“I had traveled a lot in my youth and always dreamt of living in Asia. That’s when IKEA asked me if I could consider a role in New Delhi. This was in 2007 and it was my first stint in India,” says Susanne Pulverer, CEO and chief sustainability officer, IKEA India. Pulverer, who calls Malmo in Sweden her home, has spent 26 years with IKEA and has had 10 jobs during this journey.
This is the 63-year-old’s third stint in India and says, “I am very curious. Coming here from Europe I was facing a whole new culture and work culture. I had to understand how things work and when they don’t. There has been enormous development in India between 2007 and 2023 while at the same time the changes honour tradition and past and that’s beautiful. India has influenced me as a person. I was much more prepared when I returned to India for a third time.” Pulverer, who has worked in multiple geographies with IKEA, says India is an interesting challenge as every day is a new day here and anything can happen and that’s the charm about working here.
She has had plenty of mentors, many of them her managers, during her time at Ikea but her one absolute role model is her grandmother, a very strong woman. “My grandmother lived her life in a very upsetting way for many, she played cards with men and was the first hunter in her village in Austria. She is my role model. I have two elder sisters and was raised in a family where women are strong,” says Pulverer, who now lives in Bengaluru.
Pulverer, who holds a master’s in leadership and strategy from Lund University School of Economics and Management and enjoys yoga, speaks to Lounge about the importance of being aware of her strengths instead of working on weaknesses, why she started identifying top 3 priorities for the day during the pandemic, and how asking questions is her chosen mode of mentoring.
Who do you consider your mentor?
There have been several mentors who have guided me to navigate through every stage and role I have taken up at IKEA. Many of them are still working within IKEA today.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?
Instead of trying to work on improving my weaknesses, I understood the importance of becoming aware of my true strengths and building on them. It is passion and strength that drives a person forward in life; both professionally and personally.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
You can define mentorship in different ways. I try to use a coaching approach where I ask more questions than give answers. I believe a person develops more when the answers are found from within. I encourage myself to ask more open questions and carefully listen to not only what is being said but also to what is unsaid.
Describe your morning schedule.
I start the day with reflecting and being grateful for what I have. I ardently follow a morning exercise routine or yoga as it helps to calm and meditate my mind and body. I feel it’s important to keep myself healthy - mentally and physically. Before the start of the day, I fill myself with nutritious breakfast to keep my energy levels going throughout the day.
What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
During the pandemic, there were a lot of urgent things that needed to be taken care of and to keep myself focused, I started the practice of identifying the top 3 priorities for the day which I needed to address. This has really helped me streamline things and this practice is still relevant.
Any book or podcast recommendations about mentorship and workplace growth?
Sociocracy 3.0 by Jef Cumps. It is a hands-on methodology on how to become more effective as a leader, be more inclusive and make better decisions.
Any serious hobbies?
I absolutely love trekking. In India I have trekked around Rishikesh with my cousins who joined me from different parts of the world. We went on a 3-day trek, staying in tents next to the Ganga. It was a great and serene experience. I have also undertaken week-long cycling tours in several states of India. Cycling is a great way to explore.
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal life?
I take good care of myself and my health with daily physical exercise, nutritious food and quality sleep. Also, to find some time for calmness, I rely on yoga and find time to reflect. I normally assess what is more important to focus on for the biggest impact because every day is about prioritising. It is also important to find time to communicate with people around you as there is so much to learn from their experiences and expertise.
On the work front, I make notes on what to do so that I address and deliver before the day is over.
How would you describe IKEA in the Indian market?
IKEA is an affordable brand: it’s part of IKEA’s DNA and is core of the business model. The biggest indication of how Indian customers are curious about IKEA is our successful opening of multiple stores. In India, people are cost conscious and carefully consider where to spend. IKEA ensures that the customers receive high-quality products while keeping our price range as low as possible. The local sourcing initiative in India plays a significant part in maintaining low price, creating job opportunities and avoiding excessive transportation. For us affordability is a continuous journey, and we will be relentlessly working towards lowering our prices where we can be affordable for the many people.
What is IKEA India’s sustainability strategy?
Sustainability is a core value for IKEA and a passion I share. My first job at IKEA, 26 years back, was environmental manager. IKEA’s vision is to become a climate-positive business by 2030. We aim to integrate sustainability into everything we do as a business. For example, in Hyderabad, we have already achieved 65% of our deliveries through EVs (electric vehicles). Through sustainability activities, we hope to improve the quality of our customers’ daily lives. By 2025, we aim to run all our operations entirely on renewable energy. We have big goals in the area of climate but we are also working toward being more circular. Strive for zero waste, help IKEA achieve its goal of becoming circular and climate positive by 2030, and promote constructive social change. We aim that all of our products will be created from recyclable, renewable materials by 2030 at the latest.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor, and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness
Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.