Why the Danes do business better than us

Australians and Danes share a larrikin spirit. Søren Lynggaard, CEO of Scandinavia's leading fine jewellery brand, Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen, attributes his colourful English to his time as a jackaroo on a sheep property near Canberra when he was a teenager.

It was on the adventurous break from his high school classroom as a 17-year-old that he was soon mucking in and learning to swear like our farmhands. But, looking to his homeland on the other side of the world, it seems the Danish master the work-life balance in a way we could benefit from emulating.

The day before media interviews during his visit to Sydney to mark the Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen boutique's second birthday and the latest women's collection, Golden Forest, the Harley fan had been playing easy rider along the northern beaches on a BMW street racing bike. The coastal air sees him seated in the CBD shop in relaxed form.

The affable manager

It's telling to hear how Søren conducts himself with his team of 120 back in the Danish capital, people he warmly calls by their first names during our conversation, making it easy to appreciate how employees find it hard to leave the family fold.

Søren's father, Ole, started the company in 1963; appointed Purveyor to the Danish Royal Court, it is famed for its fine takes on natural motifs and layered, wearable jewellery. Ole is a goldsmith by training and collections are created by a more than 40-strong team of goldsmiths, several of who have been on the job for close to three decades.

My management style is people oriented. We all need each other to work as a unit.

Søren Lynggaard

Søren laughs: "10 years is not a big deal for us. 25 years? Then we have a huge party for you! We think that is special."

He continues: "We're more like an organism than an organisation."

Arriving at work each morning, Søren makes it a habit to move through the entire work space, checking in on the different departments. The flat organisation of the premises is an affront to hierarchical approaches. There is a staff canteen, where, yes, it's true, the whole building lunch together each day, on a menu quite some notches above the more typically industrialised Australian work tray fare.

"Eating together is a good way for everyone to understand what's going on in the company. It's like our intranet," explains Søren.


No power plays here

Søren, who became CEO in 2003, at 34, says he has always had strong people skills and a part-time job as a cab driver when he was a business studies student was a memorable eye-opener on to human nature and society. It was a levelling and revealing stream of all walks of life; sometimes it was the poorer customers who tipped the most generously, surprising him at first.

"My management style is people oriented. We all need each other to work as a unit," says Søren. "The person who handles our mail and distribution, and the lunch chef are as important as anyone in management. If the heart doesn't work, it doesn't matter if the brain is really good. Every part is necessary in the company and is very important."

And there are surprisingly few loggerhead dynamics in a business that sees his sister Charlotte as Creative Director and his father remaining involved with the design studio too. Rounding out the familial ties are Charlotte's husband, Michel Normann, who is the CCO and a member of the board, and Søren's wife, Hanna, who started in sales and marketing and now handles the role of Retail Manager.

Søren considers the set-up fairly democratic: "Politics are less of a concern than in other work places. There is a sense you are on the same page and have the same goals. Working with family, my ambition is not financial. It is about the brand, protecting our heritage and what is important to us." Remaining family owned and run seems paramount, with work and life integrated and little sense of where things begin and end.

The businessman believes the way he manages is informed by how his father encouraged his son growing up and in the business, and says Ole has been gracious in stepping back to let Charlotte and Søren make their marks: "He may not agree with my ideas sometimes but he says I am the one who needs to make the judgement or decision; to take the responsibility."

Few shortcuts to excellence

Søren, a father of four, aged from 10 months to 17, clearly has the ramparts for a happy and holistic corporate tenure in place while his Antipodean colleagues are still refining things.

But whatever the lag, there is one realm where both nationalities see eye to eye: design. It is not without foresight that of four flagship retail stores in the world, Sydney is the only standalone flagship outside Scandinavia.

"Australians enjoy the close ties to nature and very organic forms found in our design, whether it's furniture, lighting, or jewellery – and Danish craftsmanship."

Ole Lynggaard Copenhagen bolsters these Danish artistic traditions with the unique skills of a very international workshop comprised of more than 20 nationalities.

Søren's favourite piece from the new collection is the Leaf ring, which takes its inspiration from a leaf motif that featured in a modern crown of precious flower buds and branches that required more than 400 workshop hours. The Midnight Tiara is a creation that Crown Princess Mary of Denmark has exclusive rights to borrow and has used for special family occasions such as her mother-in-law, Queen Margrethe II's 70th birthday in 2010.

The Leaf ring features a satinised, etched surface that originates in an Italian technique from the 1920s. It makes the ring look very soft, almost fabric-like, but it's so time-consuming a process to achieve that few people use it these days because it's too expensive. The surface appears on the Snakes and Lotus collections as well.

"What I love about our jewellery is it impresses people when we give it to our retailers, especially if they are jewellers by training," says Søren. "In the last few years our jewellery has become more and more complex because the more complex we make it, the less it gets copied. So we are going in a different direction than where the rest of the jewellery industry is going, that is making things quickly. We really want the craftsmanship to stand out."

Favoured talismans

The jewellery executive's habit is to put on the same piece of jewellery every day, and his smart casual suit is accessorised with his Snakes Spot On bracelet with black diamonds and cufflinks.

"I have my staples I always wear. I think the snake bracelet is very masculine. And it has many positive values for many cultures such as being a good luck symbol."

The Spot On bracelet is a typical example of Charlotte and Ole's design philosophy: to give the wearer versatility to mix and match, and ultimately personalise, their jewellery with different pendants, chains, necklaces or add-ons.

Søren's own interchangeable piece is more than suited to a professional so well-practiced at shifting between life spheres with ease. He might not exactly be an adrenalin junkie – he says driving a Harley is a lot more relaxing than the rather more dangerous street racing bike trail of the weekend, but he clearly likes to be on the move and expressing his work drive and energy.

Kitesurfing is another hobby, whether at home, Tenerife, or even Mollymook. And of course, there's that humour; Soren can't help but tease: "All Danes always love Australians – I hope it's the other way around, but I can't say for sure!"