Choose to Challenge: Investing in Future Generations

A businesswoman, champion for sustainable development and mother of four,
Camilla Hagen Sørli is passionate about leadership and the responsibility as a business owner. Engaged in improving society as a whole, she is first and foremost inspired by people.  

Equality

Written by: Victoria Wæthing

21.01.2021

Del på TwitterDel på FacebookDel på TwitterDel på Twitter
Title photo by: Elisabeth Heyerdahl Lampe | Above photo: Thought Leader Global Media

Working at the family company Canica, founded by her father Stein Erik Hagen who built one of the largest family fortunes in Norway, Camilla Hagen Sørli is involved in the company’s strategy both as a board member and at the operational level.

She knows that profit is essential to do good, and emphasizes the need for companies to see the connection between great performance and a sustainable business strategy in order to stay relevant and leverage opportunities. Camilla Hagen Sørli believes she is driven by curiosity, while her vision as a businesswoman is always founded in her core values and social responsibility.

Finding Her Own Path

Growing up with a well-known father, it is not necessarily easy to find your own career path. Yet, Camilla found that over the years it has been her personal interest that has led her to working within the family company.

“My father is an exceptional man in so many ways: very driven and a true visionary. He always knows how to find the right people to work with. Growing up with a father who was a founder, my siblings and I were able to be a part of the business journey from an early age.”

Photo by: Elisabeth Heyerdahl Lampe

“I got to work in the stores and meet consumers first-hand. That led me to a never-ending interest in people— understanding their behaviour, drivers and the society we all are a part of.”

Her curiosity and interest guided her to gain a broad education with degrees in comparative literature, pedagogics, economics, and management; a diverse background that has shaped her as a leader and investor. How to unite her own personal passions and visions with the family business was not obvious from a young age, but a conscious choice she has made during her career and personal development.

“Ownership equals responsibility, but also opportunity to drive positive impact. I believe that companies are vehicles for change and how we govern our ownership does matter. It matters in the aspect of securing existing workplaces and creating new ones. It matters in the aspect of investing in people and solutions that improve the state of the planet—and most of all—it matters in the aspect of creating value not only for the company, but for society as a whole.”

A Young Entrepreneur

Camilla says she has always had a desire to make a difference in the world. When she was young, she had a small newspaper with her friend and the revenues were divided between investing in future ventures, expansion of the newspaper, and the non-profit organization Redd Barna (Save the Children).

“I guess I already at a young age became aware of my motivation towards being a part of something bigger. As a business owner you have a responsibility to make sure the company stays future-fit and opportunity to contribute to a future that is fit for all. The last few percentages of the revenues from the newspaper were saved for candy,” she laughs.

Responsibility as a Business Owner

Camilla’s career journey involved working several years outside of the family company until she joined it more permanently in 2013, spending the next years at the investment team before in 2017 moving into an operational leadership role in Orkla, Canica’s main asset.

“I’m motivated by challenges, it gives me energy and has been a driver for taking on different roles to gain new skill-sets. I realized that a broader operational experience would be pivotal for becoming a better owner and member of the boards I serve.”

In addition, it gives her the opportunity to get to know the people, the organization and the culture; giving her valuable understanding of the company and the perspective needed to be an involved owner and investor.

Sustainable Footprint

Camilla Hagen Sørli believes that creating future value comes from being a part of the sustainable solutions for tomorrow.

“Investing in greener innovations is also about reducing risks and realising the opportunities that lie in front of us.”

She continues, “I believe that nobody will be able to remain relevant as a company if they do not take into consideration the larger aspects of a well-functioning society and environment. History has taught us that the most successful companies are those that took corporate responsibility and became engaged in their surroundings and society as a whole. Profit and being responsible opposites, research shows that combining responsibility with innovation results in better performance,” says Hagen Sørli.

“At Canica last year we launched a new strategy for sustainability that is shaping the way we invest, and also contributed to the creation of a framework of set expectations towards the companies we invest in. It is not only about avoiding ‘bad’ companies, but also how we engage to improve their footprints. We are not perfect, but are doing what we can to become better,” she finishes.

