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Vikings (Danish) Lessons

I will never forget the day when I was “officially” named a Viking by my friend and CEO of Pharma Medico Group, company that I work, while we were back from the signing of our first distribution agreement in Brazil.

We had as witness our lawyer, also from Denmark, and the taxi driver, who did not appear to be understanding the grandeur of the moment. I must admit this happened after a certain insistence from me and everything was a joke, but the double challenge of the work itself and the cultural difference involved was very real.

To contextualize a little, the Vikings are the famous warriors who dominated and haunted the world by the 10th century. They were mainly from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, also known as Scandinavian countries. Although famous for their cruelty in battle, they were a highly evolved people, with their own system of laws, a broad opening for trade, an organized society of free men and with no taxes. In the "Vikings" series itself, from History Channel's and available on Netflix, it is possible to note the organization of the society and perhaps a little of the principles they already had as a people (though there are many betrayals and twists in the series to keep the narrative story).

Of course I used the word Viking by the mystic behind it, but the 5 lessons I prepared in this list were experienced during the more than 5 years that I work on a Danish company with global presence and a business model with people doing their work in each key region.

1st Lesson – Focus: keep the focus is the big mantra at Pharma Medico and it guides all the way we do business. Instead of putting our efforts in various business opportunities and lines of products, we work focused on what we have best, with no rush to take the next step. Thus, we can work in a structured way and according to the plan, pursuing the maximum result in each business, project and/or product. This focused mindset makes the work and the decision-making much simples, besides making easier to say no when necessary.

2nd Lesson – Objectivity Communication: the extreme Danish objectivity demonstrates a cultural difference among our people. They are very direct and firm in their positionings, with a different form of communication from ours. In Brazil, we have a certain awe to say something stronger and offend people, trying to soften delicate matters. This becomes quite clear in the professional relationship and sometimes I confess I pressed the “send” bottom in some e-mails knowing that would make certain thunder. They can seem to be too firms, even rude in our perception; while we can seem to be too “good” and even weak in their perspective.

In my opinion, the lesson here is to find a balance between the objectiveness and good relationship. Having a firm positioning is important and truing to keep cordiality is also good.

3rd Lesson – Punctuality with Commitments: in Denmark is extremely inelegant to be more than 5 minutes late for an appointment. When I asked if people would arrive much earlier to make sure they were not late, the answer was: “it is extremely inelegant to be more than 5 minutes earlier for an appointment”. This is also valid for commitment with deadlines. In case they gave you a deadline for something and notice they won’t fulfill it, they communicate informing the reason and giving a new date. In Brazil we are more tolerant for these delays and non-compliance with deadlines, but for them this is considered a lack of respect.

4th Lesson – Design Culture: the design culture is very strong in Denmark and on the major country’s symbols. For them, design is not only connected to beauty and bold lines, but also for functionality and practicality. This national heritage is in everything and not only on the world-famous furniture, toys, clothes and many other objects. Everything corporate that we do also has this characteristic. I remember well how surprise I was when I saw for the first time our transport documents (such as Invoice and Packing-List) and could notice how extremely clean and easy to read they were. This ends up being a “small detail” that makes a big difference.

5th Lesson – Family Comes First: leaving the best for last, perhaps the best lesson we can learn from the Vikings / Scandinavian is that family always comes first, as well as the life and work balance. The most memorable example I can share was when my boss, the company’s CEO, cancelled an important meeting we had to go check his son who had been hurt at school. Next day he explained that family always comes first and made clear that this goes for everyone, in all occasions. Perhaps this may sound weird for companies with “paid time to work” mentality, but this policy is certainly obvious for a company that considers the results that the person generates with his work and the positive effect on productivity when one is happy with life and close to family. I could write a whole article with countless cases that this was applied, but this one set the tone!

Being able to live other cultures and see the differences is certainly the high point of working with international business. Many times is not easy to adapt, but is always compensating!

In case you have your own experiences with Viking, Danish and/or other culture, please feel free to share in the comments.


Henrique Malina – Presidente da Comissão de Indústria Farmacêutica do IBREI, CEO Brasil da Pharma Medico Group


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