Call of Duty

From the battlefield to the boardroom.
Gabor TaroczyOctober 6, 2008

It is often said that business is war. If so, a stint in the armed forces should benefit senior executives.

This may be one of the reasons that Vattenfall recently recruited Dag Andresen as its new CFO. Andresen joined the Swedish utility last month, following seven years at banking group Nordea. When announcing his appointment, Vattenfall stressed that his credentials include a high-level officer degree from the Royal Norwegian Air Force Academy.

Other CFOs with military backgrounds include Linda Huber, finance chief of ratings agency Moody’s, but also a trained pilot who earned the rank of captain in the US Army and Robert McBride, the recently retired CFO of Dublin-based IT company IONA, who was also in the US Army as an infantry officer. Among chief execs, Vittorio Colao, the new CEO of mobile operator Vodafone, is a reserve officer with Italy’s military police.

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Vattenfall’s Andresen emphasises two key skills he picked up from his military training that come in handy today. First is an ability to think fast under pressure and a strong “moral compass.” In battle manoeuvres, Andresen gained experience making split-second decisions in stressful situations, while adjusting his leadership style to suit particular problems. “If you haven’t been trained and tested, and you encounter a similar situation in the commercial world, you don’t know how you will react,” he says. “Someone who has been through this many times has the potential to make better decisions.”

Another benefit of military training, Andresen says, is the internalisation of the “highest ethical and moral standards.” So perhaps it’s not too surprising that he has ended up at Vattenfall, a company planning to invest €4 billion by 2016 in clean energy sources, and is committed to halving its carbon emissions by 2030 (from 1990 levels) despite boosting energy production. “This is the only direction we can go,” Andresen says.

More generally, the CFO notes that military officers are drilled to accept responsibility for the directions they give, “not only on the day you make them, but also when the consequences occur.” As executive tenures continue to shrink, such long-term thinking is in increasingly short supply.