Inclusion Drives Innovation

Hagen Sørli believes that different opinions, nuances, experiences and knowledge are what creates better solutions: “It is not enough to have an equal society; we need to put all the forces we have at our disposal to make society and companies truly great. Of course, it feels more comfortable to sit together with people you agree with, because exactly that; you all agree.”

“Is it really possible to address the difficult issues, and ask the questions that may rock the boat when everybody thinks the same?

— Camilla Hagen Sørli

“I don’t think so, and research confirms that teams within a company should be composed of a diverse group of people. Having been exposed to consumer centric work my whole career, I have really seen that inclusion drives innovation, and you need innovation to secure growth.”

New Talent

A recent report from Korn Ferry about the CEOs of tomorrow, shows that being inclusive and socially responsible is crucial in order to attract talent, considering that millennials and Gen-Z place an increasing importance on the role their employer plays in society. Camilla Hagen Sørli believes that to have a diverse and stimulating company culture, one also need to look at how a company attracts and retains talent. “Orkla is a great example of a company who put sustainability at the core of their strategy for many years,” she outlines, firmly believing that the company would not have been able to remain as relevant and attractive to applicants if they had not adapted to the demands of social responsibility.

Inspired by SHE

Camilla Hagen Sørli is Chair of the Board at SHE Community, devoted to creating more equality and diversity— some of her core values. She was introduced to SHE Community by coincidence and attended one of the first SHE Conferences with a friend. Not knowing much about the conference, she didn’t have large expectations and was very impressed with the experience and the concept developed by Heidi and her team. “Women inspiring women across different sectors and roles of leadership can be transformative. I believe in diversity not only for diversity itself, but as a tool of innovation and progress,” she emphasizes. SHE’s focus on developing women as leaders is especially important for Camilla, and she herself has participated in the SHE Leads course.

Young Global Leaders

Photo from World Economic Forum

Travelling the world and meeting business leaders, entrepreneurs and political activists, Hagen Sørli is engaged on an international level both in regards to work and social commitment. She has attended the World Economic Forum on several occasions, and is a part of their Young Global Leaders network. The network is a carefully selected group of leaders between the age of 30 to 40 years that have made their mark working towards improving society, using their position to drive positive change within their fields.

Quite a few of these young leaders are part of family offices like Camilla. “70 % of the world’s wealth comes from family owned businesses, and if we want to make a real change in the world for the better, it is crucial for these businesses to play a major role,” says Hagen Sørli. However, she emphasizes that probably the most important thing that she has learned from these meetings, is the international perspective she has gotten from leaders with a completely different background and story.

How We Make Money

One of her role models who has offered valuable insight to leadership and business strategy, is the former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. Born in India and educated in the United States, she had an amazing career leading up to her role as CEO of this international company. However, the most important aspect of this Nooyi’s leadership was not due to her career, rather her courage in leading the way of corporate social responsibility to fuel growth.

Nooyi once said: “It is not about how much money you make, but how you make money.” You might think that a business approach like this would not be profitable? Think again, during the years under Nooyi´s leadership the revenue increased with 80% —and with increased sustainable solutions.

No Company Is Better Than Its People

Learning from some of the prominent leaders from across the world: What has Camilla Hagen Sørli learned so far about her own abilities as a leader? “People are our most important asset and making them thrive is a key driver for success. I believe that one of the most fruitful things I can do for my team, is to make sure they look forward to going to work every day, creating a climate where people are motivated to achieve their goals and the goals of the company,” Camilla says. “I also try to leverage on where my strengths are, but at the same time being aware of where to improve. That is often easier said than done, as we all like to stay within our comfort zones where we know we perform better,” she continues.

“I care about being inclusive and want everyone to feel valued, but one of my weaker attributes shows perhaps best when very difficult decisions need to be taken or tough feedback is necessary. I score high on empathy and sometimes it gets the better of me, however being exposed to those situations is the best way of learning. Something I have taken with me from both extreme sports and work is that facing that out of your comfort zone feeling is the most rewarding one; it’s then you really move mountains within yourself,” she states.

