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Learnings on leadership development from trip to China

“Why on earth would you want to bring a group of 22 trainees to China for three weeks!?” is a question that some people asked me when they saw the outline of the trainee program. My answer was that it is important for our future leaders to get to know our growth markets, the biggest investment ever made by Stora Enso as well as to develop a better understanding for CSR issues. Well, now we have done it, and I can tell you, there are more reasons to do it than I could ever have imagined!

The trainees spent one week in Shanghai with IMD learning about how to do business in China. After the week in Shanghai, they continued the journey to Beihai to work on four CSR projects that were selected by Phil Berry, Sustainability Director of the Guangxi Integrate.

What I saw as the biggest benefits in terms of developing future leaders was the following:

The need to understand corporate social responsibility is no longer a topic for a CSR expert; it is a skill that every global leader needs to have. I claim that there is no better way to learn than being exposed to the issues early on in the career in a real business context. As one of the trainees said: “The experience in Beihai helps me deal with the news from Pakistan, as I assume it is no less complex than Beihai”

Dealing with cultural differences is instrumental for our success in the new markets. If there is one thing I will remember from this trip, it is the respect this group had in front of the cultural differences, the point in time when you understand how little you know about a culture. Again, so important for us while exploring new markets.

 Picture: Different perspectives...



Decision making in uncertain environment and unambiguous information. Björn Thelin, our trainee in Stockholm, wrote a fantastic blog about what this experience taught him when it comes to decision making as a leader. I cannot put it any better, so I recommend you take a look at his blog here


Short term international projects can work as means to increase mobility and therefore make more of our people ready for leadership positions. We should be braver in using our own resources to solve problems. Only after these two weeks several trainees approached me with interest to work in Beihai.


Working on business relevant projects, together with local teams, multiplies the impact of a leadership development program far beyond its participants. “There is more in this for me than for you. I get access to a group of talented young people with enormous energy to deal with challenges I have. In addition this is a fantastic learning opportunity for my own team!” Phil’s comment opened my eyes to realize that it is not only the trainees benefiting from this journey, it is also their hosts.


As a closing remark I do have to say that it is a pure joy to see these young talents grow and learn throughout the program. I listened to their project presentations at the end of the two weeks in Beihai and felt pure pride in what they had achieved and how confident they were presenting it. We promised a unique learning opportunity and I truly believe we have been able to deliver one. I cannot wait to see some of these guys reach the top!


 Picture: Global trainees meet the local trainees