Desi Olsen, our Head of Business Advisory, on building international brands, and putting survival before fashion.
Klopp, Mourinho, Guardiola, Olsen.
All great names of the football coaching world. I recently retired after coaching kids for 10-years. We started a team of 8-year-old girls from scratch because there was no other opportunity for them to play. We just said anyone could come. It didn’t matter how good they were. It was all about community and making friends.
As they grew older that turned into an amazing team ethos; it was a place where everyone looked after everyone else. And we got better. Much better!
By the time they were 18, these girls had not only won the local league, they’d also been runners-up in the biggest tournament in Europe. But the ethos never changed. I’m pretty proud of that.
Business success is 80% about who you are
The rest is about what you know. It’s passion that will determine whether you win; the drive that comes from really believing in what you’re doing.
I learned that from my business partner Nils, in the first company I ever ran. I was 22-years-old and we were selling children’s toys. We somehow set up a factory in China, we made the right contacts, we learned to make the right decisions, and we built a national company.
We only did that because we had passion; we were never going to stop. For every problem we found a solution. It just seemed the obvious thing to do because we really cared about what we were doing.
Fashion’s no use if you freeze to death
I once had to convince Hummel, the child’s fashion brand, that if they wanted to grow in Norway they’d have to get into snowsuits.
At the time, Hummel basically recreated adult fashion for kids. The idea that they should sell these shapeless waterproof suits – someone called them ‘biohazard suits’ – was crazy to them. But it’s a classic case of knowing your audience.
I explained to them in Norway fashion often has to take a backseat because it can be -20 degrees and sometimes staying alive is more important than how good you look.
Secondly, I said that selling these suits was a great way to introduce people to the Hummel brand in large numbers. It worked because now they really understood their audience.
Mixing this practical and creative approach into their aspirational brand helped Hummel become an international success story.
Practise company karma
If you want to build longevity you need to care. You need to build a culture of looking after individuals, whether that’s caring about your employees or being active in the local community. It also means really wanting to deliver on the promises you make to your customers.
If you take shortcuts or mistreat people, it will come back to bite you. If you make karma a cornerstone of your brand it will deliver profits. There’s nothing cosmic about that.
I’m a big picture kinda guy
I’m good at spotting commercial opportunities and working out how to leverage them. But I’ve got much less of an eye for the tiny details. That’s why I always make sure I’m surrounded by people who can do that and – just as importantly – are able to clearly explain what they’re doing to me, and to each other.
So many entrepreneurs or innovators think they can – or should – do it all themselves. It never works.
There’s the old cliché that you should surround yourself with people who are better than you, but that’s not quite right. You should surround yourself with people who are better at what they do than you. Then you can focus on the thing you are best at.