Case study 652 | Social Science 414 PART 3 • MANAGING INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS C L O S I N G C A S E IKEA’S TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADER Pernille Spiers-Lopez grew up in a small town in Denmark. After finishing college she worked as a journalist for a short time, but she found that profession to be unsatisfying. Her next move was to relocate to the United States and open a business importing Danish furniture. Unfortunately, that venture failed. She then took a minimum wage job selling furniture in Florida. Through hard work and determination within two years Spiers-Lopez was su- pervising 24 stores. The regional furniture company where she was working was then purchased by IKEA in 1993. She quickly advanced through the management ranks at IKEA, where she was the only woman on the company’s North American board. A 1997 businesswomen’s leadership conference led her to reassess her priorities and her role at IKEA. In response, she chose to alter her career path and moved into human resource management. She subsequently became the U.S. director of human resources; one of her first actions was to implement programs to recruit more minority and female man- agers. Today, half of the firm’s 75 top earners are female. Five women now serve on the management board. She also increased pay and benefits throughout the firm, especially for the lowest- paid employees. Today, thanks in large part to Spiers-Lopez, IKEA offers one of the most generous benefits packages for full- time and part-time workers in the retailing sector. And along the way she was promoted to the position of President of IKEA North America. Yet it was a very personal, frightening experience that led to the most dramatic change. Spiers-Lopez is a working mother whose husband is a public school principal. As her IKEA ca- reer developed, the couple chose not to uproot the family. Instead, Spiers-Lopez commuted home several times each week from distant worksites. In 1999, Spiers-Lopez was work- ing long hours and commuting frequently. Her competitive, Type A personality caused her to push herself harder and harder without regard to the consequences. One night as she left work she experienced tremendous pain in the chest and arms. Rushing to the emergency room, convinced she was hav- ing a heart attack, Spiers-Lopez found the problem instead was exhaustion and stress. She decided she wanted to continue working but with more limits. “I’d been in denial for some time about my own strength. I’d been emotionally numb, ignored things and moved ahead, and put my family on automatic pilot,” Spiers- Lopez says. “Now I’ve acted on that wake-up signal and am working on balancing life and work.” One of her coping mechanisms was a reduction in working hours so that she could relax with family. She says, “For years I’ve struggled with questions of whether I’m a good mother, a good friend, and a good wife. ... [Now] I avoid business travel on weekends, try to keep regular hours at work and leave the job at the office.” Her coworkers help, too. “We have meetings, and they know if they don’t say, ‘Let’s take a break,’ they won’t get a break. So they say, ‘Pernille, in order to help you, we’re going to all take a break.’” A perfectionist, she struggles to keep from be- ing overwhelmed but adds, “I am continuing to learn how to ‘wing’ things.” Her career and personal life have both flourished as a result of better balance. Her personal experiences with balancing career and family have affected her choices as a manager. She is a strong advocate for telecommuting, alternative work arrangements, and job shar- ing. IKEA’S policy of generous leave for new or adoptive moth- ers and fathers was designed by Spiers-Lopez. The organization has also flourished under Spiers-Lopez’s leadership. The number of American stores has doubled and sales are the fastest growing of all the IKEA regions. The combination of hard-driving competition and a culture that values people has resulted in an organization that is both CHAPTER 15 • LEADERSHIP AND EMPLOYEE BEHAVIOR IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS 415 supportive of its workers and profitable. Author Andy Meisler calls it “high-yield humanism.” Spiers-Lopez admits that it is not easy for her to walk the line between challenge and nurture. “I want things done quickly,” she says. “But in big organiza- tions you have to be careful not to move too many things too quickly. Elevators have to stop at every floor.” Case Questions 1. Can you speculate about the personality traits that per- sonify Pernille Spiers-Lopez? Answer: 2. Describe the role that motivation has played in the choices made by Pernille Spiers-Lopez in her career. Answer: 3. Discuss how her experiences with stress may have been impacted by international issues. Answer: 4. Describe Pernille Spiers-Lopez’s approach to leadership at IKEA. Answer: Sources: “The Ikea concept,” IKEA website, www.ikea.com on May 16, 2008; Joseph Roth, “Unique training program key to timing for recruitment,” IKEA press release, April 24, 2007, www.ikea.com on May 16, 2008; Andy Meisler, “Success, Scandinavian style,” Workforce Management, August 2004, pp. 26–32; “Pernille Spiers-Lopez has designs for IKEA,” WomensBiz.US, June 2005, www. womensbiz.us on May 16, 2008.
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