Is it possible for a 70-year-old cooperative funeral home to become a big business? Mikael Åbom, CEO of Fonus, tells about the transformation and why he hired an interim:

Fonus journey for increased growth and business acumen
– No one wants to visit a funeral home; Not until it is necessary, and you really must. My mission is to create a long-term successful company with growth, cultivate the brand and strengthen the business acumen, said Mikael Åbom, who joined the Group as CEO two and a half years ago.
With more than 900 employees, spread over almost 350 offices (Norway included), Fonus is the only nationwide and by far the largest of Sweden’s nearly 800 funeral homes. The company includes the low-cost option Fondkistan, Momento and almost 400 lawyers working for the subsidiary Familjens jurist. In 2015, we acquired Juristbyrån (legal firm) as the first step towards growth. Our factory Fonus träindustri (wood industry) produces coffins and urns, also custom designed. The total turnover, for this financial association with 2,300 owners, who in turn has closer to 5 million members, is one billion kronor!

Modernize business systems & structural changes
The average Swede will book a funeral once or twice. Many customers think that a funeral should not be expensive. A minority of the customers have funerals without a ceremony, at the same time the number of individually designed arrangements are increasing. Although Sweden’s population has risen, the number of deceased does not increase. Lower mortality rates are a consequence of people getting older. Fonus has underperformed financially for several years and major investments awaits in the future.
– Fonus had underinvested within IT and digital development, lacked a brand strategy and had problems with partaking and leadership. My mission is to modernize both the corporate culture, leadership, business model and customer contacts, as well as make the structural changes needed to get Fonus long-term profitable.
The customer satisfaction is high. Our employees have great knowledge, respect and care in dealing with the deceased and the relatives. But availability for the customers was too low with an old-fashioned business structure, which could lead to lost customers.

Leadership and teamwork
– It is a challenge to lead an organization in an industry where “sales, efficiency and profitability” is not obvious. Many employees have been working for a very long time in the company, which is now facing major changes. In our appraisal work, we define the core activities of the business as the “Customer Contact”, where knowledge, experience and confidence will be conveyed. What the customer is expecting is crucial. If it is right for the customer, it is right for us!
The customer is Fonus’ most important asset and the employees the company’s most important resource. To create energy and commitment, Mikael Åbom has focused a lot on leadership and employee capacity through increased communication and presence.
– It is all about leadership, rather than being the commander. And the importance of decision making. I have worked very hard to create an ease in communicating with a structure for the communication. In addition, it is the responsibility of every employee to search and access the information provided!
Every month, Mikael Åbom talks with his 60 executives, either in person or via web/phone meetings.
– Everyone should have the same basic support. We are about to launch Fonus’ first leadership training, we have recruited the right leader and been clear about where the company is heading. In the so-called Kunskapssteget (the Knowledge Step) we ensure knowledge skills are developed, most important for new hires. After 1.5-year work with this process, our evaluation will be rolled out after the summer for all employees in the Group.

Everyone is part of the creation of our digital business plans
To increase the employee participation, digital business plans were introduced for the 2016 fiscal year. Quality and results are expected to be reached within 3-5 years. All employees are invited in the planning and to propose goals for their unit/area with a maximum of 25 goals within 5 different blocks. The goals are linked, accompanied with activities and the employees in charge of the activity, and the description of the activity may not be described with more than 60 characters.
– We are building from the bottom up. Everyone has been encouraged to ponder about why they are at Fonus, what needs to be done, what the challenges are, what changes needs to be made and how it should be followed-up. It has resulted in 270 plans, which resulted in a plan for the whole Group.
Everything is transparent and is available on the intranet. The colors yellow, red and green informs how it proceeds and inspire others to ask for tips from the successful ones. It leads to knowledge dissemination, participation and pride.
– During this journey, job descriptions and employment contracts have been changed based on a new employee and leadership idea. The goal is the “what” – but most important is the “how”, i.e., the activities.

Experienced senior interim manager got the work done
When Mikael Åbom had begun to get a grip of the business, the Sweden Manager suddenly became ill. Mikael took over the leadership for three months, well aware that it would not work for a long period.
– A CEO cannot get involved in everyday details, but rather view things from above.
In order not to lose momentum during the recruitment, I decided to hire a committed and creative interim leader. The person would also support me in my analysis.
The assignment called for an experienced senior leader who doesn’t drop the ball – and is a fast learner.
Strategies are all very well – but this is about human beings. I wanted to get the right behavior all the way. Nordic Interim quickly grasped the situation and what was needed. It was a plus that Nordic Interim’s employees themselves had worked operatively and understood me and the challenge. Within short, I received several good candidates and honest feedback, with pros and cons weighed.

Nordic Interim found the right leader
Anders Carlson was assigned the task of this operative and important leadership role, in an industry known to be very conservative.
– I didn’t get a “consultant”, but a business-driven leader.
. The perfect match! The chemistry also worked well, and we evolved together. I am a bit anti consultants – “they never take the long-term responsibility” – but Anders was part of the company from day one.
From the first day and during the weekly reconciliation meetings, they ticked off or adjusted everything on the bullet list. Three efficiency projects were initiated and the implementation is now under way.
Many employees have participated and tested, and obtained both mandate and more responsibility. The spirit lifted, the participation is very good and the results are promising.
A brief assignment was extended and the contact with Nordic Interim was maintained on a regular basis.
– It felt like a guarantee that everything would work. Nordic Interim really found the right leader! In anticipation of our permanent solution, we gained considerable added value. It was the first time I hired an Interim Manager, but not the last!

”One day we shall die, but all the other days we shall live”
The transformation is underway, decisions are made and a new organization is created. Two major business systems are replaced and Fonus moved to a new HQ. Previously their 45 employees were spread out over five units. The business is now characterized by an environmental consideration and product development to provide “a personal farewell”, entirely according to the customer’s requirements. Regardless of culture and religion.
Next step is the brand. One of the steps is the recently launched podcast “Alla andra dagar ska vi leva” (All the other days we will live) with Oskar Kihlborg and Anna Mannheimer.
Fonus market share are increasing, as is the number of assignments. The business is growing. Four agencies have been purchased and twelve offices have been re-established. It’s vital to present the deceased’s memory in the right way. The personal touch is important both in funeral and legal matters! We are good at it – many of our employees that has been in the company for a long time feel that they make a difference and that they have a meaning for the customer.
We will now take steps to ensure high availability and offer the different services that are requested by the client. Online as well as at our offices.
– The common goal of the entire Fonus Group is to make people feel assured and to be supportive in decisions that concern this part of life.