Alumni portrait: Michael Zöhner - A fast track leader


Michael Zöhner

At the age of 29 he got his first management position at Stibo Group's American subsidiary. His versatile CV includes big name companies such as Danfoss, Cheminova, LEGO and finally Arla Foods, where he at present time is CFO in the Consumer Nordic Division responsible for finances, strategic development and IT. At the same time he has made a family for him self, his wife and their two children.

Managing director at 29

"What matters in the US in managerial terms is the extend of white hair on your head", according to Michael Zöhner, who outlines the challenges he faced, when he became managing director of Stibo Group in Atlanta at the age of 29. "To manage in such a young age and in a culture very different from your own, where seniority and unilateralism are decisive factors, meant that I had to prove my self on a whole new level".

When asked to elaborate, Michael Zöhner said that it was very hard work and a huge challenge, but at the same time he would never have wanted to miss the opportunity to go to the US. "It helped me prove to myself that I could be left out on the open sea and still I would manage to swim back to the shore. It has definitely helped me to accelerate my career". However, Michael Zöhner admits that should he hire someone for the same job today, he would never pick a person, who was only 29 years old. Not that age determines skill but simply because of the high demands modern managers face today, which takes years to learn to cope with.  

From Stibo Group to Arla Foods

After having watched the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, Michael Zöhner decided to go back to Denmark, where he got a job at Andersen Consulting in Copenhagen. This change of career was a good thing for him, since there were common features between the Danish and American culture within this line of business. Both places you have to achieve and work hard. "The role as a consultant provided me with a toolbox to communicate strategies and solutions".

After a couple of years in Copenhagen, Michael Zöhner felt a desire to go back to Jylland closer to his family. However, he first went to England via his new job at LEGO. Through LEGO he experienced his first crises and shortfall, which was a challenge but also meant that there was less room for development in his job. "Then Arla approached me with their new business development programme, and I agreed to their offer and moved back to Aarhus and Denmark"

The way to the top hasn't been long and Michael Zöhner's fast track career indicates plenty of ambition and drive. "The higher up in the organisation you get, the harder it is to find new challenges", he says. Moreover he reckons that if you don't deliver results, then it will be very hard to move on to the next job.

Career and personal life

Michael Zöhner's wife has, just as himself, graduated from ASB as cand.merc. Today, she teaches at Business College in Kolding, which means that she has more spare time than him. "Where my strength is mainly used outside our home, my wife use hers inside". He elaborates and says that it's very important to find time for your family and states taht it's all about priorities. "At August we move to Stockholm for 8 Months. Partly to gain market insight, but also to recreate my self as a manager and a family man. And hopefully we will all be able to ski and ice-skate much better, when we return".

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