Interview with Ingrid Nordmark
Director, Strategy and Business Development at Swedish ICT
When we threw ideas around for this blog, Alice and I had a section about role models and impact. Did we know of someone that impacted our lives with her work? Could we get them to contribute to our blog?
Ingrid’s name came up. From nothing, she built and led the R&D team at Ericsson that brought us 4G. From the initial concepts and establishing the definition of 4G all the way to execution and delivery.
Thanks to her and her team, Ericsson was first to market and from our understanding, market dominant. Other mobile communication companies stumbled and had to restructure and merge.... I believe they are now called NokiaLucentSiemensAlcatel or something.
Imagine… Ingrid’s work can be found in all of our pockets. It drives experiences ranging from Snapchat to Youtube, and delivers them at an incredible speed. It has propulsed the tech industry in a new wave of innovation and created countless jobs as a result.
Ingrid has impacted the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It happened through hard work, thoughtful leadership and incredible management skills. Thanks to this interview, we learned that it also happened because of her healthy disrespect for the impossible.
#GETBlog: You led the development of the 4G network in Sweden. Can you tell us the story of how that happened?
Ingrid: In November 2006, I was asked if I wanted to lead the development of the 4G network product. At first, I thought to myself “never, ever would I do it.” The thing that made me say yes was the idea of implementing my own vision of a new leadership style based on empowerment.
I’m really passionate about empowerment in every individual. If you get to do what you’re good at, if you get people to see that they complement each other, it’s the most fantastic thing that exists. Then you get a “flow” feeling. To get people, for instance, with different types of learning disabilities, or other things going on, to work with people who are very social, and have different types of personalities, to do something great together, is wonderful.
When I started, I asked myself, “What’s most important here?” I knew that we wanted to be best on the technical side – best and first with 4G. Sometimes people forget that technical leadership, processes/tools and a culture of empowerment are all equally important.
We created a five-point plan for how we defined technical leadership of 4G: we would be first with the highest capacity, we would be best at client customization, we would have the biggest flexibility in adding in different radio bands, we would have a software infrastructure that would allow us to maintain quality while being simple to manage. These were the things that we defined as technical leadership.
#GETBlog: And you crushed it. When you look at your competitors, it’s only Huawei left. In those years, those definitions were absolutely key.
Ingrid: It was incredibly important that we agreed on this from the beginning. If we first agreed about what’s most important, then we could do so much more delegating. I knew that the standard wasn’t yet set.
We were recruiting 300 people every year. We had different words for the same things. We didn’t even have a common language. I knew that, if we didn’t make it simple – in how we work, where we work, how we relate to the plan, then it would be chaos.
In our values, I wrote “shit happens.” Do something, and have it come out wrong sometimes, instead of waiting. It’s much worse to be at a standstill than to make some mistakes. The road is crooked sometimes – but as long as we know where we’re going, it’s so much better than sitting at a standstill, just waiting. It’s so much better to do things rapidly the whole time.
If something goes wrong, it doesn’t matter at all - then we’ve learned something. We learn all the time from our mistakes. I think that this has to do with trust – you should always ask a lot of questions and learn, those are keys for me. On our teams, we never discussed things as wrong or right – we created a secure, safe environment.
#GETBlog: Going back to the idea of the creation of a common language and values, it’s ok that shit happens, it’s ok that there are misunderstandings. When you’re growing at 300 people per year, it’s going to happen.
Ingrid: The only thing we knew was that the standard wasn’t set. We didn’t have the people, the resources, or the skills, but we decided that we’re going to do it anyway.
In a lot of organizations, a lot of energy goes to frustrations – “it wasn’t me,” “I didn’t understand.”
What was exciting when I built my leadership group was that I wanted people who would just deliver. I needed team players. The team result is what counts. You should be great in your area, but also be a team player.
What happened then? It ended up being 8 women and 2 men.
#GETBlog: What was the reaction to this?
Ingrid: I believe very much in complementing abilities. I believe in men – it didn’t have to do with that. In the end, I actually actively was looking to recruit men to do “positive särbehandling” – active efforts to recruit the underrepresented gender.
The thing that I realized, though, was that I had a different perspective when I looked for managers. I found many women who had the capacity but hadn’t been promoted. They had been missed in traditional recruiting processes.
#GETBlog: The industry is constantly losing talented women who got passed up for promotions. This phenomenon is well documented, and a major reason why women leave tech.
Ingrid: If you find people with capacity, who are prepared, who are ready, you get such fantastic power.
The thing to be aware of is that I had a different perspective, and I noticed different things. I think that the people who are really excellent at recruiting today have different tools for recruiting, and I think this is necessary. It’s not the case that people do this on purpose, it’s just that they don’t see it.
#GETBlog: What tools did you use to recruit?
When I built the whole organization, it was a combination of internal transfers, external recruitment with ads, and internal recruitment. When I recruit for a single job, I use a combination of networks and ads - about 50/50. I really believe in not just going out after your network. There’s a risk that you’ll only find people who are like you.
At the same time, though, I didn’t recruit all the people in my leadership group at the same time. I started the development of the leadership group on January 1, 2007, and first recruits were the five researchers that had done the Product pre-study and one manager.
#GETBlog: Tell us a bit more about technical leadership.
Ingrid: I followed up very systematically on the 5 areas that we had prioritized. At our all-employee meetings, I made sure that I gave credit to the team members who helped us accomplish our goals. It’s important as a leader to say, “Thanks to this person, we are able to this now, from our five prioritized areas.”
I think I really succeeded at lifting up the technical people so that they got seen. Technical competence doesn’t come across all the time. I really think that at Arlanda airport, in the entrance hall where they have pictures of all the Swedish celebrities, they should have the heroes who started the first digital telephone. They should have the people who created things – the engineers. The nerds. Nerd for me is a beautiful word.
I think it’s great to build a Hall of Fame internally. It helps both men and women.
Also, I made sure to actively collaborate with other leaders and technical experts, via a technical reference group with the heavyweight researchers. I included the CTO, and the earlier researchers who had developed the earlier innovations. It was important to me to create backing and collaboration.
There was a preconception that I would be a flashy leader, but I’m really not. If there was a big presentation, I’d be there, but I would make sure that there were a lot of other people presenting too. It was symbolic and it showed that I had a fantastic team. It’s a strength. It shows that we can do fantastic things. We were a fantastic team.
#GETBlog: You managed explosive growth in a few very short years. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Ingrid: In one year, we recruited 300 people, so that by Dec 31, 2007 we had 300 more employees than the year before. By 2009, we were 900 people.
#GETBlog: How did you end up getting recruited for that role?
Ingrid: I was the System Manager for 3G base-station. I had worked at Ericsson since 1994. I had already been at Ericsson for twelve years.
I would never have dared to apply for the job. I was asked to apply for the job by the manager. I believe that this is necessary. You have to encourage people to apply for the higher jobs. I would have never believed that I had the skills to drive this.
#GETBlog: Perhaps more sponsorship – people from the Executive Management who go out and find people, and ask them to apply for Executive-level roles, is a key to more gender equality in executive level roles in tech.
Ingrid:I hope that in 20 years, it isn’t necessary, but right now, it is.