of disruption amongst all major global industries. Added to the need to adapt to climate change and be visibly more environmentally responsible, it all points to the need for a lot more meetings to address a huge range of challenges.

“On these disruptive forces, I think that you will see in the automotive business a rather huge transformation that you can already read about today, but you will see a huge change from combustion engines to electrified vehicles and you will also see changes in traffic when it comes to, for instance, speed and behaviour,” says Paul Welander. “You will see changes in people’s attitude, and you will see other things happening as everybody will be connected, and you will see autonomous vehicles as well, maybe not by 2025 but by 2035. By 2050, instead of taking the night train somewhere you will take the car and sleep in it on the way there.”

“I think you will see these changes coming up, but moreover I think you will see a change in the commercial domain: in retailers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and customers moving forward. The industry wants to be more B2C. Today we are B2B because we sell to the retailers. With the help of digitisation it might give us another commercial set-up. Look at how the bank-operations have changed and how people are doing their financial business today. You are not running to the bank to pay your bills or put money in. It’s all done on the internet.”

“In terms of how we work and meet in respect of all this change we are able to be very fast at doing things, often with a gut feeling that sometimes decides things, and if with this gut feeling you can explain to senior management why they should do things you can get the buy in and it’s done,” says Paul Welander. “But we also measure a lot and we try to be rather connected between the various operations in the company, so like others we put up our operational targets and then we break them down almost to the individual for white-collar workers and to the groups for the blue-collar domain. Then we have operational reviews and when you go around and meet people you learn to put certain questions to challenge in the positive way.”

“I think that’s one of the things that senior management should do, challenge the operation to be better, faster and more human-centric, so if you have the same people moving around, meeting staff, challenging the operation and asking the questions in a certain way you harmonise the operation. I very often think of ourselves as a small company and that helps too.”

Building internal harmony by meeting and challenging the operation may address the internal consequences of today’s disruption on the industry, but a further challenge on the previous industry norms is coming from the impact new innovation is having on external parties, creating the need for Volvo to now have a much stronger focus on collaborating and meeting much more outside of the company too.

“If there was a mobility congress taking place maybe some energy providers would be interesting to have there and maybe also some companies working with the development of cities and the utilisation of space would be interesting to have there too, but just ten years ago we would never have been interested in talking to those players. Today we are, and we do. If you look at our science parks in Gothenburg, we have one in particular, Lindholmen, that one of their responsibilities is to work with the automotive sector. They create a lot of conferences and congresses that we are invited to and attend, and it can be anything from sustainability to energy.”

“I also had a discussion with the police the other day and we were talking about autonomous driving, but then we got on to the productivity of the police forces and we touched on when the teams in police cars need to take a break,” says Paul Welander. “They drive to the police station and need to park the car, so they drive into the car park and need to find a space, then walk all the way back to the entrance, take the elevator all the way up to the coffee machine and then they have just a minute to take a cup of coffee. So why not allow the team to jump out of the car just outside the entrance and then the car parks itself, and just think what that would do for productivity levels.”

Whilst it is meetings such as these that in turn can influence product design and innovation with the aim of delivering much wider social productivity outcomes, one of the challenges faced in achieving this is having the right people at the right meetings with an aptitude to ask the right questions and engage openly and constructively. Since 2010, when Volvo was taken over by Chinese automotive group Geely, it has more than doubled in staff size, an expansion so rapid that it has presented challenges both in the calibre of staff that Volvo has needed to attract, but also to the culture of the meetings that it has traditionally held within the company. This now raises the spectre of how the meeting culture might need to evolve to ensure that decision-making and growth can be maximised, including using meetings as a positive forum for the empowerment of managers.

“In Swedish culture we drink a lot of coffee and we are a very reserved culture, so what is difficult with us, when you talk about the meeting culture, might be that you sit in a meeting, might not speak up, but then go into the corridor and disrupt decisions by the coffee machine. You then learn to work with this culture of corridor decisions and not speaking up in meetings, but it would be easier if people spoke up and it leads to one of the major challenges we have in the company and that’s leadership.”

“I say that because we were 18,000 when Geely bought us and since 2010 we have grown by 25,000 to be 43,000 today, and an extra 25,000 means a lot of new managers and we need to ask if we have given them the necessary prerequisites to do the job in the best way,” says Paul Welander. “This is difficult because we are moving so fast, but they need to look after their employees. Being a manager in the Volvo operation puts certain demands on you and you are responsible for your operation, the result of the operation, the development of the operation, the employees in order to get them to do the job in the right way and for their development. To get employees to do the job in the right way this means that if you have an opinion you have to speak up, and so you need to make them brave.”

“If senior management is talking a lot about wanting a coffee machine culture I think it comes down in an organisation and if we can be transparent and have a management walking around and being out in operations talking to people then managers in the different levels will do something similar. In some cases, you need to push because the most tricky job is to be a first line manager. You are the representative of the employer and the employees and you need to balance that, so it’s a very difficult job.”

Tackling the needs of difficult jobs within an expanding organisation fuels the requirement for even more meetings, and as Volvo continues to build on the growing success it has had in recent years it is clear that the human-centric approach to its meeting culture is set to continue in its inimitable way that puts the spotlight firmly on people interaction whilst also bringing best value to the company.

“When you leave a meeting, you need to have added value to your previous situation, so to speak, so it needs to be value-added every time you meet people. That can be a solution of a certain issue, but it can also be a relationship built over a cup of coffee that will help you do your job better tomorrow when you get to know a person.”

“To me meetings can have these different meanings, sorting out issues and moving forward, but building relations is also a very, very important value-add, and whilst you can have a meeting on the web or on your phone I used to state that it’s important for us to eat together or have a beer together if you should work together in a very positive way, so you need to spend some time on who you are and be a little bit outside the issue as such,” says Paul Welander. “When you meet on the phone or on the web, you’re very professional because you never chit-chat and just sort out issues. It’s always best when you meet live; for me that’s a meeting.”