What was your first full-time job – and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
My first job, in 1966, after I graduated in law from the University of Copenhagen and completed my military service was in the education ministry working on higher education planning. It was both a natural and inspiring job for me, as I had been chairman of the National Union of Students during my university years. But alongside this I had a part-time job as an articled clerk in a law firm. But although I was working more than 50 hours a week, my total monthly remuneration was less than DKR3,000 (e400).
What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
I have always tried to follow the advice that Rudyard Kipling expressed in a few lines:
‘I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where
And How and Why and Who …’
I like it because it confirms that in most cases it is preparation that enables one to succeed. But in terms of advice directed at me, an older colleague once told me to ‘always be realistic about your own strong and weak points and don’t ever fool yourself’. I think that Disraeli said: “To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”
How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
In 1982 I was chief executive of the Danish Association of Economists and Members of the Legal Profession. Part of the job was to take care of the pension fund for the group – Danish pension funds are based on occupation, so nurses are in the same fund, all doctors and so on, and pension funds are closely related to the labour market partners. In addition, I was chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds and the vice-chairman of the association was the chief executive of PKA, which was already Denmark’s largest pension fund administration. When he died in 1982 the PKA board asked me to begin working with pensions full time as PKA’s new chief executive.
What was the most satisfying achievement during your career – and why?
In the second half off the 1980s we reorganised PKA and established the ownership structure it has today, with the eight pension funds that it managed owning PKA as shareholders. It made PKA much more efficient and at the same time gave the boards of each of the pension funds more influence over their own business and more responsibility.
And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
I’ve always been fascinated by company mergers and organisational reconstructions because the changes influence the way people think and act and when done skilfully they can create significant improvements. But I have only once been involved with a split. PKA had included 14 pension funds, but in 1985 four pension funds decided to leave. They left primarily because labour market associations behind them were for blue collar workers, while most of the remaining funds came from the white collar area. The defection was the event that triggered PKA’s reorganisation.
With hindsight it was good that it happened. As part of the reorganisation some of the remaining funds merged and PKA emerged from the experience as a better organisation. But while the process was underway it created a lot of turmoil and I was afraid it could harm the members’ pensions. I felt a responsibility for the then 350 employees of PKA as a crushing weight.
How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
Danish occupational pension schemes are closely related to the labour market partners, approximately 80% of all employees are members of such pension schemes and the demographic development shows there is no doubt that the industry will expand in the coming decades. So whether you come as an economist, actuary or lawyer, from an insurance company or from another financial institution or a labour market association, the labour market pension sector will offer a variety of interesting career possibilities in the years to come.
What would you do differently?
We all make mistakes but considerations, anxieties and doubts should be dealt with before you make your decision, not after. If you have made major wrong decisions because of ignorance, carelessness, vanity, or morally or ethically unacceptable motives, you certainly have something to regret. I’m not aware of having made any such decisions.
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
Relating to my career, no. But when I was young I debated whether to study law or literature and history. I chose law but now I’m reading literature and history as much as possible, trying to make up for what I didn’t do when I was young.
Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?
I have a number of non-executive positions both as a chairman and board member in both the private and public sectors and I’m also an expert judge in the Maritime and Commercial Court. Some of the positions are new and some go back to before I stepped down as chief executive of PKA. But now the days give more room for family, travel, tennis, golf, reading, theatre and relaxing in our holiday home.
Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
“Those who always know what’s best
Are a universal pest.”