From Manager to Entrepreneur: My Journey at Schneider Electric

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How to apply people management knowledge from a big corporation to run your startup

My name is Rikard Westerlund, and I am co-founder and CEO of the startup company HelloLilly and Schneider Electric alum! Working nine years for Schneider Electric in different positions helped me gain experience and expertise in people management that I have used running my startup company for over a year.

Rikard Westerlund, CEO of HelloLilly and former Schneider Electric manager, delivering a presentation on stage about people management strategies.

Negotiate and focus on ROI

I started my journey at Schneider 10 years ago as a sales representative, in the department that focuses on energy and sustainability services. My primary responsibilities were working with real estate companies and finding solutions that would help them decrease energy consumption in their facilities and have a positive return on investment costs. This role enabled me to understand customers’ needs and upskill my negotiation skills.

Since sustainability solutions rarely bring short-term profit, you need to show how these long-term initiatives will bring significant returns on investment. As a CEO of HelloLilly, I often speak and negotiate with different clients and vendors and always use what I learned in Schneider.

Find common ground

Schneider Electric has a lot of different products and solutions, it works with different markets and channels, and sometimes it doesn’t feel very easy to navigate within. Still, it could also be an excellent opportunity to learn how to find and leverage common points in things that don’t look like they have anything in common.

And that is what I was doing as Business Development Director where my main goal was to find synergies between different segments and see how we could create an offer that would benefit them all. I encountered many clients with different needs and problems, and by looking for commonalities, I could provide a single solution that would help all parties involved. This approach saved time and ensured that all clients were satisfied with the results.

It is a great skill that helps me now in HelloLilly to communicate with different customers, especially those who don’t even think that our service is something they need. Still, I can always pinpoint our common interests and benefits and show that our offer will be perfect for them.

Changes are good

Another thing that I have learned in that role is that changes are inevitable, and if something has been working for the past ten years, it does not mean it will work in the future. Thus, to grow the business, we needed to reorganize teams’ structures or see if new skills were required to drive some activities, and I realized that for development, it is essential to be flexible and agile. This has been especially important in the fast-paced environment of a startup, where pivoting and adapting to new challenges is necessary. Adapting and adjusting plans as needed is a crucial skill that requires creativity and a willingness to try fresh approaches. With practical adaptability skills, startups can pivot quickly and efficiently, making necessary adjustments to keep business moving forward.

Strategic planning

Working in different departments, in various roles, with many great people, I have learned a lot about another valuable skill – strategic planning and the importance of developing a clear roadmap to success. While at Schneider Electric, I worked on various projects that required careful planning and execution. I learned how to set goals, identify potential roadblocks, and create a plan that would lead us toward success. It required collaboration with different departments to ensure everyone was on the same page and working toward a common goal.

When I left the company to work with HelloLilly, I realized the importance of strategic planning more than ever. As an entrepreneur, I needed to create a clear path, which required me to develop a solid business plan. I could use the skills I gained before, everything from financial projections to marketing strategies.

Be a leader, not a manager

Working for Schneider Electric in different roles and being part of different training and learning sessions, I gained experience in being a good leader and the subtleties of people management. I want to stress being a leader, not a manager. Leaders effectively work with the team and motivate others to achieve their goals, which is crucial in building a successful startup.

Even though sometimes it may seem that, for a startup, hard skills are the most critical to gain, leadership and people management skills are equally or even more crucial. I often refer to the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, meaning your strategic planning and roadmap to success will have a true impact only when employee engagement is strong. The success or failure of a startup often depends on the leadership abilities and people management skills of its founders and key personnel. Leadership skills include communicating clearly and effectively, people management and resolving conflicts, and making difficult decisions when needed. Effective leadership allows a startup to build a positive culture that fosters innovation, productivity, and creativity.

New chapter

Now being CEO of HelloLilly, a company that helps unemployed people in Sweden develop and match their skills with what the market is looking for and find a perfect job, I realize that everything I previously learned is paying out. When I co-founded HelloLilly, I thought it would require only some percentage of my resources, but since the company was growing, it was clear that all of my time and knowledge would be needed to help it strive. And here I am, co-founder and CEO of a company that has grown from 4 co-founders to a team of 39 employees helping unemployed people all around Sweden, and we are for sure planning to climb new mountains.

Are you interested in a career at Schneider Electric like Rikard? Check out our website for more information and for available positions to take your career journey to the next level. www.se.com/careers

About the Author

Rikard Westerlund is CEO of HelloLilly and Schneider Electric Alum, after working at Schneider 2013 – 2022.

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