So there I was in Aarhus, Denmark. Touched down in the smallest of planes, and after the shortest of flights, you could forgive me for thinking I’d been short-changed on this travel expedition. For usual flight durations, I’m used to racking up double digit hours that leave me a little cranky with a stiff neck. Not this time. And the amazement continued when as I added the time it took me to leave the airplane, to walk through security and to get into my taxi outside, I would have been even too quick for a kettle to boil. 2 minutes of walking over the shortest of distances. It was like leaving the bedroom and walking out into the garden. Incredible. It really makes you wonder what other international airports are up to with all their layers of complications and lack of ease and simplicity. Nonetheless, I was here in Denmark and here is where this new chapter of international experiences, cultural insight and economic and commercial understanding began.
So, let’s paint a quick picture on Denmark.
Well it’s 2011. The Viking imperialism is now over. The Norse Gods are kicking about but you won’t see them up on masts on rather fierce longboats anymore. The country still owns Greenland. The Faroe Islands. Danish words still remain in the English language, especially in place names across the North. They have the oldest state flag in the world that is still in use today. They have the oldest monarchy in European history. In other words, Denmark has been about. It’s richly engrained in history, and now as I take you through a journey to its current state of affairs, we’ll see what it offers and boasts in the business world today.
Denmark today boasts a lean and mean population of 5.5 million people and covers a relatively small land mass (compared to other financial powers in Europe), but don’t be mistaken. As a nation, Denmark punches well above it weight in lots of ways in commerce, welfare and strength. The industries you’d most resonate with its leading entrepreneurial growth are in design, in architecture, in IT, in farming, in pharmaceuticals, and most notably, in green technology.
It was when I was in Aarhus – the second biggest city of Denmark (but still relatively small by most European cities comparison with around 300,000 inhabitants) – where I learned what Denmark was all about. Friendly, laid-back, and considered but high in integrity when it came to business. Education runs right through the country as 96% of young people go into secondary education and 47 % a tertiary one. Professionalism runs right through the nation and a humble and understated pride runs right through its people. Bank accounts smile daily with what is, essentially, a very affluent state.
In my time here, I met a teacher, a teaching assistant, a student, a health worker, a marketer and they were all significantly better off than the average equivalent in Britain would earn. An interesting piece of insight, I thought.
While I was here, I was introduced to one of the city’s entrepreneurs and local socialite – Philip Eskildsen. He owns a restaurant, a nightclub, and a distribution company. He believes Denmark is a safe and unique place to do business because its people are largely trustworthy, its corporations are fair, and selling to the big dogs and the small independents is always done justly. It’s how he was able to do well here. He believes nepotism, unlike many European nations, is unheard of. So I checked out what he said, and remarkably, there is some ironclad proof of this. Facts show that bribery and corruption is virtually unknown in Denmark, and it always tops the international transparency index. Add this to the “flexicurity” model that the country introduced (which is a high flexibility initiative in hiring and firing practices which allows companies to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year due with no restrictions) you can see why this land makes a great haven for overseas businesses to migrate to Danish soil. The fact four out of five Danes speak English too just makes this too good to be true for international businesses.
So my journey continued, and it wasn’t long before the dainty and peaceful Aarhus was respectfully left for a trip to the bustling and more populated Copenhagen – Denmark’s flagship capital city. A city that would consume most of the country’s other cities in a mouthful, and its near 2 million metropolitan population is around two fifths of the entire country’s people put together. The airport was a stark difference to that of Aarhus’ tiny delightful fragment of a landmark, but remarkable all the same. While there, I learned that Copenhagen airport has the extraordinary achievement of being the most efficient airport in Europe. It’s also the main hub in the Nordic and Baltic region with 57 operating airlines serving altogether 132 destinations and handling approximately 380,000 tons of airfreight each year. Not bad for a so-called minnow European airport. What’s uncanny, is as effective as Aarhus airport was with passenger footfall, Copenhagen airport has an equally admirable feat as it has the shortest goods transit times of all European airports. For me, there’s just something about this country, where everyone from its people, its smaller businesses, its bigger corporations, all the way to the country’s window to the world – its airport – they just love to raise the bar with efficiency and technology that really puts a mockery to those in the world that bathe in complicated, disorganised stagnant affairs and accept that to be the way it is.
Before my trip came to an end, I bumped into an inspiring woman in a coffee shop who revealed proud story after proud story of how Denmark is a leader in how it treats its people and its welcomed immigrants. She had an esteemed history as a business consultant and had travelled the world for decades, and she believed Denmark’s internal system of education, business, welfare, health and social behaviours was something to behold. I couldn’t disagree with what I’d experienced, it has to be said.
Knowing one third of the global wind market is controlled by Denmark and the first nation to exploit second generation biofuels on a commercial basis kind of has you thinking that this nation must be pretty special.
A personal learning favourite of mine has to be the fact that Denmark wins happiest nation of the world year on year. This country not only impresses in commerce but its people are a bunch of cheerful folk too. Something about that just really makes me smile (no pun intended).
Finally, if you speak to any Danish person, they’ll pride themselves on their humility, their desire to educate themselves, grow and do good, and to make a difference to the world around. It’s a society that has built up an admirable infrastructure and society, and the nation is proving that you no longer need an army or an empire to take a world lead. They are doing it by working smart, effectively, creatively and through leverage – with technology and efficiency – and showing us all how it can be done. This I believe is something we can all take heed from as we go down our own paths of entrepreneurship today. With a small team you can lead from the front with a smart, efficient and game-changing approach.
P.s. This article was first featured in Entrepreneur Country’s November Magazine with Austin Healey headlining the publication. I’m fortunate to have been asked to be a thought-leader for the organisation. If you haven’t heard of Julie Meyer’s (of Ariadne Capital) latest entrepreneur focused publication, then get involved. Michael Tinmouth is the exceptionally organised and charming editor. Their online magic lies here.