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Lars Dalgaard and his Success Factors (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Mar 7th 2008

SM: What happened after you left Novartis? LD: This all ties into how I ended up starting my company. I remember being headhunted by Unilever, a big company with 320,000 employees with $60B in sales at the time, and I felt Novartis had done so much for me … I remember walking into the global VP of HR and telling him, “Hey, you probably don’t care but I am going to join Unilever, and I am leaving today.”

He exploded and started saying “hold on, hold on!”, and I swear to God he got this key out of his pocket that was on a little string and he went over and opened a closet and pulled out this huge three ring binder, skimmed through it, and then pulled out all of these org charts and said, “See, here you are. You are going to be running Portugal in two years!”

I was standing there like “What? What are you talking about?” He came back and said, “Well, that’s not the only one. I have you in Germany, but that is a lower job. I also have you …” and he started going through all these pages. I was shocked; I was standing there thinking “this is how they manage careers”.

SM: What job were you going to be taking at Unilever? LD: I was going to run a product globally, which was very exciting. I had just gotten into Harvard Business School and I turned it down because I could not imagine anything more exciting. At the time “globalization” is what everybody was talking about.

SM: You left to run a product globally, but what happened after that? How long did you stay? LD: I was supposed to stay in that job for 4 or 5 years, but I got promoted a year later because the product had become very successful. It became a $200M product. I was lucky because I was 26, and they sent me to Germany to run a company of 60 people. That is extremely lucky to run a company at such a young age. It was a great learning experience for me because they had already put a lot of structures in place.

SM: Was that a subsidiary of Unilever? LD: Yes it was. They had 13 subsidiaries at the time, and each has hundreds of little companies inside of them. I remember listening to the CEO’s speech at a conference and somebody asked how many companies they acquired a month. He said it was at least one or two before the CFO pulled him over to tell him it was thirteen a month.

SM: Did they integrate them or let them run under a general manager? LD: Sometimes when they were big they integrated them. However, when they were small pockets, they just let GMs run the company. That was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. That was the first time I experienced the power of web technology.

We were doing something as boring as cleaning Coca-Cola factories. I don’t know if you can imagine that mammoth. You can feel comfortable opening and drinking that product because it is made in such a sterile environment. That is the product we delivered, but here is the interesting thing; in Germany where I lived, there were 22 Coke plants but we would distribute from one central location. What we created was what the CEO was really worried about, because if he did not have hygiene, it was “game over”. Remember when there were rats in some Wendy’s in New York? That’s what it was like for these guys – they would DIE without hygiene.

We created the ability for him to sit in his home, on his laptop, and see what was going on in all of his factories. I will never forget his face when I gave him that laptop. His eyes freaked out, and I told myself right there that I was going to do something in technology. This is insane because the guy was paralyzed! “I can control all of my Coke factories from my home?” He just could not stop talking about it. That was the second place where I learned the value of technology.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Lars Dalgaard and his Success Factors
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