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Christian Fredrik Stray | How versatile board membership makes you a better CEO

👏 HOW VERSATILE BOARD MEMBERSHIP MAKES YOU A BETTER CEO

We are honored to host Christian Fredrick Stray, CEO and co-founder of Hy5, a Norwegian technology company founded in 2015. Christian is a proud husband and father who is keen on work-life balance. He has an unwavering passion for biotechnology having graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering in 1999. He went on to work for several years in various capacities for Biomet including Regional Vice President overseeing Northern Europe.

👀 Hy5’s Vision

Christian founded the company with the vision to provide more mobility to more people. Initially, the aim was to develop products targeted at developed markets. Previously consumers were offered only two options, high-functionality high-cost or low-functionality low-cost products, leaving a huge gap in between. Hy5 was meant to bridge this gap. On the other hand, developing markets have no products offered to them due to the high cost and lack of personnel, primarily orthopedic engineers. Hy5 also aims to democratize the technology and digitize patient treatment pathways to improve access. The technology is designed for both individuals born without hands as well as those who have lost their limbs

💡 Ground-breaking Innovation

Hy5 is now known for being behind the world’s first hydraulic hand prosthesis. An idea that was developed by Christian’s Dutch colleague who worked with robotic dolls. To reduce breakdowns, he developed micro-hydraulics to replace the electric motors and later miniaturized the technology after meeting a young lady who was born without hands. Once Christian learned about the technology, he worked with his colleagues to add value to the concept and develop it to market.

🩺 Why Health Technology

Health technology allows a purpose-filled company with proper culture to be built from scratch. The technology solves specific problems and is always innovative. Often, each solution positively impacts a huge number of people across the world.

I am not fascinated by the thing, the innovation, the technology. What really fascinates me is the value it can create and what that can do. Which in the healthcare space translates to more mobility, better quality of life, and more life expectancy.”

Christian Fredrick Stray, CEO, and co-founder of Hy5

🌍 Where Hy5 is headed

The original goal was to build a Norwegian health technology with global distribution and a deliberate effort towards penetrating developing markets.

Christian and his colleagues had the ambition to commercialize health tech. He is keen on harnessing the existing engineering talent in Norway, thanks to the oil and gas industry, through redeployment and reskilling. This will generate taxable dollars from other sustainable non-oil sources. The company aims to develop non-discriminatory products for everyone irrespective of social, demographic, or economic factors.

💪 Sitting on Boards

Working at Biomet gave Christian a chance to grow in leadership and explore and build connections in the orthopedic space. He had a chance to make mistakes, learn from them, and develop a broadened horizon. In 2007, he took up a seat on the super advisory board of Bank Norwegian, a newly started bank. He learned a lot about starting a company, lessons that would prove invaluable once he founded Hy5. He has served on various boards and picked up a lot about business strategy, various perspectives of a company (from outside and as part of management), and the micro-picture various companies operate under.

📚 Specific Lessons Learnt Approach

1

There are similarities in running businesses irrespective of the industry

Companies in different sectors have common denominators such as financing and human resource. Christian thus was able to put things in perspective and be a better strategic thinker when Hy5 was started.

2

Being a good listener

When serving on a board, one is expected to ask good questions, and challenge and listen to the management team. Being a listener is a good manager trait and though Christian is better at it now, he points out that probably 15 years from now he will still be working on it.

3

Building and leveraging networks

There are common denominators across industries such as growth, human resource, financing, legal challenges, and organizational structures. One has to build relationships with and utilize individuals and firms across these fields to build a successful business.

4

Tackling challenges

While serving on boards, Christian has had a front seat to tackling challenges such as COVID-19 and lack of financing. These experiences mean he is better placed to guide Hy5 through similar challenges.

The lessons he has learned have helped him to increase his value on other boards and better equip him to serve as the CEO of Hy5.

🤝 What does board membership entail?

In the past boards were mysterious and mostly composed of old white guys with grey hair. This has changed and they are now more transparent and diverse.

The role of the board depends on:

1

Owner of the company

2

The phase of the company

Phases of a company include:

    • Strat-up company
    • Growth company
    • Mature company

Each phase requires different board compositions that function differently.

📍 Start-up

At Hy5 Christian was lucky to be in a position to set the strategy on how the board would look and work. Initially, the company had zero dollars and there were only four guys, all of whom went at least two years without taking a salary. Christian used the board composition to bring in needed competence and to compliment on areas the four of them didn’t have experience in. This was crucial to the company’s survival until they could afford a management team at Hy5. Overall, in a start-up, board members are expected to complement each other and roll up their sleeves to be involved directly in operations.

