Klas Forsström

President of Sandvik Machining Solutions

Klas is a family man who loves to spend time with his wife and four children. Furthermore, he is an avid reader who has a track record of approximately 100 books a year. Even more surprising, Klas is a passionate carpenter and has built numerous pieces of the furniture in his home in collaboration with one of his daughters.

You can have it all

It’s a common belief that you cannot have growth, innovation and efficiency at the same time. You need to choose which to go for. Klas Forsström, President of Sandvik Machining Solutions, is however of the firm conviction that you can have it all – and his team at Sandvik Machining Solutions is living proof. “Our people have proven in the last few years that we have been able to grow, and at the same time, we have been able to control our spending. This is an effort made by everyone and it’s very impressive. And I have had the luxury and the privilege to lead them in that,” says Klas. Founded in 1862 and with 42,000 employees in 150 countries, the Sandvik Group certainly has both a size and legacy to its name. Still, Sandvik's three business divisions, of which Machining Solutions is one, all maintain an agility, a strong DNA and a close relationship to their customers – and there is plenty of both growth and innovation going on. Sandvik’s many engineers constantly push the boundaries of what can be done, in terms of technology and design and getting even closer to the customers. In the past 2-3 years, Sandvik Machining Solutions has improved profitability by 10-20% every year. Half of this comes from top line growth and the other half from operating in smarter ways, explains Klas. One key factor in Sandvik Machining Solutions’ ability to work smarter has been the acquisition of new competencies and new companies with the ability to widen the perspective and business scope.

“If you are very successful, you can be a little bit blindsided, because you believe that whatever you do now will also work in the future.”

Think like a soccer coach

“I remember a piece of advice I got 20 years ago about leadership,” says Klas. “Dare to employ people who complement you and dare to employ people who you would like to have as your boss.” The advice has always stayed with Klas, as has the drive to build the best team possible. ”If you can compose a team that consists of different personalities and different competencies, it’s easy to drive change and to use the differences to succeed.” Just like the coach of a national soccer team, says Klas, as a leader, you should not just stick to what you know, but dare to widen your horizon. “Even if I was the former coach of Barcelona, as the trainer of the national team, I would have to select members from other teams as well, and isn’t that what leadership is all about? To be able to complement and build a team based on different personalities and knowledge,” Klas asks rhetorically. In Sandvik Machining Solutions, a major learning in the past couple of years has indeed been that it’s sometimes necessary to make acquisitions, whether these involve new people, technology or other additions. As a strong player, explains Klas, this is, however, not always easy to accept. “What maintains the DNA of a company is the people,” says Klas. “What has brought us success today is the people who have been with us. But moving into the future, we need to have new ingredients. Going back to the soccer team, sometimes you need to have a faster player or a more aggressive player, because you need to change the way that you play.”

Don’t just sell the pen, sell the novel

Many years ago, Klas’ division was named Sandvik Tooling, and the shift to its current name, Sandvik Machining Solutions, cleverly illustrates the current course of the company. “Tooling, that is just a cutting tool, that is just hardware, while solutions are something wider,” explains Klas. Today, Sandvik Machining Solutions focuses not only on the specific products, but also to an increasing degree on the knowledge behind the product, which is what makes it successful. Klas uses the example of a pen to explain this broadened focus. “If we were a pen producer, we would not be selling pens, but the text that the pen is writing. We are now moving towards being able to sell not only what the pen is writing, but also to detach from the pen and sell the novel, the application or the knowledge.”

Sandvik Machining Solutions’ transition from being a world-leading player in a niche industry to a world-leading solutions provider for a wider manufacturing industry is motivated by the changes affecting the entire industry. To an increasing degree, the company experiences that customers are not only on the outlook for tooling systems, but for advice in other areas as well. New demands equal a need for new competencies, and Sandvik Machining Solutions has dived head-first into the new exciting possibilities brought on by the changing landscape. “We have to bring in new competencies and we have to challenge ourselves. If you are very successful, you can be a little bit blindsided, because you believe that whatever you do now will also work in the future,” says Klas. “It’s about change and it’s about daring to try new things and then to learn from them. I don’t believe that transitions come in one big leap. Rather, I believe that the big leap comes in the shape of many small, very fast steps,” he explains and continues, “the world is constantly changing and we need to change with it, but hopefully we will be one step ahead and absorb the change that is going on by attracting people who can lead that change.”

Engineers are old hats

Engineering is the art of designing and manufacturing complex products. It’s about finding solutions to difficult challenges; to think in new ways and move things forward. Quite exciting, one might think. Yet, there is a common prejudice about engineers and the companies they work at as being boring. Klas would know. With a smile and a slight head shake, he tells of when his children at times discuss future plans with their friends. Occasionally, Klas will join in the conversation to ask what they dream of becoming. “Not an engineer and not for a big company, that’s for sure. We want to work with innovation, design, interaction, business and future solutions,” they say. To this, Klas’ answer is always, “You’re describing the company that I’m working at”. “Generations of managers and employees ago, it was decided that first of all, we are not selling on price, but on customer value,” explains Klas. “We always try to do better tomorrow, whether it’s better products, better service or a better way of operating. It might sound harsh, but we are never really pleased. That is part of how you continually keep yourself successful. But we need the best minds and new generations to take part in our journey. So, we are faced with a communication challenge in conveying the message that we are a company characterized by innovation, design and future business solutions – indeed, it’s at the core of what we do.”

The Sandvik Group works in mining and rock excavation, metal-cutting and materials technology. The company was founded in Sweden in 1862 and now has 42,000 employees around the world and a revenue of SEK 100 billion in 2018.