Aker BioMarine takes a high fourth place on this year’s list of Norway’s most innovative companies by Innovasjonsmagasinet.
In 2017, Aker BioMarine took home the title as Norway’s most innovative company. In 2018, Aker BioMarine was named Europe’s most innovative company after a year-long journey in the continent’s biggest and most prestigious business competition, the European Business Awards.
For us, innovation is a high priority and something that requires dedication every day. These innovation awards are a recognition of our people who work constantly towards improving and innovating how and what we do at our company. We talked to our CEO Matts Johansen who walked us through how to stay focused on innovation and continuous improvement.
Matts, what is innovation to Aker BioMarine?
Well, you could say ‘everything’ and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration, as without innovation, our business wouldn’t exist. Let’s not forget that before us, no one was able to turn krill harvesting into a viable commercial operation. We were able to do that by looking at krill and krill harvesting in a different way, and now, ten years plus, we have a global business.
Innovation is key and always will be, it is at the heart of everything we do. Whether it is developing new technology, like Eco-Harvesting that minimizes bycatch, our biorefinery technology, Flexitech, or the tailor-made equipment onboard our vessels.
Business innovations, like our supply chain and sustainability work, or the constant advances we have made with regards to the applications for krill. They are all showcase, blockbuster innovations if you will, but innovation can also just be a small tweak. It doesn’t have to be a whole new product or system, a little tweak can have a positive impact, making things go smoother, faster, or better.
What drives your company's innovation?
The thing that enables us to continue to innovate and continue to evolve this business is the diverse range of engaged colleagues we have in Aker BioMarine. We know that engaged and passionate employees generate more ideas. 83 percent of our employees say that their job is their passion and not just a job.
From the experienced, Norwegian career fisherman in key positions on all our vessels, to the unflappable factory team in Houston, the PhDs in Research and Development, all the way to the razor-focused people we have working with business development and sales. We have a unique and incredible team. Such a huge variety of different people from different nationalities and age groups, with diverse life experiences and ways of viewing the world, bring so much value, energy and insight to our company.
Because of them we don’t have just one way of looking at a problem, we are able to look at it from all the angles. One notable example is the idea for our game-changing Eco-Harvesting system, which didn’t come top down from our operations team, or a third-party technology company. It came from members of our Saga Sea krill-harvesting vessel wondering out loud if there was a better, more sustainable way to harvest krill and eliminate by-catch. They cobbled together a rough prototype and Eco-Harvesting was born. From there we put together a multi-disciplinary project team to continue to work and refine it, while seeing if it was viable. The rest is history
How do you create a working environment which encourages such innovation?
For me, trust and transparency, enabling decision making close to operations is key to creating a setting where innovation can thrive.
The first part of that is making sure we have a clearly defined purpose and that everyone knows what the priorities for the company are, so all our employees know what’s important. With clarity on direction it is easy for our employees to know that their ideas are relevant and benefit the business, it sounds obvious, but it is often overlooked. That is a small part.
The second, and more important part, is that everyone needs to know what exactly is going on in the company and who is doing what, because innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. I think this is very important. If we’re going to continue to innovate, people need to know each other, who is working on what and what everyone has going on, then you can quickly navigate in the system and quickly speak to the right person
So how do you keep everyone at Aker BioMarine up to speed on the company's direction and specific departments to work?
To foster such an environment, where everyone knows who’s doing what and why, we have established a department for Transformation enabling the organization to shape the future of the company. It is important for me to get up during our monthly ONE meetings to talk about what is going on. But it is equally important that the teams also get up and they talk about what they’re working on, so we can connect people through that. So, we have the breakfast club meetings where we all share topics and the various teams talk about their work and we also actively use Facebook at work (Workplace) where everyone can share information from the fishermen in the Southern Ocean to the sales team in Shanghai. But still, in my own experience, you cannot communicate enough, and at a company like Aker BioMarine, we communicate a lot. It is one of the bigger challenges, but it is also incredibly important. Learn to over-communicate. As the CEO I spend a lot of time on that, just talking about the things that we do.
Along with the openness when it comes to dialogue and information sharing in the company, developing a genuine corporate culture, driven by clear aims, seems to be a very big focus.
It is, our culture plays a key role in constantly encouraging us to be open to developing new ideas and looking for new ways of working. Take our Heartbeats statements, which are everywhere in the office, ‘think outside of the ordinary´ on the coffee cup there, ‘dare to go big’ on my notebook, and ‘be transparent’ on the table, to name just a few. These motivational statements and ideas, they are part of our culture. But you need to continue to work hard to foster that culture, to encourage people. It is fine to plaster slogans everywhere, but you need to back them up with action. For example, we are actively focusing on one of our Heartbeats, which directly relates to innovation, ‘thinking outside of the ordinary’. That means that we have replaced 10 percent of all the coffee mugs in the office with special red coffee cups. If you are lucky enough to be the one with that cup, you have an obligation to think through what you are doing while drinking your coffee; does this make sense? Could we do this in a smarter way? In addition, in meetings the red cup holder is the one who has to challenge, the one who has to raise the bar, so to speak.
Also, I asked all our employees to give me tips on how they think outside the ordinary, I received more than 100 tips. These tips are now inside fortune cookies at our meeting rooms, so if you are searching for inspiration or are having a lull moment, you can take a fortune cookie and you will get a tip or a bit of advice!