Daniel Häggmark: From Hälsingland to Penang

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At the MONITOR office, the meeting rooms are named after Swedish sports personalities.

Daniel Häggmark, Managing Director of MONITOR ERP, is responsible for bringing Swedish business management software company to Penang, adding colour and dynamism to an industrial landscape on the cusp of change. He has a chat with Penang Monthly about relocating to our sunny state, finding the right talent to fit the job, and ice hockey

Julia Tan: Coming from Sweden, how do you find the work culture here?

Daniel Häggmark: Well the leadership style is completely different – hierarchy and such do not exist much in Sweden; it’s not just that rooted in our culture, I think. We grew up with the flexibility to question things and come up with ideas. Even in a big company, if something’s wrong, we go to the boss and tell them our thoughts and solutions. I think that is not something that is being done here, and it is what we are working a lot on with our employees.

It’s more of trust – there must be vision and direction of doing things; we leave the responsibilities to the people and expect things to be completed within a set deadline. I don’t expect many updates unless something has gone wrong. Here, I feel that sometimes people are so used to the boss being there and always pushing them every day. With younger people, I observe that this style of management doesn’t work anymore for them, which is why some local companies have high employee turnover rates. At MONITOR, we work as a team; it doesn’t really matter what position one holds. I think that’s more our style. Perhaps because we came from a small town as well, we are very down to earth.

Speaking of employees, in terms of manpower, do you have any difficulty finding the right people with the right expertise? This is on top of the brain drain issue we face, where a lot of people have left for KL and Singapore.

We try to find people who come from manufacturing SMEs – it’s much more desirable than any degree they have because they understand our customer’s needs. It’s the same with the consultants – when they go out to implement and configure the system, and provide training, they must have experience in the type of business, and it’s much more important that they have experience in manufacturing, preferably small medium-sized manufacturing because of the nature of our business. What’s difficult to find are people with production manufacturing SME background and ERP knowledge – not many SMEs are using the system, and those with ERP knowledge tend to come from the bigger companies, and they don’t understand the whole flow.

We employed seven developers three months ago. That was a bit more challenging as we needed people with .NET, C Sharp or C++ skills. The really good programmers are probably elsewhere, but we chose to employ quite fresh ones. We have our Swedish development director here who has worked for us for 15 years, so he’s training up these guys. It works great – they catch up really fast. It’s important to find people who are really interested and committed, more so than those with experience – they might still not be as good as the fresh ones.

Can you tell me about your journey, coming from a background in industrial management and engineering to where you are today? Was it a natural progression, or was it something that you consciously decided to do?

I started in MONITOR as customer support in 2006, and for some reason they put me as the project manager for this huge project that we had in Singapore – the biggest ever in MONITOR history. I was 27. I stayed on in Singapore and we started a MONITOR office there, which I managed. Then we started getting customers here, we began to employ more people, and it just became what it is.

MONITOR ERP's cosy office.

It was your decision to have the MONITOR Asean headquarter based in Penang?

Yes, with help from our Swedish headquarters.

The company places a lot of faith in you. Would you like to say something about your relationship with the late founder, Åke Persson, and his son Jörgen, MONITOR’s current owner?

When I was at university, I started to work with MONITOR during my summer breaks. I was close to the CEO, who is Åke’s brother – I used to play ice hockey and he really liked my style as a sportsman. He thought I always did my best in every game, and he was the one who employed me.

Then I got really close with Åke. He treated me like a son – he was really down to earth. It’s quite unbelievable how they have trusted me – I have been able to do what I want. Jörgen is a carbon copy of him, and we connected immediately. Now I am just as close with him as I was with his father. Even though we’re not related by blood, we’re very close.

Six years in Penang – how well have you and your family adapted to life here?

Well my wife is from the Philippines; we met in Singapore. My daughter is seven and my son is turning four.

I think from day one, we have loved Penang. The food is fantastic, everyone here speaks English, the schools are very good – you have a lot of options, which is great for the kids.

What’s your one gripe about Penang?

The weather is convenient, but it’s very boring – it’s too hot! (Laughs) And you can’t play ice hockey… although I heard they will build a facility in the upcoming mall next to IKEA. Maybe the sports culture here is a bit dismal… You have the sports clubs, but they go by membership. In Sweden, there are a lot of outdoor activities which go for free. Here, because of the weather, people tend to stay indoors.

Read more about MONITOR ERP here.

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