“It’s important to have a humble approach”
Ulrika Thureson has landed. Her work has taken her all over the world. She has lived in India, China and Italy and she has come into close contact with widely differing cultures, ways of life and values. This has given her the kind of knowledge and experience it is impossible to acquire simply from reading but which is invaluable when you work for a global enterprise and have the whole world as your sphere of operations.
After more than 10 years abroad, Ulrika has settled in Mölnlycke just outside Gothenburg. She did this four years ago. Her friends and family are in Gothenburg, which was also the location of an exciting challenge at the Volvo Merchandise Corporation (VMC). The VMC supplies merchandise to the entire Volvo Group and has 16 co-workers in Sweden, four in the USA and one in Russia. So what is merchandise and where does it fit in at the Volvo Group?
“Merchandise comprises products designed to strengthen our relationship with our customers and, at the same time, build the brand and attract attention. It can include everything from individual products, like keyrings, caps and jackets, to complete collections of products that are developed in conjunction with a product launch,” explains Ulrika Thureson.
“With merchandise as a tool, it’s possible to strengthen the relationship with clearly defined target groups in a totally different way than you can with standard marketing. The VMC makes sure that the products communicate our brands in the right way and, at the same time, clearly convey the Volvo Group’s beliefs and core values. To succeed, we are involved at every step along the way. Our work covers everything from concept and design to distribution and handling claims. It’s incredibly exciting!
“The challenge is to spread the brand globally. To succeed, you need to know what the brand represents, what you want to communicate and, at the same time, understand what the market likes. It’s a question of striking the right balance between being global and understanding, as things differ enormously from one country to the next.”
This is where Ulrika’s long experience of doing business in other countries comes into its own.
“Our largest market at present is Europe and we are working hard to develop operations in the USA. At the same time, a great deal is happening in Asia; the Chinese market is screaming for merchandise. It really is a great feeling to be part of all this!” says Ulrika enthusiastically.
Before she joined the Volvo Group, Ulrika was involved in purchasing and production-related issues at H&M (a global clothing company). Surely the fashion industry and the automotive industry have very little in common, however?
“More than you might think, in actual fact. Regardless of the product, it’s always important that the end product matches the expectations and requirements that are imposed during the development process,” says Ulrika.
Finding suppliers in different parts of the world and making sure they match the Volvo Group’s rigorous requirements is an important part of her work. A new supplier must comply with all the demands the Volvo Group imposes on its suppliers. Ulrika collates her findings and produces a score, after which she can decide whether or not Volvo Merchandise is able to do business with the new supplier. The evaluation includes a number of “red lights”, factors it is important to take into account. They are essential areas such as issues related to the working environment, forms of employment, environmental care, contracts with other suppliers and corruption.
“We now have a really good supplier base which is approved in accordance with the Volvo Group’s standards, but it goes without saying that we are constantly on the look-out for new suppliers. We are price conscious, but we never deviate from the demands the Group imposes on its suppliers. One positive trend compared with the situation 10 years ago is that the markets we are working with are far more enlightened when it comes to CSR-related issues. Many suppliers have their own programmes and some suppliers in China have started to impose their own demands on their suppliers in other countries.
“CSR really is one of the cornerstones of our work, but, here in the industrialised countries, I think that we are often a little too quick to judge other countries. A large part of the world doesn’t have access to the same knowledge and resources as us, so we have a great deal to teach them and learn from. As I see it, this is an incredibly important aspect and I would like everyone to work on being more understanding and adopting a humble approach when it comes to differences in the world. In the long term, everyone stands to gain from this,” says Ulrika Thureson.