By Lucija Kozina and David Sear
Hailing from a small Swedish town with significant industrial history called Huskvarna, but also having worked in many technical and commercial management roles all over the world, Joachim von Schéele is not only an expert on business-related matters but also people. Living and doing business in amongst others Asia, Eastern Europe and South America have delivered unique insights into the industry. However, it has also furnished a genuine and sincere appreciation of other peoples and cultures. For him, the most important thing is to have an open mind. A natural communicator, he indicates that finding out how different people “do things” is especially fascinating.
His openness with other cultures pays dividends in his career. For although Mr. von Schéele says he can be assigned to the category of metallurgists, fundamentally he works in sales so he would mostly call himself a networker. “My main task is to make connections with people. I would say I have a reasonable track record in doing that. I try to facilitate the process and not rush people. In different roles that I have found myself in I have tried to build trust and be mindful of cross-cultural aspects. I try to listen more than I talk but sometimes I have to remind myself about doing that, of course”, he jokes and comments further: “When you are doing B2B it is highly important to be customer-centric. I always strive to find real and tailored solutions for the client instead of simply saying ´oh, we have this beautiful solution for you´.”
Mr. von Schéele recalls his days at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, where many of the professors left quite an impression on him. He emphasizes the importance of understanding basic mechanisms and at the same time combining them with technology, the economy, the world, etc. “That is how you make a project. It is of utmost importance to have a very fundamental, “bottom-up approach” to things. That is something I received at the Institute and something I have been carrying with me all this time. We are there to help customers, we are the solutions providers to cure their pains. We are making sure that they achieve their KPIs, bonuses, etc. Understanding your customers is very important and for that you need to have both technical skills and social skills and an open mind. I try to surround myself with people that have a similar approach.”
For Mr. von Schéele, empathy is key. Situations where people feel comfortable need to be created. Even when dealing with a many multibillion-dollar company, attention must be paid to individual relationships.
The notion of cultures was mentioned by Mr. von Schéele several times during this interview. When asked if cultures are really that significant and if they truly diverge to such an extent, he made two observations: “Yes, cultures are very different. First of all, I think it was Peter Drucker who said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture means a lot and if you do not respect it and follow its path, it can be very tricky for you. Having said that, there will always be common ground which we can build on. I believe people are often focused on doing that, especially in Asia. For example, I would say that China is a very open society as is India.”
Prior to his post in Munich, Mr. von Schéele was based in Shanghai for five years and before that in Kolkata, also over a five-year period. “If I may say so, in Europe we can still be a bit Eurocentric and sometimes even condescending. There will always be differences between cultures which you need to be aware of but do not focus on them. Be respectful. Appreciate that things may run on a different timeframe in different cultures. Sometimes building a relationship requires patience, but once established it can be very solid for a long time as well.”
Green steel movement
Mr. von Schéele is, of course, highly engaged in the topic of green steel. According to him, green steel initiatives can be found world-wide, although some areas are more active than others. Asked for an example, Mr. von Schéele states that Asia, and particularly China, is a hotbed of activity. “The Chinese are implementing green projects throughout the steel and other industries. I think we can say that Chinese steel production will be stable. What helps of course is that they have access to appreciable quantities of scrap. In a recent publication I wrote that China would transition from being the biggest in grey to the biggest in green. I do believe that they will be the world´s major producer of “something green”, such as low carbon hydrogen that could also be used in steel production. They may not be spearheading this process but if you look at the numbers then I am confident that in future they will take the leading spot.”
One key factor in reaching targets for a green society is a sufficient clean power supply. Unfortunately, supply is limited. “People sometimes take energy for granted. They seem to think that green electrons are easily available. Scaling up clean electricity will take time, and once in place, we will have to discuss where they can best be used. Should we focus on the steel sector, or perhaps use for transportation in electric vehicles? I suggest we must look at this as a global journey and take advantage of the fact that we have different preconditions in different parts of the world. We should work together based on that.”
Cooperation is key
During our conversation, as well as in his article named “Impact of decarbonisation on the steel industry structure” in the April GSW issue, Mr. von Schéele touches upon the notion of cooperation saying that it is extremely important globally. He believes we need to work closely together in various ways in order to achieve common goals.
For example, when it comes to realizing a big project, avoiding sub-optimization is vital. “Companies should not try to ´grab´ the whole thing, that would be counterproductive. Therefore, finding partners for these larger projects is imperative. I think we will see a lot of that in the future Competition is, of course, inevitable, however, the emphasis will be on cooperation.”
Importance of being realistic
To all intents and purposes, Mr. von Schéele has been championing the green steel industry for more than 25 years. In his early career, for example, he helped to increase energy efficiency which is the absolute first step in achieving the goals regarding green steel production. Today, thanks to his passion for, and understanding of, the steel industry, companies and organizations regularly turn to Mr. von Schéele for advice. And that advice is always honest, for he believes that we should be realistic. “There will be places where things are moving faster but I think the current timeline predictions for green steel are rather aspirational. I hope we encounter success in time, but it will be hard. The number of things that need to be in place, the regulatory permits, the legal framework, the electricity supply, etc. The green steel transition is a complex thing. I believe parties must work together to streamline the entire process and make space for new developments.”
Future of energy transition
Mr. von Schéele jokes that whilst his concern about creating a sustainable society does not keep him awake at nights it certainly keeps him awake during daytime. Nevertheless, he is confident that we are on the right road. “I see so many committed people involved, I feel the positive energy to achieve our goals plus I am aware of the many steps that have been taken. Companies have developed good technical solutions so we do know what to do – at least for the first steps. As to the future, well we do need to expand green power, for example. And it will happen. I do not see any obstacles that we cannot overcome. We must do this in a balanced way, taking into account that all peoples of the world have the right to improve their standard of living. We cannot sit in Europe and cast judgement on the aspirations of people who live elsewhere. Everyone deserves a decent way of life so we must cooperate and help each other in a positive way.”
He concludes by confirming that having a positive but realistic attitude is important. “It is not good enough to be enthusiastic about things. Passion is wonderful but at the end of the day we need perseverance and stamina to make things happen.”