When Lennart Bjurstrom began drafting his campaign platform for international president of AIESEC, the Swedish native identified two major objectives: To work for a better world and, on a slightly less grandiose note, to scale down change to a local level and improve the lives of people. Bjurstrom circled in red the first goal, the far-reaching one, and then promptly entered his name in the election because regret only plagues the unresolved, unsettled what-ifs in life. He won the presidency and gained something more than a title — Bjurstrom inherited a continuing grassroots lesson on the mindset, possibilities, values, and tactics for driving change.
Throughout his time in AIESEC (L’Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economics et Commercial) — an international student organization that boasts more than 50,000 members from 800 colleges in 87 countries — Bjurstrom crafted and reworked that grassroots lesson to create an abstract proposition for personal and organizational change. Through AIESEC, his intangible idea materialized into a substantial philosophy: “Change agents are willing to go beyond themselves to affect change with other people, organizations, or a society as a whole,” he says. “But that change must start with the individual. If I am not ready to change and challenge myself, then I surely can’t guide the greater change effort.”
AIESEC spurred tremendous personal growth for Bjurstrom. Rising fast in the organization’s leadership ranks, he developed the mindset — shaped by personal accountability, fortitude, and enterprise — to embrace and act on change. He broadened his sense of possibility by gaining exposure to many cultures, challenging other opinions, exchanging viewpoints, and leading peers in an international forum. He re-evaluated his values, realizing the importance of social responsibility and recognizing the meaningful connection between ecology and the economy — the tenuous relationship between business and humankind, both wholly dependent on the natural environment.
“Initially, AIESEC attracted idealists and people who were like me — realists and materialists, purely seeking personal benefit and dismissing social contribution,” says Bjurstrom, recalling the cross-section of students who first joined the organization in 1987 at Sweden’s Uppsala University. “But the final AIESEC product wasn’t its traineeships, projects, or programs. It was the students who came into the AIESEC ‘factory’ as raw material and came out as refreshed, innovative, skilled, socially responsive people — or in consulting terms, a ‘value-added product.'”
Bjurstrom boasts that he earned his MBA from AIESEC International, the real-world training ground that eventually led him to a career in environmental business management. Today, as managing director of the newly-formed ERM Dynamo Consultants in Sweden, 37-year-old Bjurstrom faces a less formative and more forced type of change: organizational change. Last November, Environmental Resources Management, one of the world’s largest environmental-technical consulting firms, acquired Dynamo Ecology AB, a five-year-old environmental-management consulting group located in Sweden and Gothenburg. Before the acquisition, Dynamo Ecology AB had a tight-knit staff of 13 environmental consultants, including Bjurstrom, who had been the firm’s managing director since May 1996.
About three and a half years later, Bjurstrom is managing the acquisition change. His transformation strategy strikes a careful balance between fostering change and challenging it. With his AIESEC-groomed stamina and acumen for engineering organizational change, Bjurstrom plans to integrate the core strengths of both companies while maintaining the all-important human values of his old firm. In short, his task is both deeply personal and awesome in scope. Bjurstrom must merge ERM and Dynamo — his friends and colleagues — in a way that will leverage geographic presence in Scandinavia and build a solid management-consulting portfolio with clients such as Swedish McDonald’s and IKEA.
“ERM is interested in us not only as an office in Scandinavia, but also because of what we can contribute to the whole association,” Bjurstrom says. “And that is what triggers me: It’s not so much what we can get from this larger organization and network, but what we can give to the operation.”
Ironically, Bjurstrom says his primary role in the transition process is to resist change — maintain the old company values now under the umbrella network of ERM Dynamo. His change strategy raises a reasonable concern: By joining an ERM global network of 2,500 environmental consultants, will the intimate culture and philosophy of Bjurstrom’s old company yield to corporate conformity and bureaucratic malaise? What small-company values does Bjurstrom want to maintain?
ERM Dynamo’s value-based leadership and management style accommodates a sane work schedule — about 40 hours a week, as opposed to the 60-80 hours a week logged in at larger ERM firms. “Our staff is mainly 30-something, most of us have children, and everyone wants to work for sustainable development in a sustainable way,” he says. “We don’t want to end up with divorces or ulcers in order to save the world. We want to have a happy life and spend time with our families.”
Integrating environmental issues and social responsibility with business management, ERM Dynamo is, according to Bjurstrom, the AIESEC of consulting. Not only does ERM Dynamo present Bjurstrom the opportunity to work for a better world through its social vision, but the company also nurtures a culture of intellectual leadership and work freedom. The company policy understands the desire to take personal time off to pursue projects, such as writing a book, or tending to a family need. “I urged a new employee with a sick son to take as much time off as needed to help his child recover,” Bjurstrom says, “And I trusted that he would take care of his job — in whatever way suited him best. After his son’s operation, our colleague thanked us for our support at our weekly Monday morning meeting.”
With the recent acquisition, Bjurstrom says he’s living a dream first realized in AIESEC: He’s returning to the international arena but this time to advance environmental and sustainable development issues. He’s meeting the ecological needs of the present generation without compromising the demand of future generations.
“In 1987, AIESEC challenged the UN commission report on sustainable development, which called upon youth worldwide to take charge of our future,” Bjurstrom recalls. “So we arranged a series of seminars all over the world. In Sweden, we focused on the connection between ecology and the economy. I was one of the project advocates on the local committee, then at the national level. We discussed and debated. We were an association of students in economics and management, not Green Peace. Some students criticized, ‘Why should we involve ourselves in environmental issues?’ And that was so very clear to me from the very beginning, not to others. Of course we should involve ourselves because this is the future of management, the future of the economy.”
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