Barnevik on Decisiveness

Percy Barnevik

My first CEO was hardcore. And it was awesome.

In 1994, I left the U.S. Navy to work for the global engineering company, ABB, as a design engineer. Our CEO at the time was the legendary, hard-charging Swede, Percy Barnevik. In 1988, Percy created ABB by pulling off the largest European merger at the time, bringing together two engineering powerhouses, ASEA and Brown Boveri Ltd.

In his 17 years as CEO, 8 with ASEA and 9 with ABB, the company increased its stock value 87 times, an average of 30% per year, and became a leading global player.

What I loved about Barnevik was his bias towards action. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way.

I learned a lot from his leadership style and it affects how I lead today.

How about you? Are there leaders in your past that affect how you lead today? Did you work for Barnevik during those early years? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comment section below.

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11 thoughts on “Barnevik on Decisiveness

  1. Hi Jon,
    Nice to read about Percy Barnevik and your experience with ABB.

    Percy was and still is a great inspiration for me. I was fortunate to use one of ABBs internal mergers as case study for my Masters thesis and interviewed a great number of skilled managers at all levels both in Sweden and Germany. It was a challenging but most of all an exciting journey! I believe this work shaped me early and has since given me insights along the way of my choices of assignments and companies until now.

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  2. I joined ABB in 2001 when Percy was retiring as chairman and the company was about to go through an acid bath ‘near death’ experience. I left ABB in 2015 and barring a few incidents, it was the best period of my career – so far! Percy’s legacy – and the admiration he attracted from people who had worked closely with him – was always very evident

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  3. Hi Jon ,
    Indeed a great article on leadership best practice on Percy Barnevik . He is one of my role models on leadership in the industrial B2B business domain , during my 5 year stint at ABB from 1993 onwards when the combined merged entity of ABB was in the phase on establishing itself after the 1988 merger of ASEA and BBC.
    During one of Percy’s sessions at ABB-Bangalore in India @ 1994/1995 – I must add one unique attribute of Percy .
    Those days we had manual slides to be presented by OHP – he used to have a stack of slides on both left and right sides of the OHP and used to do the presentation using both his left and right hands – one slide after another ( alternatively left and right) – just like a well oiled machine!!
    This was efficiency& effectiveness at its best while his gaze remains fixed at the audience and with no interruptions in his flow of thoughts .
    I found this attribute – amazing in this great leader .
    Should we ambidextrous multi-skill leadership attribute ?

    Have a great day ahead

    Sandeep

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  4. Hello Jon,

    I agree completely with Percy´s approach towards decision making process, decisiveness is crucial. A company that takes 7 decisions, out of the ones three were wrong will be four steps ahead of competition, not just because of four right decisions, but also because the learning and lessons capitalized out of the three wrong ones
    Jorge

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    • I remember “Think Global, Act Global.” I also remember he believed in keeping the business units small and agile. Decisions were were made low in the organization. It was a fun time in ABB.

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  5. Pingback: Trust and Speed: Lessons from Percy Barnevik | Jon S Rennie

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