Per Holmstrom’s Final Bow
2020 marks 41 years at Scania for Per Holmstrom, where he has spent a better part of his life with no regrets. Scania has been his first and only employer since he joined the company in 1979 after completing his undergraduate studies, and the time has come for him to ‘hang up his boots’ as he prepares to walk proudly into retirement.
Per vividly remembers that when he completed his studies, all he wanted to do was get a job and begin the next chapter of his life in the corporate world. His search began and led him to sending out countless of applications to various organizations and little did he know that the company that he had always admired as a young boy was in the horizon. “I have always felt that my connection with Scania was destined. As a young boy, I was very fascinated with machines and in particular excavators and every time I got on the train and passed the Scania headquarters, seeing the trucks parked outside got me excited,” Per looks back. His passion for the automotive industry stuck with him over the years and most of his summer jobs in his teenage years were to no surprise, around vehicles.
Fast forward to 1979 when Scania came knocking at his door, throwing him into the deep end with a job offer and his first assignment in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq. Excited for the new opportunity, Per did not hesitate and packed his bags and off he went to a country he had never imagined of working in, and this assignment began his long relationship with markets in the Middle East and Asia. “My plan was to stay at Scania for two to three years after the Iraq assignment, but here I am 41 years later,” he jokes. Every new assignment felt like a new job for Per and the opportunity for new challenges has kept him at the company all these years.
The Overseas Expert
Leaving Baghdad, Per returned to Sodertalje, Sweden where he gained an all-round experience at the factory working in different departments to acquaint himself with the various aspects of the business. A citizen of the world who can speak Spanish fluently, he also worked in Tanzania as the Managing Director in 1990 for five years and in Peru for six years. “I was considered the ‘overseas expert’ because I never shied away from volunteering for assignments to countries where people were not always willing to go to in those days. I was always ready for the next adventure waiting to see which part of the world I would find myself in,” Per explains.
In 2013, an opportunity to setup a fully owned Scania distributorship in East Africa presented itself and Per was up for the challenge. His assignment was to lay a solid foundation for the company by establishing processes and structures according to the Scania global standards of operating an efficient distributorship, and implementing the values of Scania such as integrity, sustainability and customer first in the region, and to establish the East Africa business unit. In March 2014, Scania East Africa was officially launched, and the hard work began. “There was a lot of groundwork that needed to be done in setting up a solid foundation for the company and it had to be done in gradual phases. I had a 2020 vision for the company when I came to Kenya, and that was for us to be as good as the other Scania distributors outside Europe, to be an efficient company and to establish a thriving business unit,” he highlights.
During his tenure as Managing Director at Scania East Africa, Per has turned around the mindset that was previously there that only focused on selling the product, to having a mindset where we offer the customers holistic and wholesome solutions. Offering the customers added value goes a long way and the company has achieved this by having a product that is fuel efficient and after-sales services such as the Scania Fleet Management system, service contracts, financing, driver training and coaching, roadside assistance, in maximizing the uptime of the customers’ vehicles’ and their business returns. “We want our customers to focus on running their businesses as we do what we are good at, which is maintaining the vehicles for them, creating a win-win solution for us all,” Per emphasizes. Taking this into consideration, Per takes his final bow having spearheaded and initiated the construction of the company’s new facility that will better serve customers through increased working capacity, enhanced digital capacity and an enhanced service offering.
“I am also proud that we took the initiative of taking to factory the idea of tailoring a bus range specifically for this region that incorporates various elements of Scania engineering, giving us a widened bus product range with buses that have modern front end engines, retarders, opticruise, disc brakes, air suspension and so much more,” a delighted Per shares.
Additionally, Per is pleased to have created an environment for personal development where staff can develop their skills and knowledge in their different functions. “We have such talented, ambitious, dedicated and hardworking individuals here in East Africa, and it has been my goal to show head office of the immense talent in Africa by sending our staff members on trainings and apprenticeships to other Scania business units and the head office. It is my hope that this will carry on after my exit and more opportunities abroad are taken up by the team here,” he adds on. Per is also proud to see the growth of the team in East Africa as individuals, and how they have developed in their roles taking up more responsibilities and challenges. “It has been a pleasure working here in East Africa with individuals with such remarkable potential, who day-in and day-out put in effort towards achieving the goals of the company,” he adds on.
Furthermore, Per has been passionate about developing leadership amongst staff by exposing the team to leadership trainings to further develop their skills in communication, managing conflicts, team work and delegation. “We are all leaders in our different positions, whether at the workshop, the accounts department or out in the field, you don’t have to have the title to be a leader. We all have the capability of positively influencing those around us in creating a thriving work environment and society. These leadership skills need to be honed, and the trainings are some of the activities that the company will continue offering staff as part of their career and personal development,” he explains.
We Keep Moving Despite The Challenges
Per’s eight years in Kenya have also come with a set of challenges that have rocked the boat a couple of times and have redirected the business in opposite directions. Two elections, the introduction of the SGR and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, have given Per a couple of sleepless nights, but because of having an able and capable team, the business has learnt to adapt and make it through the storms. “We have come a long way despite the instability, rash decisions by the government, the uncertainty which makes it difficult to plan and the lack of inclusion of stakeholders when government directives are issued. We have learnt to adapt and improve on our offering to cushion the business during such difficult times,” Per explains.
Despite the challenges, the opportunities for growth in the transport industry in East Africa are vast with the continued growth of the population, increasing the demand for the transportation of goods and passengers. “As a company, our vision is to drive the shift towards sustainable transport and I hope that soon we shall be having vehicles running on alternative fuels on the Kenyan roads because it is possible for us to start with even vehicles that run on biogas produced from waste which we are not short of, to run our public transport. It is also a step in the right direction that we have a date for the adoption of the Euro 4 emission standards in the country, however for Scania, we shall be offering our customers vehicles with a Euro 5 engine, Per adds on.
It has been quite the ride for Per at Scania, and as the journey comes to an end, the memories of his last 6 years in Kenya will forever have a special place in his heart. “Kenya is such a beautiful country and will always be in my heart. I have had the opportunity of travelling to many countries, and I must say that I have had some of my best vacations here. The game parks never cease to amaze me and that is why I made it a tradition that whenever I hosted guests from abroad, I would take them to the Masai Mara to experience the beauty of the parks,” Per explains excitedly.
Per leaves behind a functional company, a structure that works, integrity and sustainability rooted in the company, a good product and service offering in place, a broad service network across East Africa, and the construction of the company’s new state of the art facility. “I will remain as a board member at SEAL, but for now, I look forward to exploring more of Europe, golfing at some of the world’s most beautiful golf courses, cycling and enjoying some good food and wine with my wife,” Per concludes.