Under the heading ‘Quality Profile‘, the Swedish quality magazine ‘Kvalitetsmagasinet’ published an article about Ulf Gustavsson.

Ulf explains how he will lead the European Organisation for Quality, which has a solid but somewhat outdated basis, into a new future.

Mr. Gustavsson has extensive experience and applies the lessons he learned at IKEA, for example, in his new position as secretary general of EOQ.


Has command of a long-standing quality organization

The European quality organization EOQ is now led by the Swede Ulf Gustavsson with a past from the Swedish Armed Forces and Ikea, among others. Since taking office as Secretary-General, he has devoted time to setting an ambitious agenda to revitalize this 65-year-old organization based on the motto “The leading promoter of quality”. TEXT Leo Olsson

A SEARCH ON Google does not provide an immediate hit on EOQ, the European Organization for Quality. Only a few pages later is a link to the organization that was founded as early as 1956 under the name European Organization for Quality Control, EOQC, but which 21 years ago removed C as in Control.

  • One of the big challenges is that EOQ did not really keep up with developments. Just take such a thing as our website. It has just been redone, but looked like a relic from the 90s for a long time. In other areas, too, it is important that we shift up and find new ways forward. EOQ must be the organization that is “top of mind” when it comes to quality issues, Ulf Gustavsson states.

Personnel certification in quality

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the organization that Ulf Gustavsson now leads is on a stable foundation. The membership consists of just over 20 quality organizations with approximately 70,000 members, of which the Swedish Association for Quality, SFK is one of them.

In addition, there are 14 competence centers, so-called CC Agents, which are linked to the organization and accredited to carry out personal certification within area quality. For a long time, these personnell certifications were also carried out in Sweden under the auspices of SFK, but ceased in the middle of the twentieth century.

  • My ambition is for us to resume certification operations in Sweden. It has been a great success in several other countries, such as Norway, where the quality managers can now show that they live up to requirements and expectations in a structured way, Ulf Gustavsson explains.

Military improvement work

It was at EOQ’s General Assembly in June 2020 that Ulf Gustavsson was appointed new Secretary General of the organization. Despite the fact that he has not yet turned 50, he has a long career as a manager and leader behind him. He got his first managerial job immediately after graduating in 1991 at the newly started Wallmans Salons in Stockholm. After that, he became a conscript as a mountain hunter in Lapland’s regiment in Kiruna, where he remained for four years after graduating as an officer. It was during his time as a professional officer that he first came into contact with quality work via the quality training – Bredd-Q – as then Commander-in-Chief Owe Wiktorin initiated. All defense employees, officers as well as civilian employees, had to undergo an introduction to quality and improvement work of 32 hours. Ulf Gustavsson was one of those who, in addition to training hunter-gatherers, traveled around to the country’s regiments to teach about quality. – It was a useful experience as a young ensign to instruct my colleagues, regardless of degree designations, in how to identify improvements and eliminate slack in the processes, he says.


Ulf Gustavsson

Age: 48 years.

Education: Officer degree, Bachelor of Economics degree.

Career: 1991 – 1993 Wallmans Salonger (day manager), 1993 – 1999 Lapland Jägarregemente (professional officer), 1999 – 2001 Studentlitteratur Utbildningshuset AB (key account manager), 2001 – 2005 Dependum AB (own company), 2003 – 2005 Svenska Förbundet för Quality (union chairman), 2005 – 2010 Ikea (Älmhult), 2010 – 2011 Millicom Ltd (global performance and development manager), 2011 – 2016 Inter Ikea Systems BV (Netherlands), 2016 – 2018 Ikea (Malmö), 2018 – Gustavum AB ( own company), 2019 – 2019 Syncor-der AnS (CEO Denmark), 2019 – Qvalify AB (Chairman of the Board), 2020 – European Organization for Quality (Secretary General).
Family: Wife and four children – 23, 25, 28 and 30 years.

Lives: Condominium in Malmö.
Interests: Skiing, training, nature.