📊 Growth company

They have more funding and different owners hence the board is likely to be focused on product commercialization and serve a similar role as in a traditional company. Sometimes they may be involved in active management.

📈 Publicly traded mature company

The board serves the traditional role of setting the strategic direction, challenging the management team, balancing organizational health and performance, and ensuring compliance factors are in place. They are not hands-on (not operationally involved).

“You can stick your nose in anything but you have to keep your hands off the table.”

Christian Fredrick Stray, CEO, and co-founder of Hy5

🔗 Ownership

Here, it is important to note family-owned companies have many family members in the board and management teams. Consequently, there is quick decision making and everybody often works in unison. External personnel primarily complement existing expertise and expand perspective on issues.

🧗🏾 Point in a career to be involved in a board

Christian believes it is important to be involved in an industry or organization board early on. This could be in a non-profit organization or pro-bono board membership in a start-up in need of your industry and management experience. However, don’t go into a career of sitting on boards without operational involvement. After some years, you lose touch with trends and industry transformation, progressively eroding your value. The better approach would be, for instance, retiring at 70 years from operational roles and then sitting on boards for up to ten years. If you get a board position, work well and build networks, then you will be recommended or recruited to take up additional board positions.

“Build stone by stone.”

– Christian Fredrick Stray, CEO, and co-founder of Hy5

📝 What you need to get into board

    1. A fairly broad range of business skills, such as an MBA.
    2. Leadership experience.
    3. Primary area of expertise – In the case of Christian, he is well versed with organizational structure and team building, and internationalization.

❌ Mistakes companies make when building teams

Management is primarily directed at a company’s human resources. A manager must be good with different people and different personalities. They should understand employees’ needs and how to support them. The role of a leader in an organization is ultimately all about the people.

Christian considers team building to be the most important thing in a company and hence most mistakes happen there. This commonly happens in a start-up company going into the growth phase. Increasing revenues and an expanding workforce must be appropriately managed. The focus should be on balancing organizational health versus performance. Build a great culture, proper structures, communication lines, and soft leadership skills among managers. Prioritize the welfare and motivation of your human resource. Keep an eye on metrics other than revenue and profit, that is, leadership, culture, and team building.

📏 How to measure non-revenue metrics

Though difficult, many consulting companies have the tools to measure these metrics. Christian points out that the company’s board and management must keep a finger on the pulse by interacting with junior employees and probing for challenges and frustrations. Simple surveys on job satisfaction go a long way in indicating the overall health of a company. As companies work on returning to work and the new normal post-COVID-19 now is a great opportunity to stop and evaluate the best way to move forward.

〽️ Industry trends

The pandemic has limited human interaction hence discussions about various issues have not been as robust as before. Christian notes that there is a loss of a broad, wide-angle lens on the industry. Going forward companies will have to grapple with office size, human resource needs, and communication lines. It is important to keep an eye on macrotrends among consumers such as air travel (both for leisure and business) and retail. Globalization had slowed down pre-pandemic but it has now seen renewed growth. Digitization exponentially skyrocketed, with the pandemic serving as proof of concept on utilization, effectiveness, and adaptation of technology in business. The latter two are the biggest and most important trends regardless of industry.

🤫 The secret to managing and balancing different priorities

Christian stubbornly insists on managing his calendar and time. He likes setting his agenda. Through trial and error and the help of a coach, he has grown better at compartmentalizing hence he can focus on the present then move on to the next thing. He insists to his mentees, just as his mentor emphasized to him, to always maintain clear priorities.

“Know what your values are and know what your priorities are.”

Christian Fredrick Stray, CEO, and co-founder of Hy5

For Christian, family comes first, then work second. He opines that one shouldn’t make decisions based on prestige and money, but instead aim to learn.

Christian recommends that one should take time to reflect as this helps balance things. His particular strategy is going for an early morning walk into the woods for 5 hours every third Tuesday of the month to unwind.

Thereafter he reads strategy documents, or books or articles, for five or six hours. He calls this day ‘future outlook’ and it helps make him become better in his day-to-day work and achieve work-life balance.

🌎 What is the Legacy You Want to Leave on the world?

Christian ended as he started, emphasizing impacting the world positively and being a good father- as will be his legacy.

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