It was 1991, and Christian Souabe was not feeling satisfied. He was working as an export manager for a company on time-consuming projects with solutions that were hard to sell and was looking for products that would sell faster. The distributor at the company he worked for had expanded into the Netherlands, and he and Christian had started discussing strategies. The distributor said that he knew someone who was just starting a company that might be interesting.
“The distributor introduced me to this seven-month-old company, which consisted of four employees at the time – Axelent. I met with Helge Axelsson, Johan’s dad, and Folke Axelsson, Stefan’s dad, and we signed an agreement between my employer at the time and Axelent for France, Spain and England”. The company that Christian worked at started selling Axelent’s products. It was going pretty well, but after two years, in 1993, the Ministry of Finance devalued the Swedish krona causing prices to rise. That led to problems with sales.
“I had given my word to Folke that I would do everything in my power to build sales of their products. But the company I worked for decided that they would start manufacturing similar products themselves. So I decided to leave that company”.
Christian, who was 26 at the time, started his own company. But after just three or four months, he got a call from Folke who said: “Christian, you were right. They copied our products and now we have lost all of our distributors around the world – in France, Spain and England. Is there anything you can do? Are you interested in the product in France?”.
“I immediately said yes and also convinced the distributor in Spain not to go with the competitor’s products and to continue with Axelent instead. It was the same for England. So I became an agent for Axelent. That was 1994, and we have been working together ever since”.
“We have participated in product development seminars, presented ideas and market analyses. In 1994, we had the notion that the market was moving towards machinery safety”. Axelent did not have any products in that segment at the time, the first came in 1996. It was very exciting to be a part of developing that. A lot of the competitors back then were local forgeries, they were making super strong poles and panels. Easyguard, Axelent’s first product in the segment, was very lightweight. Since then, the entire range has become lightweight, but Easyguard was really at the forefront. Christian’s team got involved in product development; they generated ideas and pushed the management forward.
The biggest professional challenge for Christian over the years has been striving towards and achieving growth. Since 2000, Axelent in France has increased its sales from 1.8 million Euro to 10.5 million Euro and, thanks to its hard work, now holds a market-leading position.
“In 2008, we overtook our biggest competitor, and we have been the leading player in the market ever since. It is a challenge to find the energy, year after year, to maintain that position. And finding niche markets. We need to listen carefully to every potential customer and have a broad product range to offer the end customer. We have really had to learn what you need to do when you are the market leader and how to achieve increased growth”, says Christian. Every year, they set new goals and try to figure out what tools they will need to get there.
Christian says they have now designated an employee as the Happyness Manager, responsible for ensuring everyone is happy in the workplace, so that they can have more open lines of communication with the employees.
“When people leave the company, you have to hire new employees, find a strategy for the future and the resources to keep everyone motivated. As the company grows, you face a difficult challenge – how to preserve the soul of the company while implementing new ideas and taking new paths forward”. The company is much bigger now than it was 15 years ago, and the workforce has changed, he says. There is a bigger age gap and people have been with us for a long time.
“We have a core group of four or five people who have worked together for 20 years or longer. Within this core group, we have shared happiness and grief, loved ones have passed away, children have been born, people have married… We know so much about each other. Others have been here for six months and don’t have such a long history here.
How do you sync with them? We want to improve communication, listen to people’s expectations and wishes. The younger generation cares about more than just salary – they want to take ownership of projects and play a role in the company’s path forward”. In considering the events that have stood out the most over the years, Christian mentions the first time he met Folke and was introduced to Axelent, when Christian’s distribution was merged with Axelent in 1999 and the launch of X-Guard. “On a personal level, I was really affected when Folke died. Folke was a tremendous humanist, gave very good advice and encouraged people. He was my mentor and we had tremendous respect for one another”.
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