Aligning Personal and Professional Values with Damco Asia CEO
Thomas Riber Knudsen, CEO of Damco Asia (part of the Maersk Group) has stayed with one company throughout his professional career: 26 years in all. He began working at Maersk after serving in the Danish army and his career has spanned a few companies within the Group as well as several countries, including Singapore, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, the US, France and China. Here, he shares with HQ Asia insights into the values at Maersk and how these translate into action on the ground.
Knudsen explains that the Maersk Group’s values define good leadership.
The Maersk Group values are:
Constant care. This involves balanced risk taking, which can be tracked back to Mr A.P. Møller, who, in 1904, co-founded—with his father-- the two companies that would eventually be combined and then be known as the Maersk Group. His approach was to not accept losses that could be prevented. Interestingly, this also means having a long-term view of opportunities and threats. “Look out for tomorrow while doing business today,” explains Knudsen. Humbleness. This includes listening, a focus on joint success, receiving feedback and engaging with society. At Damco, it can be shown by continuously learning as well as not underestimating competitors or other stakeholders. Uprightness. “It’s about the bigger picture. Not ‘do I win?’ but ‘does the team win?'” says Knudsen. The Maersk name serves as a bond for buyers, customers and employees. “It’s important that we’re upfront with stakeholders, even if that means sometimes admitting bad work,” he says. Our Employees. This means attracting and retaining the right people and providing opportunities for continual development. Also, the Maersk Group rewards performance and promotes for potential. Our Name. This is the sum of the four values, which includes having passion and pride for the work and keeping in mind how customers and the external world view the Group and its companies. At Damco, the vocabulary of the values is used as a framework in work discussions and performance reviews.
The values serve as a reminder to think collectively and consider what is best for the whole. In conversations, the focus is on ‘we’ over ‘I’ – this includes discussions on measuring metrics on team performance to monthly one-to-ones with leaders. Knudsen explains that if a manager uses the word ‘I’ when talking about the team’s effort, then they’ll be asked whether they should be using ‘we’. Feedback also goes up and down so that juniors are given the space and opportunity to provide feedback on their manager(s).
Advice for living out values at work
Because Maersk provides an environment where good values thrive, Knudsen finds it easy to align his personal and professional self. However, not all corporate environments are so. If you are currently challenged to live out your values at work, Knudsen advises you ask yourself the following questions:
What company and values do I want to work for? People often decide based on salary, title, or how good the job looks. But ask yourself the following: Is this a company I feel passionate about? Am I excited by the leadership, core values and the business?
- Do I have a manager who embodies the values of the company? Is he/she helping me grow? Look for managers who look for others to grow. Ask yourself the following: Do I receive good and honest feedback on strengths and weaknesses? Am I focusing on my personal growth? This doesn’t mean chasing the promotion or climbing the corporate ladder. Rather, emerging leaders should reflect on what makes them happy as a person and leverage those skills. Focus on strengths and not weaknesses.
- Values across cultures
Inevitably, working and leading across cultures will cause some jolts to one’s paradigm. Firstly, recognise that other cultures aren’t weird, they’re just different from your home culture. “Embrace it. Frame the experience as I’m learning something new. Each culture has stuff that’s great,” says Knudsen.
On the other hand, ask yourself, “What am I not willing to embrace?” For Knudsen, diversity and inclusion and anti-corruption are both very important. He elaborates, “They’re non-negotiable because my values don’t fit within that type of culture that allows corruption or doesn’t value diversity and inclusion.”
When asked how one influences the local culture – especially when a leader feels diversity and inclusion is essential – Knudsen says, “Actively drive the conversation around what you think is right. Allow more opportunities and working conditions. Provide the appropriate toolbox to allow success.”
After all, as Knudsen says, “It is the privilege of the leader to influence”.