Learn from Corporate #Innovation Executive Lena Danielsson at The Absolut Company

We are delighted to share yet another interview with an inspiring leader embracing innovation in a new and increasingly digital world. We will understand more of the personal journey and get access to some of the insight collected over many years. Our next leader is Lena Danielsson.  Lena is the Director of Innovation and New Ventures at The Absolut Company, which is part of Pernod Ricard Group. Pernod Ricard Group is a French-headquartered company with 18.000 employees, global operations and brands providing distilled beverages and related products.  You can get a flavour of the focus on innovation on the group introduction section at their global website in a video1 recorded by Alexandre Ricard, the CEO at Pernod Ricard, and the sharing in another video2 on their focus on innovation and experimentation in more than 150 projects across the group.

Lena is passionate about innovation opportunities and believes innovation of future opportunities needs to be identified, fenced, nurtured and monitored with different management and measurements than the traditional business operations.

Lena’s journey to become an Executive #Innovation Leader

So how did Lena come into the Executive position as Director of New Ventures and Innovation that she currently holds? Lena has a strong background in both expert and leadership positions researching customer wants and needs, as well as concept development, combined with working with both large corporates and start-up ventures. Listen to Lena’s introduction;

Lena shares insight from her background working as CEO of a major market research company and working with brands as Coca Cola, Kraft Food, Electrolux and Nokia on branding and innovation.
She is now at the Absolut company focusing most of her attention on the new ventures that are either creating new categories or bringing entirely new revenue streams.

There are several approaches to business renewal and innovation theory that would equal this with creating a new Blue Ocean, as referred in the INSEAD3 strategy method Blue Ocean Strategy4. The focus of the Blue Ocean Strategy is to build uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant.

In a global research by BCG 2016; “Corporate venturing shift gears5, we find that the strong innovators cast a wide net to capture innovation and explore many options.

increasingly digital world
increasingly digital world

The research identifies that the three most commonly used venturing tools are innovation labs, accelerators and incubators, and corporate venture capital.

The venturing tool running accelerators and incubators together with partners are currently growing fastest.

Trends and organizing Innovation work

Lena and her organization spend a fair amount of time spotting new trends and using the innovation at the intersections of trends as an important driver for new business opportunities. Listen to the one they found when combining the trends of globalization and localization, and how they have chosen to organize the innovation work at the Absolut company;

Lena shares the business opportunity they found in the intersection of “glocal”. The business opportunity is a globally managed brand, that simultaneously utilizes the trend of producing locally, and manages fully with local entrepreneurs as it is further described in the story of Our Vodka6.

Innovation on the edge

Several thought leaders recommend a focus on the intersections of trends or edges of current business to find the best opportunities. Besides the Blue Ocean approach mentioned above, the author Frans Johansson shares several successful examples of innovation in the intersection of trends in his book The Medici Effect7. There are multiple ways to exploring the innovation in intersections, Deloitte has outlined their method Scaling the Edges8 to focus on innovating beyond the product or service.

An outline of managing multiparty innovation9 has been explored by INSEAD strategy professor Nathan Furr, who also highlights what innovation to consider in transitioning your company from Product to Platform10.

Lena also shares that sustainability is a core value and driver at the Absolut Company and for their innovation. Digital is also increasingly creating many new avenues that innovation can take to improve sustainability.  Using sustainability as a driver for innovation uses some different enablers11 as shared by Chris Sherwin.

Organizing innovation

Lena shares how The Absolut Company has chosen to organize their innovation both within the current business, as well as fencing and separately manage the ventures that may be growth opportunities for the future.

Certain aspects are emerging in effective innovation management systems. One is to ensure innovation with a different focus for different time horizons, where the concept of innovation in three horizons is a useful model. The model originates from McKinsey and is published originally in the book The Alchemy of growth12 by Steve Coley at al.

increasingly digital world

The challenge presenting itself to many companies are to be able to manage the horizons in parallel and within the same management systems as well as the speed at which changes happen due to digital advancements. The thought leader Ralph-Christian Ohr explores this topic extensively in his blog Integrative Innovation13.

Lena also shares that within the Pernod Ricard Group they have many innovation initiatives and that they are connected to an internal network for innovation leaders.  On the group level, Pernod Ricard has a unit called Breakthrough Innovation Group, BIG14 which was set up in 2014 and in charge of a longer term the group strategic innovation across the group including both ventures and corporate venture capital.

An example of the digital innovation result from that group BIG was recently presented as the world’s first connected cocktail library15.

Digital advancement challenges the incremental way that innovation has been handled by companies, where we need to increase experiments and change focus to test for learning.

increasingly digital world

Another thought leader Paul Hobcraft shares his view on how digital is also disrupting the innovation process in his blog Paul4Innovating16, and has also developed an excellent report Exploring Digital Transformation17, sharing and comparing more than 140 reports outlining many of the new business renewal concepts originating from digital transformation.

