Årets Förändringsledare recognizes Einride CEO, Robert Falck, in the Mid-Sized Company category, presented in partnership by Boyden Global Executive Search and Interim Search.
"Dare to realize that others are wrong!"
An innovative industry, Robert Falck CEO of Einride has driven his company to great success and strong growth, earning the recognition of the Change Leader of the Year award, Medium-sized companies. With a mission to design and develop intelligent technologies for movement, Einride has change management integrated in its DNA. Robert as a leader is described as a warm culture bearer who spreads great enthusiasm and joy in his organization, alongside his dog who often accompanies him to the office.
In conversation with one of Sweden’s top journalists, Ulf Skarin, we took the opportunity to hear from Robert about his experiences and insights that led to the recognition of Change Leader of the Year.
Robert Falck is CEO and founder of the acclaimed technology company Einride, which offers electric and autonomous transport solutions. A company whose entire existence is based on a single clear goal in which he will never surrender until it is achieved: "Our whole idea behind starting the company is to drive change."
The business concept behind Swedish Einride is to develop solutions for digitalization, electrification and automation of freight transport. Specifically, Einride sell transports with electric fleets on multi-year contracts. The company works partly with hardware suppliers who manufacture the trucks based on their specifications where the company's own software is installed to get the full effect of electrification. Einride is also developing self-driving transport vehicles, "pods", which are managed by a remote driver remotely.
Started in 2016 by Robert Falck, Linnéa Kornhed and Filip Lilja, the startup has stirred great interest internationally from conception. This is because behind the business idea, there is a vision that can truly amaze and change the world.
Congratulations, how does it feel to receive this award?
"It felt a bit unexpected and surreal. All I do is in response to a deeply philosophical position of mine; my driving force in life is to do good and to do the right thing. And for me, in the end, it became almost a duty and a responsibility to do so by starting Einride. The most important thing is simply to fill my existence with meaning," says Robert Falck, who has a background from, among others, Volvo Trucks and Stanford University in Silicon Valley.
Today's transport system on the roads, which is based on fossil fuels, is not a sustainable future. Vehicles produced by Swedish industry have greater emissions than all of Sweden as a nation, according to Robert Falck. And global trucking alone currently accounts for close to 8 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions, with Einride setting the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1,000,000 kilograms.
Einride's vision is to fundamentally change today's transport system, where fossil fuels are replaced with electricity. And speaking of change, of course, it's a huge challenge to try to turn today's existing one upside down meaning profitable systems built up over many decades and dominated by powerful and global corporations.
"Fundamentally, it's about us challenging the prevailing power. We easily forget that we all depend on fossil fuels in our current system. Of course, sawing off the branch on which we all sit will not come without risks. But we must stop politically subsidizing fossil fuels as we do today and instead let the market drive a business-sustainable transition."
What reactions have you had since you started the company?
"There’s the negative: everything from ridicule and distrust to pure threats. Unfortunately, ridicule and incompetence are common. But there is lots of positive reactions and happy calls.” But today would probably have to sign off on it in terms of what the company has achieved so far. Last year, Einride attracted close to one billion kronor in venture capital from EQT, Ericsson, Northzone, Norrsken and financier George Soros, among others. This year they have continued to bring in even more investors and just a few months ago Einride signed a major order with logistics giant Maersk to electrify one million shipments over the next five years, which includes the delivery of 300 connected electric trucks, charging infrastructure and connectivity. An order that today is the world's largest in terms of electrification of heavy transport. "Our most important challenge right now is to grow and scale the business geographically, with the U.S. and Europe being our largest markets."
And what are your biggest challenges in your role as leader of Einride?
"It is most important to ensure people believe in themselves. For most, few people actually believe that they can really be involved and make a difference. It's about daring to realize that other people are wrong! They don't sit on a greater truth than the one you have yourself."
And how do you work concretely with that as a leader?
"Communication, visualizing, and daring to challenge. And it's also about daring to provoke your co-workers. Many people believe, and say, that they really want to be part of creating change. But it is far from everyone who can de facto cope with the personal journey that it entails", says Robert and takes today's management team meeting as an example where a large part of the discussion was just about daring to believe in what you are doing. It is also taking responsibility for creating that culture, both in society but also in the company Einride that they are involved in building.
Driving innovation – which characterizes Einride's entire existence – basically means daring to believe in one's own failure, according to Robert.
"You push and test a hypothesis and then verify that it works. Or doesn't work. And along the way, you have to realize that failure is a natural part of the whole innovation process, to dare to have that courage."
What is your best advice and insights when it comes to leading in change?
"You can never win over everyone. Therefore, you really need to know why you are doing something, knowing not everyone will share your image of what innovation and change look like. And you have to learn to live with that, to be okay with not everyone sharing your view of what needs to be done. My task as an entrepreneur is to visualize a possible future. Then it is up to society and the individual to choose to see the same image and contribute to that change. Or choose not to. My most important role as an entrepreneur is simply to sell a possible future. And then trust that the market, democracy and the individual then decide if this is really a good way forward."
As one of the world's very first companies striving to achieve what you do, does it feel lonely sometimes?
"Well, of course it's lonely. And the classic, fine distinction between being a genius or a fool really comes to a head when we try to accomplish what we want. If we succeed, we will change the world, but if we fail, we're just totally crazy. And somewhere, maybe the outcome of what we're doing might have more to do with luck than with the actual competence of me as an entrepreneur," Robert muses, taking automotive innovator Henry Ford as a telling example. All the failed companies Ford created before the first production car is a fact that is rarely known. "But all his failures along the way are at the same time a testament to his dedication to solving the task. Which also means that you have to learn to live with the risk of failure, in fact, it's rather the norm in what you're trying to accomplish. Often I feel a greater closeness to an artist or a philosopher, rather than a businessman. The most important thing lies in the work you do, rather than the result thereof. Even if we as a company would not succeed on a business level, our idea of radically changing the view of our transport system will still live on. And the most important thing is that this change happens, not that we succeed as a company."
About Årets Förändringsledare / Change Leader of the Year Awards
Presented in partnership by Boyden Global Executive Search and Interim Search, Årets Förändringsledare / The Change Leader of the Year Award recognizes business leaders who, in times of change, have led their team and operations in an inspiring and successful way. The award also reflects the company’s positive impact on society. This is the seventh year that the Change Leader of the Year Award has been presented.
The Change Leader of the Year – Mid-Sized Company is the second of three categories to be awarded. As in previous years, the awards are presented across the following categories: Large Companies, Medium-sized Companies, with one category reflecting a unique theme for the year. This year, we present the Agile Leadership category.