Ikea gave lessons

After his military career, Ulf Gustavsson was at Ikea in two rounds for a total of 12 years. First in various global positions with stationing at the head office in Älmhult, then at Inter Ikea in the Netherlands and finally at the Inka Group in Malmö. The time at Ikea provided several lessons, he states.

  • On the one hand, I gained a greater understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and on the other hand, a great deal of humility. Humility in the sense of respect for people, courage to admit their mistakes and the realization of the need to involve those who can better. If you want to bring about change, it is not possible to sit in your own little bubble and make decisions that have no basis in reality, he explains.

For just over a year 2010 – 2011, Ulf Gustavsson also made an interlude at Milli-com, Kinnevik’s telecom company that is active in various emerging markets around the world.

  • Even though Jan Stenbeck passed away much earlier, his spirit still lived on with a business philosophy characterized by “sense of urgency”. It could happen that we were called to a meeting one weekend in Dubai where we decided on a new global pricing strategy which would then be implemented in six African countries the following week. It was a pace without equal in combination with a genuine business acumen, he says.

Residing in the United States

It was during the time at Millicom that Ulf Gustavsson lived with his family in the USA.

  • I have always formulated clear personal goals, he states. As early as 2008, I set the goal that we as a family would have the opportunity to live and work in the United States, and two years later we moved there. It is about selective perception or as Thomas di Leva once said: “Be careful what you want – there is a risk that it will become a reality”.

As Secretary General of the EOQ, Ulf Gustavsson is attached to the office in Brussels, which is staffed by three people. But due to the pandemic, he mostly works remotely from his home in the rebuilt shipyard area Dockan in Malmö.

Five focus areas

Since taking office last summer, he has established an ambitious plan for the organization based on five strategic focus areas.

The first area is about identifying the needs that exist within the organization. A long wish list has been received from the member organizations.

  • An earlier pitfall is that you have not seen the forest for all the trees. Without priorities, there is a risk that nothing will happen at all. Now I try to clarify which path we should take, not least which external partners we should cooperate with. We have already started a dialogue with two Directors-General of the European Commission, one with responsibility for energy issues and one who works with the internal market, innovation and SMEs, he says.

The second area is to develop attractive offers for members. The goal is to launch a new product or service every six months – everything from a new logo to new network models in quality.

The third area is marketing and communication.

  • We live in a time when you do not become known automatically. With the limited resources we have, it is important to find the right channels, not least in social media, to spread our message, he says.

Digital transformation
The fourth area is focused on digital transformation. Ulf Gustavsson has experience from digitalisation from his time at Ikea and emphasizes the importance of a seamless customer experience.

  • At Ikea, the first idea was that e-commerce would become a complementary sales channel. But the customer does not think in channels, but has a need that you want to meet. Therefore, digitalisation is about working cross-functionally and breaking all silo thinking, he explains.

The fifth and final area has to do with leadership. As a leader, it is important to dare to make decisions about which new roads to take, even if there is no clear and distinct roadmap.

  • Ingvar Kamprad used to say that only the one who sleeps makes no mistakes. In the fast-paced time we live, we must realize that everything we do does not become success stories – that mistakes are inevitable, emphasizes Ulf Gustavsson.

Capture people where they stand

A classic trap in a change work is that the management rushes forward too fast and lacks the ability to catch people where they stand, he says.

  • An example is the management team or the board that has been sitting for months and discussing what changes should be made. Then they present their plan to the employees at a short meeting and expect them to be on the notes. It is as obvious for doubt and concern, he says.

To succeed with the change of EOQ, Ulf Gustavsson has identified four value rings that will permeate everything. It is about involving, simplifying, pragmatizing and finally delivering.

  • The simple is also the most difficult. No business plan of 50 pages is needed, but a simple sheet is usually enough for everyone to understand what we are going to do. Only when everyone feels involved will the big changes be achieved, he concludes. Ñ

This article was originally published in the journal ‘Kvalitetsmagasinet‘ on 01 2021.