Inspiration, what we can learn & furniture

Lena believeS that during their work with innovation at the Absolut Company they have learned some valuable lessons on intrapreneurship, that can be of value also for other companies. Critical support for the innovation journey that Lena mentions are the values and culture at Pernod Ricard. One of the culture and values at Pernod Ricard is a spirit of entrepreneur18

Lena describes how boards and management must ensure they have focus and manage the company’s innovation pipeline and health, and that ventures are managed and monitored in quite a different way from traditional business.  She has found great value in also having separate competencies also at the support functions to ensure the best outcome.

And you can clearly understand what furniture Lena said she would be, as it is closely related to her role and interest…

Corporate venturing

It is a delicate challenge to manage innovation ventures.

Strategyzer shares, based on research from FRACTL, that the main reason for start-up ventures to fail are the lack of viable business models19.

Strategyzer is the company co-founded by the management thinker Alex Osterwalder, who developed the Business Model Canvas20, BMC. BMC was initially designed as a tool for entrepreneurs and start-ups and has now proven to be an excellent tool also for corporates to describe, design, challenge and pivot your business model and it is furthermore a good tool to in very simple way explain your business.

increasingly digital world

The 55 most active corporate venture capital groups21 2016 has been identified by CBInsights, out of which the 5 in the top were Google, Intel, Comcast, Salesforce and Cisco

It is also increasingly important to draw on start-up ecosystems for companies.

Stockholm, Sweden, is the home of the headquarter of the Absolut Company where also Lena Danielsson and her ventures are based.  As you find in the report Global Startup Ecosystem Report 201722 by Startup Genome, Stockholm and is one of the top 20 start-up cities globally and ranks second in Europe when it comes to producing unicorns.

According to the Global Innovation Index23 produced by INSEAD, Sweden ranks as the second most innovative country in the world.

There are critical policy areas the most innovative countries focus on improving as found in research by the Worldbank, Adapting to the new transformation of the economy24;

• Adapting education to provide practical skills for a predominately knowledge-based economy • Promoting the development of local innovation ecosystems • Fostering entrepreneurship that creates new sectors and businesses • Creating innovation networks and collaborative environments (for example, innovation labs) for existing core and traditional industries to remain competitive

Executive Management & Board Focus

To improve innovation large companies need to collaborate with start-ups and also learn from them, as shared by corporate innovation and start-up guru Steve Blank25.

Corporations can adopt lean startup methods, develop intrapreneurship and foster innovation-driving behaviours.

A successful example of a corporate innovation transformation can be found at General Electrics in their FastWorks program26.

Companies can also promote open innovation and buy start-up-driven innovation, as Google, now renamed Alphabet27 who bought more than 200 businesses in the last decade.

“Corporations must re-think and then re-invent their corporate innovation model, replacing a static execution model with three horizons of continuous innovation: This requires a corporate culture, organizational structure, and employee incentives that reward innovation. It requires establishing acceptable risk level and innovation KPIs for each horizon.

– Steve Blanks”

Based on a survey of more than 400 European board members Digoshen shares insights and examples in a progress report28, on what companies are doing to innovate and improve their digital business and leadership capabilities.

Innovation goals and strategies and portfolio management are the two most important innovation factors to monitor to determine top performance, found in research by Bain29.

Increasing insights of project and portfolio management are increasingly critical for boards and management as shared by Antonio Nieto- Rodrigues et al30, author of The Focused Organisation, and presenter at the business and Innovation event Europe Thinkers 5031.

11 leadership guidelines for the digital age, includes treating business strategy as a continuous process and requirement for firms to innovate and enter unchartered territories, was identified by INSEAD Chaired Professor of Corporate Governance Ludo Van Der Hayden32 together with guest lecturer Liri Andersson.

It is critical that management and boards understand how to establish acceptable risk level, management and innovation KPIs for each innovation horizon. Each innovation horizon has different drivers within the aspects of innovation strategy focus, prevalent leadership style, critical capabilities, where competencies primarily reside and what metrics to use, as found in research of 1000 companies by Innovation 360 Group33.

To ensure good innovation governance from boards we can get some useful insights from Professor Jean-Philippe Deschamps34 at IMD who identified ten good practice questions boards should ask management.

More insights and becoming involved in #innovation & #digital

To get more insight of what Lena knows and shares, we recommend you to explore and build more knowledge of corporate innovation and innovation governance.  Besides exploring the links shared in the article above, you can follow Lena Danielsson at LinkedIn as well as some of the thought leaders mentioned above.

