Concordium CEO Lone Fønss Schrøder discusses the path that led her to blockchain, and shares her tips for encouraging a healthy company culture.
Concordium is an industry-grade blockchain solution that plans to offer the world’s first blockchain network with a protocol-level identity mechanism. In February 2019, the start-up appointed Lone Fønss Schrøder as its CEO.
With 22 years under her belt working at logistics giant Maersk in several senior management positions, a background in aviation and financial services, an ongoing role as vice-chair of Volvo’s board of directors and a seat on the board of Ikea, it’s safe to say that Fønss Schrøder has quite the resumé.
As she settles into her new role in Concordium and prepares for a busy year ahead, we spoke to her about how her previous work experience led her to blockchain, why it’s essential to offer employees a healthy work-life balance and how she feels about the transition from being senior vice-president of a huge corporation like Maersk to taking on the role of CEO at a start-up.
‘I did not see many other women working as CEOs when I was 28 and I still don’t see them now in the industries I have worked in’
– LONE FØNSS SCHRØDER
You’re no stranger to working in fintech. Is this what led you to blockchain?
As you know, I’ve taken the voyage from big, systemic financial institutions like Credit Suisse, so I see it as a natural continuation for me to also understand an element of the cutting-edge technology that’s not only appropriate for financial institutions, but also for other industrial uses.
I think Concordium is addressing a segment that I don’t see any other blockchain addressing. We have recently hired a new CTO, Torben Pryds Pedersen, who has experience as Cryptomathic’s head of R&D. I think you can really move together with some of the most talented people in the world in this field.
Can you tell me about some of your plans for Concordium?
We will soon deliver our very first beta and, hopefully next year, we will be able to deliver the first version of our Concordium blockchain. I think it is revolutionary. It will meet all regulatory concerns and also be a blockchain you could gravitate to if you want to build your business cases on a blockchain which is secure and truly immutable. It also has the features to be sufficiently scalable. I’m really looking forward to building and showing the first use cases for our blockchain.
How beneficial has your experience with companies like Maersk, Volvo and Ikea been to you in this role?
I think my experience with these companies has given me a good understanding of how to create corporations that have to deliver. I was with Maersk and watched it scale from being a relatively small company to being the leader in logistics on the seas. With financial institutions, I gained a deep understanding of regulatory requirements and how you build that into both your customer delivery and your product. I think I’m very well positioned for this!
In Concordium, we have a deep science rooting with our own research centre at Aarhus University. We have some of the best cryptographic scientists in the world, who made Concordium out of their white papers and converted them into coding with our own internal science team. We also work in close cooperation with the technical university ETH in Zürich as well.
You first took on the role of CEO when you were 28, working in the aviation industry. How does that compare to being a CEO today?
Well, I did not see many other women working as CEOs back then and I still don’t see them now in the industries I have worked in. I think if you had asked me when I was 18 how I would have expected things to change, I would have probably not realised how much the pattern from then would still be the case today.
I think we still don’t see enough women in the tech field and certainly not in blockchain. I think we have one female scientist at Concordium and we are about to employ another. Then we have some women doing their PhDs that are working with us. Apart from that, it’s really male-dominated.
How do you think this can be changed?
I think we have to create environments without stereotyped ideas of women and we need to create environments that are inclusive of women. You need to equip yourself with teams that have good values. That’s something that every man and woman should focus on.
Your work is so important – it’s so many hours per day and you take all of your concerns and all of your happy moments back home. You should be very aware that it influences your personal life and your relationship with your spouse and your children.
There also should be more consideration for parents with careers. If you have a family life, you can’t sit with your nose in the computer 24 hours a day. On the other hand, it can be very demanding at peak periods when you’re doing not only blockchain, but working in any start-up company. It’s extremely demanding. I don’t think it’s much different in sectors like investment banking or financial institutions.
Companies need to understand how to get the best out of people. As an individual, a person needs to be aware of things like how their brain works best when they are regularly exercising. These are some of the things that we discuss on our team and try to emphasise. If you have time to get your eight hours of sleep and you have time to exercise, you deliver so much more.
I’m a role model for that. I have raised five children and I have been able to do that and work hard and get my career in order. I’m still involved in lots of sports each day. I couldn’t stand up if I wasn’t doing it.
You have done plenty of work for both large corporations and start-ups. Do you prefer working in one or the other?
I prefer working with professional companies. That could be both start-ups and large corporations. I think, for me, I want to work with first-class professionals. With globalisation, there’s competition coming from all over the world and I don’t think a company doing what we are doing or what we are set to do can be successful if we don’t aim to have a world-class team.
For me, it doesn’t really matter what size it is. I have started with a sketch on paper many times before and I can work just as well in start-ups as I can in a huge corporation like Ikea, which has nearly 200,000 employees. It all depends on what your attitude to professionalism is.
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