Investing in Women

“I was sitting in a classroom full of girls between 15 to 17 years old. They all talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up and had the same dreams as any other teenager in the world: engineers, lawyers, doctors, economists, and journalists. Their ambitions were sky high. And why should they not be? This could have been in any classroom in Norway, but it wasn’t. I found myself in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where the future of these girls was far from bright,” Camilla shares.

Camilla visiting the Zaatari refugee camp.

She is engaged in the cause of increasing equality and supporting women and girls all over the world regarding both health and education. Being a founding member of the Maverick Collective, she is part a network of women that invest in improved health and economic growth for women and girls. Having visited, spoken, and interacted with women all over the world to better understand root causes and needs, she has learned much of what really works within development. “Securing equal opportunities for all drives inclusion and investing in women is actually one of the most important growth factors to lift a society out of poverty,” Camilla says.

“I want my kids to grow up in an equal world where girls and women have the same opportunities as men. We may think we have come a long way, but stereotypes still exist. Just this weekend we were playing cards and my six-year-old daughter asked me, ‘Why is the king worth more than the queen?’ Society consist of all these unconscious biases and I wish for my daughters and sons not experience them as barriers.”

The Next Generation

As a true booklover, Camilla believes that there is a great amount of inspiration and wisdom to be found in strong female characters within literature. She tries spending time reading to her children inspiring tales, such as Pippi Longstocking and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. She believes that exploring the perspectives of others is a valuable tool for understanding the world, admitting that when finding her oldest daughter with the lights still on after bedtime, reading a book under the sheets in secret, she does not say a word. On the contrary, it makes her both happy and proud, reminiscing about her own love affair with books from the same age.

Last year she launched her own Instagram account @TheBookiehood, where she recommends books, both non-fiction and fiction. “People always ask me on advice of what to read, so my sister urged me to take it into action. It really has become a rewarding hobby to write about the books I value, though also a bit more time consuming than I imagined. Typical of me to believe I can do more than I have time for,” she laughs.

How much she read depends on the workload and to keep updated on what´s moving globally, she also prioritizes news and certain magazines. “A bit geeky, but I have actually subscribed to The Economist since I was nineteen, though reading it from cover to cover is a completely different matter,” she admits.

Photo of Camila’s family.

Finding Balance

Camilla Hagen Sørli says it is important for her to allocate time to do things that inspire her and that gives her energy, and not to mention keeps her sane. “I sometimes wonder how on earth I can be smiling to my colleagues when twenty minutes earlier I was shouting at the kids for not dressing quickly enough. But maybe that is why—being at work is also free time for me.”

As a former base jumper, she finds peace and tranquillity in extreme heights and terrain, but also simply being outside. “I actually feel a bit addicted to nature and the sensation it gives me. Sometimes just a short walk is enough, but the adventure seeking part of me loves to plan and execute on a goal that is related to an outdoor activity, often adding some adrenalin to it,” she says with a smile. “One of our goals for 2021 is to climb Austbotntind in Jotunheimen with the two eldest kids—the best thing being that they are as excited as me!” she laughs. “Now I fear I might sound tougher than I am, and I guess that is also a fear in itself; what people think of me matters, and I wish I didn’t. This is something I work to improve, perhaps turning forty will help me,” she smiles again, with thoughts of her birthday being around the corner.

Prioritizing

You may be thinking: I cannot help but marvel over how she makes the time to do it all?

“Ha, ha—I really don’t. I’m extremely strict with my priorities and have a very limited social life. I’m horrible at answering non-work-related emails, and I never bake cinnamon buns,” she laughs. “I’m also a master of procrastinating, which fires back on me again and again; it is my new year resolution to improve every year,” Camilla adds. “I do however like to raise the aspect that my husband and I share responsibility at home completely equally.”

She continues, “Have you ever thought about the fact that every time you read an interview with a female business leader, the journalist will ask about work life balance, while never asking the same question to a man? My husband is a medical doctor running his own company—and juggling the four kids, he should definitely also get that question, as it takes two to make a family work and to have two careers. He is the one baking cinnamon buns by the way, and they are heavenly!” •