To Lead and Be Led

Interview

Torsten Hvidt is a key figure in QVARTZ, a management consulting company, which distances itself from the hierarchical pyramid-like structures in the industry. On the contrary, he believes in a version of democracy, because the best colleagues want more than to just obey.

By Sven Johannesen / Photo Ricky John Molloy / Translation Camilla Lykke Trumble

“All these people are hired to keep track of the paper clips. This is the beginning of the end”.

At first, Torsten Hvidt wanted to be a fighter pilot, and then he did not really want anything. Today, he has a leading role in a consulting company with a flat structure and widely distributed influence. The colleague of the future does not want orders, only inspiration, he says.

When speaking, three things characterise Torsten Hvidt. He often pauses before answering, he swears a lot – and many English phrases are used comfortably amid his Danish. Maybe as a result of his upbringing in the US and the UK due to his father’s international career in the armed forces. Or maybe a work-related habit from his years in the ever growing consulting company QVARTZ, with offices in Scandinavia, New York and Hamburg – which, in part, owes its current strengths to Torsten Hvidt’s poor eyesight. Originally, he wanted to be a fighter pilot like his father, who was a test pilot on both the Draken and the F16 aircraft and who later became Danish Chief of Defence. “My father was my idol, and it influenced me enormously as a child that I went with him to work. I’m sure many people have become accountants because their father was an accountant. I wanted to be a pilot, because my father was a pilot. It was the only thing I desired to do,” says Torsten Hvidt, sitting at a mosaic meeting table at the QVARTZ headquarters, situated in the middle of Copenhagen’s Norrebro district.

“All these people are hired to keep track of the paper clips. This is the beginning of the end”.

“As a child I quite simply thought it was the airplanes that fascinated me. Later it dawned upon me that it was the team spirit I admired. Fighter pilots are an extreme elite. They learn how to fly at supersonic speed in pitch darkness with two metres between the tips of their respective wings. This requires that you are extremely skilled, but also that you have absolute trust in the skills of the person flying next to you. And those skills and that trust create a brotherhood, where the fact that one person has three and the other has two stripes on the shoulder doesn’t mean all that much when they meet in the Officers’ Mess on Friday afternoons. What you see there is that everyone tries to beat the others at the pool table and that everyone buys beer for each other. That’s what I wanted to be part of.”

Unfortunately, the cockpit slammed shut before it even opened for Torsten Hvidt. That happened in 1986, when he was in high school and was told that he needed glasses, which meant that he could not become a fighter pilot.

 

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