At Digoshen we believe that leaders in the future need to increase their competence in three main areas Sense at Scale, Involve to Innovate and Align the Actions, you are welcome to take our free survey  (https://digoshen.com/research/),  to find out your position and directly get a personalized feedback report with improvement suggestions.

Get more inspiration some of the podcasts that focuses innovation, as the interview with Bob Johansen, Institute For The Future on the InnovationEcosystem35 podcast on considerations of the long-term future, or listen to the interview with Arnaud Bonzom, Director of corporate Innovation at 500 Startups, on the Inside/Outside36 podcast on insights from his report together with INSEAD on Corporate Innovation37.

For involvement if you are based in Sweden and an innovation leader you can join the business network Innovation Leaders38 and follow @innoledarna. If you are a board member and based in Holland you might consider the business network PIT39 and follow @ToezichmetPIT

You can also follow many of the mentioned innovation thought leaders on Twitter48.

If you care for more deep dive, you might want to pick up some insightful innovation books40.

You can also find inspiration in some of Digoshen’s earlier blogpost41 and interviews with Gustaf Ahlstromer, Growth Manager at AirBnB, Tristan Kromer, Global Lean Startup Coach, Mark Dennis, Sony Music and Anne Lidgard, Silicon Valley Director at the Innovation Agency Vinnova.

Tristan Kromer42 shares many insights and you can also meet him at the Intrapreneurship conference43 in Stockholm May 2017.

As this is a blog post about innovation, and we are firm believers of the diversity of thoughts, I thought it would be appropriate to end with pointers to some unexpected insights. Check out the insightful trend watch report produced for museums44.
Get some inspiration from the interesting concept the Human Library45 and a collaboration #OpenYourWorld46 they did with Heineken.
And listen for some unexpected learnings to the podcast episode Halleluja – On how genius emerge47 from the podcast Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell.

About Digoshen

We think it is important to share insights from inspiring #innovation and #digital1st thought leaders, if you are one of them or know someone we should talk to, please send us a hint via https://digoshen.com/contact/ or via Twitter @digoshen .

These interviews are shared both on my own blog www.liselotteengstam.com as well as on the blog of Digoshen www.digoshen.com, where I am Chairman of the Board.

At Digoshen we believe that Companies, Boards and Business Leadership Teams need to understand more of the digital world to fully leverage the potential when bringing their business into the digital age.

To know where you and your company stand concerning innovation, digital business and leadership progress, take our survey at Digoshen.com/research and get a free of charge personalized report with recommendations on how to move forward. The survey is anonymous and takes about 15 minutes to complete.

If you like to keep yourself updated on innovation and digital business matters check out our Digoshen Insight Platform with inspiration, reports and weekly digital magazines.

We provide inspiration and support to help transition business leaders into more insightful digital positions for themselves and their companies.

