Since taking over the top job for Lanxess' North America region last October, Flemming Bjoernslev has visited nearly all of the company's 14 facilities in the U.S. and Canada and held roundtable sessions with employees to discuss how they see the company going forward.
"It's simply dumb not to listen to people in the various departments. The guy in Burgettstown loading the trucks has an idea about how the business is developing," said Mr. Bjoernslev.
Lanxess, the German-based maker of specialty chemicals and rubber products, has its North American headquarters in Findlay and local plants in Burgettstown, Washington County, and Neville Island.
Mr. Bjoernslev, 46, said listening to colleagues and customers and being receptive to their feedback are critical components of his leadership style.
He also believes in "enabling managers to do what we hired them to do."
"To drive the company forward, you can enable a culture of trust only if you give trust upfront. If all the decisions are done via my desk, it won't motivate people to go an extra mile."
A native of Copenhagen, Denmark, whose father ran a division of Bayer AG -- the German drug and chemicals giant that Lanxess spun out from in 2004 -- Mr. Bjoernslev always planned on a career in sales and management.
"There were constantly foreigners in our house and that was fascinating to me. That was a driving force for me to leave the country. I couldn't go back to Copenhagen and work for a little company."
He started working at Bayer's headquarters in 1986 and rose through the sales ranks in Germany until 1999 when he took a post in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he eventually ran a large South American business unit for Bayer.
He returned to Germany in 2003 as a project manager and the following year joined the newly launched Lanxess. Prior to taking his current job, he ran the company's central Eastern Europe unit based in Slovakia.
In North America, he oversees 1,500 employees and operations that account for 20 percent of Lanxess' global revenues.
Mr. Bjoernslev thrives on the "intercontinental challenges" and said the exposure to a broad range of cultures and languages has helped define his leadership strategy.
"It's challenging to have a lot of unknown conditions. People don't want to leave their comfort zones, but I've had to leave mine so frequently so that the comfort zone has become uncertainty."
His one career regret is not moving to the U.S. earlier.
"The Scandinavian mentality correlates very well with North America," he said. "They both have respect for what people have achieved and are very easygoing. In central Europe, they are very much into honor titles, and if the title is there, the rest is not questioned. Scandinavians and Americans really cherish what's behind the title."
-- Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580