Niels Christiansen, from bricks to clicks
Lego signs a record year 2020. The briquette has certainly benefited from the forced confinement of millions of children, but it has also been able to reap the fruits of the digital strategic vision of its boss, Niels Christiansen.
Has the small Danish plastic briquette won the hearts of millions of children during this almost global confinement? The Lego group announces a 13% growth in sales in 2020. All markets contributed to a turnover of 43.7 billion Danish kroner (5.9 billion euros) for a net profit close to 10 billion of crowns (1.3 billion euros). A record.
The online sales exploded, although we do not know the exact share that this distribution channel represents in the overall figures. “Over the past two years, we have made large-scale investments to support long-term growth. We are starting to see the benefits,” the statement read. And Lego does not intend to stop there. Innovation, digitization and the development of an omnichannel sales network (with 120 stores added in 2021 to the current 678) will remain at the heart of the investments.
Behind this success, a man: Niels christiansen. “Niels has succeeded in transforming a traditional industrial company into a technology leader”, explains Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, executive chairman of the group.
The man will never display his prize list. “He’s not flashy. He’s low-key, but he’s one of the most impressive businessmen I’ve met,” said a Danish leader.
“Niels has succeeded in transforming a traditional industrial company into a technology leader.”
The Kirk Kristiansen’s family, founder of Lego, was therefore right in placing him at the head of the company in 2017.
First, sentimentally. While his British predecessor of Indian origin Bali Padda admitted having played Lego for the first time as an adult, Niels Christiansen says that like any self-respecting Dane, Lego were part of his childhood games; and to add his son’s passion for Lego Harry Potter or the Porsche 911 in briquettes.
Then Christiansen seduced by his digital strategic vision and the impressive results achieved at his former employer, the Danish technology industry group Danfoss.
“Ideally, I would like children not to say to themselves ‘now I need a digital game’ or ‘now I need physical games'”, he explained to the Financial Times when he arrived at Lego. .
Nevertheless, fighting game console competition is on the boss’s agenda, while preserving the very DNA of Lego and the brand’s presence without our streets.
He is also responsible for making Lego the toy company most popular in the world, or even to dethrone Mattel (2020 turnover of nearly 4 billion euros, up + 2%) and Hasbro.
The development of digitization is also part of this spirit, in order to have its destiny in hand, especially after the bankruptcies of giants like Toys “R” Us.
On his tablet, we finally find environmental objectives. Briquettes will thus develop by 2030 into an organic plastic with a “carbon neutral” manufacturing objective from 2022.
- 1991: He obtained a civil engineering degree, completed an MBA at the European Institute of Business Administration and became a consultant at McKinsey.
- 1995: He enters the management of Hilti.
- 2000-2004: He rose through the ranks to become Executive Vice President of the GN Netcom group (North).
- 2004: He became Executive Vice President of Danfoss to take over the general management from 2008 to 2017.
- 2017: He succeeds Bali Padda as CEO of Lego.
25 years of leadership
As a teenager, Niels Christiansen dreamed of being a pilot. “I went over the maximum size, so it was no longer an option.” He then embarked on engineering studies with the desire to create and develop, but convinced that he would never enter the business world. And yet, even before the Lego adventure, he already had more than 25 years of experience in business management.
Honesty of language
In his leadership, Niels Christiansen has adopted a line of conduct: “Be as honest and simple as possible in language. Say what you are going to do … and stick to it”. Authenticity and Danish roots are characteristics that stick to it.
To be creative
From March, when most schoolchildren on the planet are deprived of school because of the risks of the pandemic, Lego employees post ideas for building briquettes on social networks. The group claims to have reached nearly 80 million users, but Niels Christiansen adds: “The goal was not to sell more, but that these creative ideas can build,” he told Time.