Follow us on Twitter: @digoshen , our CEO @katycaroan and Chairman @liseeng


  1. Video with Alexandre Ricard: Pernod Ricard in One Word – English version https://youtu.be/tSu5KRsgAQ0
  2. Video: Pernod Ricard Innovation : Experiences, services & products to scale https://youtu.be/1GKKHi4K2DU
  3. INSEAD Knowledge http://knowledge.insead.edu
  4. About Blue Ocean Strategy https://www.blueoceanstrategy.com
  5. Research: BCG 2016, “Corporate venturing shift gears https://www.bcgperspectives.com/Images/BCG-Corporate-Venturing-Shifts-Gears-Apr-2016_tcm80-208404.pdf
  6. The story of “Our Vodka” http://www.the-buyer.net/insight/our-vodka-brings-together-big-brand-thinking-with-local-entrepreneurs-and-micro-distillers/
  7. Book by Frans Johansson The Medici Effect
  8. Report: Deloitte, method “Scaling the Edges” https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/us-tmt-scalingdges-09222014.pdf
  9. Article HBR: Nathan Furr: Managing Multiparty Innovation https://hbr.org/2016/11/managing-multiparty-innovation
  10. Article HBR: Nathan Furr: transitioning your company from Product to Platform https://hbr.org/2016/04/transitioning-your-company-from-product-to-platform
  11. Blogpost by Chris Sherwin: Using sustainability as a driver for innovation http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2017/04/18/five-ways-sustainable-innovation-is-different-from-normal-innovation/
  12. Book by Steve Coley at al, The Alchemy of growth
  13. Blogpost by Ralph-Christian Ohr, Integrative Innovation https://integrative-innovation.net/?p=1016
  14. Blog post about Pernod Ricard’s Breakthrough Innovation Group, BIG https://nbry.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/big-platforms-of-opportunities-for-breakthrough-innovation/
  15. Article about Pernod Ricard’s connected cocktail library https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/01/06/pernod-ricard-connected-cocktail-library/
  16. Blog post by Paul Hobcraft Paul4Innovating https://paul4innovating.com/2017/04/27/digital-technology-is-changing-the-innovation-game/
  17. Report: Paul Hobcraft, Hype Innovation, Exploring Digital Transformation http://i.hypeinnovation.com/exploring-digital-transformation
  18. Pernod Ricard’s Culture and Values https://www.pernod-ricard.com/en/talents/culture-and-values/
  19. Blog post by Strategyzer http://blog.strategyzer.com/posts/2016/6/20/why-companies-fail-how-to-prevent-it
  20. Template by Strategyzer: Business Model Canvas https://strategyzer.com/canvas/business-model-canvas
  21. Research by CBinsights on 55 most active corporate venture capital groups 2016 https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/corporate-venture-capital-active-2014
  22. Report by Startup Genome: Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017 http://d1i53wesras4r4.cloudfront.net/GlobalStartupEcosystemReport2017.pdf
  23. The Global Innovation Index, Country Analysis https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
  24. Research by the Worldbank Adapting to the new transformation of the economy http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/641831482144791967/Adapting-to-the-new-transformation-of-the-economy
  25. Blog post by Steve Blank, Why large companies find it difficult to innovate https://steveblank.com/2016/06/23/intel-disrupted-why-large-companies-find-it-difficult-to-innovate-and-what-they-can-do-about-it/
  26. Blog post about General Electric’s Fastworks program https://www.collectivecamp.us/blog/how-ge-saved-80-in-development-costs
  27. Wikipedia about Alphabet, who bought more than 200 businesses https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Alphabet
  28. Research Report by Digoshen on company and board progress https://digoshen.com/research-findings/
  29. Research report by Bain about Innovation measurement http://www.bain.com/Images/BAIN_BRIEF_Taking_the_measure_of_your_innovation_performance.pdf
  30. NACD Article by Antonio Nieto Rodriguez and Alexandra Reed Lajoux on Project management fundamentals for boards https://www.nacdonline.org/Resources/RSSDetail.cfm?RSSID=228897
  31. Event http://europe.thinkers50.com
  32. Blogpost by Ludo van der Heyden, INSEAD et al on leadership guidelines for digital age http://knowledge.insead.edu/leadership-organisations/11-leadership-guidelines-for-the-digital-age-5516
  33. Blogpost Drucker Forum by Innovation 360 Group on organizing for simultaneous innovation capabilities http://www.druckerforum.org/blog/?p=1188
  34. Blogpost by Jean-Philippe Deschamps, IMD, on Board Innovation Governance http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2015/10/19/10-best-board-practices-on-innovation-governance-how-proactive-is-your-board/
  35. Podcast by Innovation Ecosystem interview with Bob Johansen at Institute for the Future http://innovationecosystem.com/podcast/046-shapeshifting-companies-future-dr-bob-johansen-institute-future/
  36. Podcast Inside/Outside interview with Arnaud Bonzom, Director of corporate Innovation at 500 Startups http://insideoutside.io/podcast/ep-49-arnaud-bonzom-w-500-startups/
  37. Report 500Startups/INSEAD on Corporate Innovation http://698640.hs-sites.com/500corporations
  38. About Business Network Innovation Leaders http://innovationsledarna.se/en/engagera/
  39. About Board Innovation Network PIT https://www.toezichtmetpit.nl
  40. Innovation books Blue Ocean Strategy, The innovators method; Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization, Competing against luck, the story of innovation and customer choice, The three-box solution; A strategy for leading innovation or  The Focused Organisation.
  41. Blog post Digoshen earlier interviews with earlier interviews with Gustaf Ahlstromer, Growth Manager at AirBnB, Tristan Kromer, Global Lean Startup Coach, Mark Dennis, Sony Music and Anne Lidgard, Silicon Valley Director at the Innovation Agency Vinnova.
  42. Blog post Intrapreneurship Conference interview with Tristan Kromer https://www.intrapreneurshipconference.com/exponential-intrapreneurship-corporate-accelerator-reactor/
  43. About Intrapreneurship Conference May 2017 in Stockholm https://www.intrapreneurshipconference.com/stockholm/
  44. Report American Alliance of Museums Trendwatch 2017 http://www.nck.pl/media/attachments/318748/trendswatch-2017.pdf
  45. The Human Library http://humanlibrary.org
  46. Video Heineken Worlds apart #OpenYourWorld https://youtu.be/8wYXw4K0A3g
  47. Podcast Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell: Halleluja – On how genius emerge http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/07-hallelujah
  48. Strategy and Innovation thought leaders on Twitter; @BlueOceanStrtgy, @ralph_ohr, @sgblank, @paul4innovating@inseadknowledge, @bcgperspectives, @frans_johansson, @nathan_furr, @innosurvey, @ANietoRodriguez@Thinkers50@IM_Innovation