[UPDATE: Nov. 29, 2017] Birgitta Ewerlöf was replaced as CEO of Seed Hawk by Nigel Jones as reported on Oct. 31, 2017.
Farmers expected the change in paint colour, since the machines built under the Seed Hawk brand are being changed to match those marketed under parent company Väderstad’s brand.
But we weren’t quite so sure what to expect from the new faces that were showing the equipment off.
One face in particular belonged to Birgitta Ewerlöf, who took over as president and CEO of Seed Hawk in April from the departing Peter Clarke.
But we weren’t to read anything into the fact she was attending her first Canadian public events at the same time the new look for the brand’s equipment was being rolled out.
“It’s just a coincidence, I think,” she said with a strong Swedish accent.
But with the new unified look for all equipment built under both brands, and with a former executive from the parent company in charge, the Swedish influence at the Saskatchewan firm now seems stronger than ever. Some of the other faces of those wearing Seed Hawk shirts have changed as well. The company has now taken over its own marketing efforts, along with bringing other tasks in-house.
Ewerlöf says she’s encouraged by all the interest she’s seeing in a younger generation involved in agriculture, and some of those fresh, new faces have been hired to help the company move forward under her leadership. But new hires shouldn’t expect to get by with a half-hearted effort. She says she’ll challenge them to excel as part of the new corporate team.
“I think young people are bravely raising their hand and saying I want to be part of this,” she says. “It will be no walk in the park.”
A mechanical engineer by trade, Ewerlöf had been overseeing welding operations at the Swedish Väderstad plant before being promoted to lead Seed Hawk. Her engineering experience actually began in the automotive industry, working with heavy trucks at Scania Volvo in her native Sweden before joining Väderstad.
“I think that (previous experience) is very good for the company,” she told me. “It (automotive manufacturing) is not that different. You have to adapt because the volume is not there. But when it comes to securing quality, there are many tools that are used in the car industry that we can absolutely use here. I can bring some knowledge.”
Ewerlöf says there are no plans to bring wholesale change to Seed Hawk under her leadership, but she will be focusing on opportunities that take advantage of the synergies available between Seed Hawk and its parent company. Now that she’s spent some time behind the boss’s desk, efforts to understand where to look for those advantages can start in earnest.
She knows the job that is ahead of her.
“The owners have put it on my plate to build more bridges between Seed Hawk and Väderstad,” she said. “We should also follow the path of learning from each other. It’s an exchange of each other’s experiences. We should use the synergies from each other. We have a short (factory) shut-down here, so we are going back to Sweden to build a new strategy and business plan there together.”
Also at the company’s display at the Regina Farm Progress show were the company owners, Christer and Christina Stark. Seeing them at this event isn’t unusual, as at least one of the two tries to attend each year.
“They want to be here to celebrate,” says Ewerlöf. “Also to meet and support their employees here. So they are very eager to come here and help. They make themselves very available for us and the customer.”
But with Väderstad and Seed Hawk still operating as independent companies under the Starks’ ownership, is there any competition or rivalry building? Ewerlöf thinks that is bound to be the case, but by working together, the two firms can build on each other’s strengths.
“You have your own baby and you protect it absolutely,” she said. But, she added, “You need to have a system that supports cross-functional work and encourage people to work together. Then one plus one equals three. The Väderstad brand and the Stark family have a very good reputation and are well known out there in Germany, the U.K., Russia, globally.”
As she works to build on those synergies, she has to also adapt to life in a new country and work in a second language. That, she says, hasn’t been too difficult, and the small community she lives in near the Seed Hawk plant has been very welcoming.
“My husband and I are from small places in Sweden,” she explained. “It’s different (here in Canada) in the perspective that it’s very flat and Mother Nature going up and down more quickly than in Sweden (but) the people here are very, very friendly and there are a lot of Europeans.”
Casting her gaze around the show grounds in Regina as she talks with Country Guide, Ewerlöf said it’s important for her to be at events like this to meet her customers and learn about their concerns.
“I learn a lot from the questions of the customers and to be around the product managers to understand their day-by-day business,” she says. “To meet people and to go around, even to competitors, is a good thing. I think it’s a good thing to have competitors, because they push you a little bit.”
She will no doubt feel the push from competitors both in Canada and elsewhere in what is a very competitive industry. As the brand’s equipment working in farm fields finished its first season retrofitted with a technical redesign to a critical metering system to counter a defect, Ewerlöf said she looks forward to having that concern finally put to bed.
“The first priority when I came here was we were very tense about the seeding season,” she explained. “How it will progress? It was very good, so now we will focus on the feedback from it. So we’ll take care of any quality issues that appear. Whatever minor quality issues occur next spring we will correct. When we’ve done that, we can go back to looking at the normal business. According to my sales staff, there’s going to be a little bit brighter future for seeding machines, and also for market share.”
Ewerlöf confirms the push from competitors will ensure there is a continued focus on innovation under her leadership at the brand. “There will be changes, because when you stop making improvements then you’re probably dead.”