Iceland? The country has three puffins for every resident. People in Iceland are listed in the phone book by their first names, and they honestly think that gnomes live in the backyard bushes. Home to Vikings, volcanoes, glaciers and the 47th largest retailer in the world -- how is this possible?
Less than 20 years old, Iceland’s Baugur Group is already more profitable than US retail stalwarts like Nordstrom, Toys ‘R Us, and Saks Fifth Avenue. But, to the credit of the many major players it has surpassed, Baugur has never built anything from scratch. Rather, it acquires existing companies that have global expansion potential.
It’s no simple task, however, to merge the cultures, philosophies and management teams of two companies, as we observed in the ill-fated marriage of Sprint and Nextel. But apparently Baugur knows how to pull it off. A clue to how they do it successfully, I think, is found in the last words of their mission statement… "we provide our managers with unconditional support while demanding excellent performance in return."
This “unconditional support” philosophy is not something that any self-respecting Viking would embrace, but apparently it works well for today’s Icelandic retailers. For any managers who find themselves stepping into a leadership role with an existing operation, the management-by-support strategy is a nice trick to have up your managerial sleeve.