Annemarie Gardshol

CEO at PostNord Strålfors

At first glance, Annemarie doesn’t fit the category of your ordinary 20-something ski bum. However, at the age of 45, she pulled out a few months of her calendar to hit the slopes full-time in Chamonix. Annemarie conquered the mountains – despite suffering from a fear of heights. Annemarie has spent close to 5 years in PostNord and lastly PostNord Strålfors. Before that, she was in a completely different industry for 12 years, namely medical devices, and prior to that in management consulting. In addition to this, Annemarie’s CV counts being a Swedish, Nordic and European champion in ultimate frisbee. She was on the Swedish national team for several years, and came in at no. 2 in the world – twice.


Postnord Strålfors

Dodging the Kodak moment

The opportunities of the digital age go hand in hand with its threats. Renowned corporations such as Kodak, Blockbuster and Nokia missed their opportunities and saw the core of their businesses become irrelevant before their very eyes. The ones adapting are the ones surviving. But how do you avoid becoming a rerun of the Blockbuster story and remain adaptive, not only through the digital upheaval we are living in now, but also in the coming eras?

“One of my predecessors at Strålfors said, ‘change is in our DNA’, and we are still sort of capitalising on that message”.

Having physical communication across the Nordics as their core business, this has certainly been a relevant question for PostNord Strålfors to consider. “Our core business, if you look at where our primary revenue is coming from, is physical communication. However, this market is declining rapidly. On a Nordic level, roughly by 10% per year. In some markets, like Denmark, up to 20% per year”, explains Annemarie Gardshol, CEO of PostNord Strålfors. This sounds rather worrying, but fortunately, the communication market as a whole is actually growing. Digital communication is claiming ground, more channels are added and communication takes up increasing space in the mobile sphere. “All in all, we are in a growing market both in terms of the amount of communication, but also in terms of the number of communication channels. Even though our core business today is declining by 10% from a market point of view, we have been able to keep our decline at maybe 5%, meaning that we actually gain market share. And we are growing on digital business by double digits, and our profits even more. So all in all, we are in a growing market with a good profit potential, and we need to shift more into the digital part by going omni-channel while continuing to take out costs in the physical part of the business”, Annemarie reflects.

Eight centuries of history

PostNord is the result of a historical merger between the Danish national postal service, Post Danmark, and the Swedish national postal service, Posten, which have a combined history of almost 800 years, according to PostNord’s homepage. The new company emerged as PostNord, with a revenue of about SEK 40 billion and 35,000 employees across the Nordics. With digitalisation swiftly making old-fashioned “snail mail” a thing of the past – alongside paper-based advertisements and the like – PostNord focuses heavily on building momentum by developing the basis for tomorrow’s communication and logistics. PostNord Strålfors – with its primary focus on senders with very high transactional volumes, e.g. banks, telcos and utilities – is an important brick within the PostNord organisation. It is a strong operator in the field of communication, but with quite a few challenges tapping its shoulder, as the company today functions as a kind of digitalisation engine in the Group.

Striking the balance

“I have always been drawn to situations where there is an interesting strategic challenge to work on; an interesting change agenda”, says Annemarie. As such, she has indeed hit the bull’s-eye with her position in PostNord Strålfors. Annemarie manages to juggle the delicate situation of adapting the very backbone of PostNord Strålfors’ business to the declining print volumes – while implementing and building a new basis for omni-channel growth. One could call this hitting the ground running, but according to Annemarie, PostNord Strålfors has always been their customers’ communication engine; it’s simply the ways and means of communication that are changing. “We help our clients to communicate with their customers by managing the output, you can say. Meaning that we put together and distribute the communication for them. We can print it and get it distributed, and we can also put it into a digital format and distribute it into the digital channel that is most relevant for their customers”, says Annemarie. “Since we are already very well-positioned with our customers when it comes to managing their output, we have been able to capitalise on that strategic position and simply just add additional communication channels and the necessary logic to manage all the channels based on the individual receivers’ needs and preferences. This puts us in a very good position with our existing customers to help them go into omni-channel and digital communication. We call it Smarter Communication”, she explains.

Change is in our DNA

For Annemarie and her leadership team, it is a top priority to get everybody on board the journey towards a digital future. Since the company was founded back in 1919, PostNord Strålfors has been on a journey of change, always in phase with the technological development. According to Annemarie, the key success factor for the company is the fact that they have constantly adapted to their surroundings and been able to successfully transfer their customers through the technological shifts: “One of my predecessors at Strålfors said, ‘change is in our DNA’, and we are still sort of capitalising on that message”. She admits, however, that the technological change, going from punch cards to graphic production, is measured in baby steps compared to fully boarding the ship of digital production.

To support this transformation, Annemarie has replaced 60% of the leadership team of PostNord Strålfors. “It is sad to see people leave, but it is also good to get fresh perspectives in. And I think that for many parts of this organisation, it has been a fresh injection, new energy, new perspectives and new types of leadership”, she describes. In addition to this, PostNord Strålfors has simplified its organisational structure to create a leaner and clearer structure in terms of responsibility. A thorough preparation for new and unknown ground ahead.

PostNord Strålfors develops and offers communication solutions to companies with large numbers of customers. PostNord Strålfors’ core competence is the ability to manage large volumes of variable data and distribute it to the right person, in the right channel, at the right time.

The company Strålfors started out as a printing works in the Swedish town of Ljungby in 1919. In 1956, the same year that Strålfors started to manufacture punch cards for computers, the company laid the foundation for PostNord Strålfors’ current business concept.

Through a partnership with SOS Children’s Villages, PostNord Strålfors works to improve children’s education in Bouar, Central African Republic.

Last man standing

Even though PostNord Strålfors embraces digital solutions, it is still very much dependent on its physical offerings. “70% of our employees today are working in the physical print part and they need to feel relevant, because they are very relevant. We want to be the last man standing on physical print in the Nordics, and this gives everybody in the organisation something to fight for. As long as there is a customer buying a form of physical communication, what we do in this area is very relevant”, declares Annemarie.

However, the numbers from the recent years of decline can’t cover the fact that the future is, to a large extent, digital. “In the future, I would really like for our customers to see us not as a physical company that maybe knows a little bit about digital, but instead as a digital company that maybe knows a little bit about physical. And that they [the customers] are teaming up with us because we help them to be successful in their communication by either increasing their sales, building stronger customer loyalty, finding new customers or simply helping them become more efficient”.

Changing the wheels while driving

With the ambition to stay in the game of physical offers until the final whistle blows, cutting costs out of PostNord Strålfors’ physical structure is very much on Annemarie’s agenda. “We know that once the volume decline really takes off, it moves very, very fast, and our business is a volume business, meaning that we have a lot of fixed costs. So we just need to be at the forefront on that change”, says Annemarie. In regard to PostNord Strålfors’ transformation, Annemarie offers an analogy: “We are sort of changing the wheels on the car while driving it at full speed”. She continues: “We know where we are going and we know how to do it. The key is to do this together with the customers, and with the right people. You have to be very curious, very open, you have to be very agile – and you have to be prepared to revise your hypothesis as you gain more insight. You have to be brave, and you just have to be hardworking”.