Milestone CEO Lars Thinggaard on inspirational people and building his own compass

DENMARK – Milestone Systems’ President & CEO, Lars Thinggaard, sets his own course for good leadership. He is a leader who forges his own path. If he anticipates that the atmosphere during a management meeting might become a bit tense, he brings ‘scream pillows’. Then the participants can leave the meeting room and vent their emotions by screaming into the pillow. After that, the meeting can continue peacefully.

He has also built his own behaviour compass, used to assess his managers and give him an overview of the quality of management in the company. When it comes time for the managers to attend a leadership seminar, Thinggaard has been known to engage artists who can train the team in how to visually express their strategic views.

He is one of the few leaders in the Danish business community who likes the limelight and engages in public debates. This summer, he participated in the annual People’s Political Festival (Folkemoedet) in Denmark, appearing in a panel where he spoke about a subject near and dear to his heart: how to preserve the entrepreneurial spirit in your company, regardless of its size.

A move to Silicon Valley

In 2012, he started an independent, innovative unit in Silicon Valley, contributing to Milestone’s growth.

“I could see that we were on our way to becoming a large organization, where complexity can make it difficult to realize new ideas. We decided to act as our own disruptors by establishing a new development center in Silicon Valley, because we wanted to be close to the newest trends and technology. The unit got its own budget, and dedicated resources that were not available to anyone else in the organisation,” he said.

The next innovative leap

The center now employs 20 staff members and just received a capital injection by Milestone’s owner since 2014, Canon, and is expected to employ more than 100 people within a few years. The next big innovative leap is cloud services within video technology.

A quick call to Dick Fosbury

Thinggaard is very proactive, and when he wants to communicate his thoughts on leadership, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call the other side of the world.

“When I wanted to explain what it meant to be your own disrupter, I thought about the American high jumper Dick Fosbury, who won the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and became world-famous for his ‘Fosbury Flop’ technique. Dick’s trainer was really against him back then. He thought it couldn’t be done. People had always jumped forward over the bar. So, I gave Dick a call to tell us about the way he works. He is an engineer and runs his own business, so it made sense to use him as a model of what it means to raise the bar,” said Thimggaard.

He has also contacted former Danish prime minister Poul Schlüter, who served in several minority governments, to understand his view on how leaders can make difficult things happen.

“I interviewed him for four hours and left with two great pieces of advice: Always bring humour to the negotiation table and make sure that your counterpart leaves with something he can use,” said Thinggaard

Other role models on his list

Thinggaard has called many other people. When he hears something on the radio that captures his attention, he gives the person a call to find out more.

“Many are naturally surprised when I call, but I think it’s an effective way to find out something new,” he said.

The next in line to get a call is Yuri van Geest, co-author of the book ‘Exponential Organisations’. The book has made a huge impression on Thinggaard and he’s planning to meet him.

“On my list of people I would like to interview is one of the best tennis players of our time, Andre Agassi. He’s incredibly eccentric, but his biography is one of the best I’ve read. I wouldn’t mind interviewing him,” said Lars.

He is also a big fan of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose quotes he likes to simplify to use as a mantra for his management style.

“I often use the quote: To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily; not to dare is to lose oneself. Innovating is about taking chances. If you don’t, you risk losing yourself and your entire business. So, it’s part of my management philosophy,” said Thinggaard.

The compass works well

According to Lars, one of his greatest achievements is the development of Milestone Systems’ behavioural compass, which is used to assess the company’s management quality.

“My starting point is a compass because I enjoy sailing. It’s all about choosing a course, and about the needle that points in a particular direction,” said Lars.

Lars Thinggaard uses the compass to measure managers’ abilities within business acumen, passion, empathy, developing others and empowerment, which is the ability to influence your own future through self-control.

“Once a year, I reward the best leader in Milestone. The reward is an old-fashioned crate full of good, Danish beer, because we practice ‘beer crate speeches’ (where a speaker stands on top of the crate, speaking in front of an audience) to train our leaders in speaking to and engaging their audiences,” said Thinggaard

Several years ago, he bought Carlsberg’s stock of wooden beer crates, which can hold 50 bottles of beer each. The winner has to share the beer with his team and hold a speech while standing on top of the crate.

“When I first started this tradition, I didn’t anticipate that our winner would be in Australia. It cost me more than DKK 5,000 to ship the beers and the crate to Australia!” he laughed.

Excerpted and translated from the Danish article published in Børsen on August 10, 2017