What are the essential elements that make a great manager? In the first of a series profiling the management styles of key figures, Monocle gets an insight from Eva Hamilton, head of Swedish public service broadcaster SVT.
“I’m good at making people feel noticed, I’m good at giving people enthusiasm about their work and I’m good at seeing the big picture instead of getting worked up about the small stuff.”
Before Monocle even has a chance to ask the question, Eva Hamilton has summed up her best qualities as a manager. The CEO of Sweden’s public service broadcaster SVT since 2006, Hamilton is known for her speed and straightforwardness, and seems to be a person who has put lots of effort into getting to know herself, good sides and bad. Years of management courses and training on the job have taught her to embrace certain qualities and suppress others. Her spontaneity belongs in the latter category.
“My whole life has been a struggle to keep this spontaneity in check,” she says. “As a manager at this level, you can’t be spontaneous. There are managers under me who are responsible for different things, and I can’t just decapitate them by going straight to people and telling them what I think they should do.”
On the other hand, it can often lead to great results, such as this morning’s unexpected meeting with a news editor, which Hamilton held while sitting in the news anchor’s make-up chair ahead of Monocle’s photo session.
“I happened to see her so I asked her to sit with me, and we talked about the programme, which has been worrying me. It turned out to be the most important meeting of the day.”
Hamilton is no stranger on the newsroom floor and is not one of those managers who stay in their office behind closed doors. She likes to be among her staff. As she walks through the TV centre’s seemingly endless corridors, people stop to chat and some even receive a warm hug or a motherly stroke on the cheek.
“I’m very dependent on interaction. I get my ideas in conversations, not by sitting alone under a tree and thinking,” she says. “As the highest manager, you can either choose to constantly keep a poker face and say, ‘I know which path we should choose, just trust me.’ Or reveal to your management team that in this particular case, I have no damn clue, and look for the answers together. Even though ultimately, I still take the decision.”
Hamilton’s career at SVT spans more than 20 years. She started as a print journalist but got a job at the channel’s news show, Rapport, in 1989. Reporting led to news anchoring and a position as SVT’s Brussels correspondent. But on coming home in 1996, she felt a need for change. She had been offered a management position elsewhere but SVT’s CEO at the time, Sam Nilsson, persuaded her to stay, saying, “If you want to be a manager, why not be one here?” Hamilton advanced step by step and was appointed CEO in 2006. Today, she heads a public service organisation consisting of eight TV channels and 2,100 people. SVT’s main channels, SVT1 and SVT2, have an average viewership of 23 and 7 per cent respectively.
Hamilton’s toughest decisions to date were caused by the cost-cutting programme SVT carried out in 2008. Four hundred people had to be laid off and several production units were shut down.
“In a situation like that, you must be able to communicate all the way through the company why this has to be done. No empty phrases. Because even if you’re not losing your job, a colleague is, and that leads to sorrow and guilt,” says Hamilton.
Although Sweden is internationally viewed as a country of equal opportunities, female CEOs are a rarity. Of the 258 companies listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, only five have a female CEO. Women are especially absent in the heavy industries such as steel and paper. In media, the situation is different. Radical female journalists started advocating equal career opportunities strongly in the 1980s, using their newspapers and television shows as powerful megaphones.
“Over the years, more and more women have moved up in the organisation, and today SVT has a rich, experienced supply of female managers on level two, just under the top,” Hamilton explains.
Having a family is often brought up as an obstacle for women wishing to climb the career ladder, but Hamilton, who has raised four kids, claims otherwise. “If you’re lucky enough to have healthy kids it’s fully possible. Healthy kids, and a good man.”
What time do you like to be at your desk?
09.00. But before that I’ve already been talking for 45 minutes on the phone while driving.
Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership – an MBA school or on the job?
On the job, absolutely. But these days you won’t be considered for a top-level job without the adequate education.
Describe your management style.
I’m the opposite of a lone wolf; I work best in a team. I need to have contact with the organisation and my management team, which I have great confidence in.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person?
They have to be taken by the CEO. I must be able to stand behind them with my whole being, because they will meet a lot of resistance. But I never take a tough decision without having spoken with my management team first.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
Both! But if I have to choose, respected. If you’re guided by a desire to be loved, you’ll become a very bad manager.
What does your support team look like?
My closest team consists of 12 people. We have a weekly meeting, and in addition to that, I meet each and every one of them every two weeks.
What technology do you carry on a trip?
My iPad and my Nokia smartphone.
Do you read management books?
I used to, but these days I think that I know best.
Run in the morning? Wine with lunch? Socialise with your team after work?
No wine with lunch or with the team after work; rather at home with dinner. And I don’t run in the morning, but I train with a personal trainer once a week.
What would your key management advice be?
Never underestimate your co-workers’ needs to be seen and noticed. It’s more important to praise than criticise, because criticism is something people are very good at giving to themselves.