Marie Hélène Mansard explains how Covid-19 has spawned a range of new applications for video surveillance systems and why 5G experimentation means it’s a good time to be a smart city manager in Asia.
Kurrant Talent: Axis is a leading player in video surveillance solutions in more than 15 different industries, how does video surveillance fit into the smart cities sector and how do you see the role of Axis in this industry?
Marie Hélène Mansard: Axis is active in three smart city areas: security and public safety; mobility, especially public and urban transportation; and environment monitoring, which represents a new area for us. For instance, we have a system installed in China that can detect the level of water and triggers audio alerts to the population when there is flooding or a storm, while in Australia, we have a system that can check illegal littering across a city.
KT: What has been the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on video surveillance deployment in cities and what features are most in demand – has there been any change?
MHM: Yes, we have seen a change because safe-distancing measures mean there is more need for people and crowd-counting. We are seeing increased demand for this functionality from different city councils because they want to limit the number of people entering into a public building or an area of the city. We are also seeing changes in public transportation. For example, subways need to count the number of people going on the platform to take the train. This is all on the increase because cities feel responsible for helping the citizens to respect safe-distancing. They don’t want to put the citizen into a situation where they are in overcrowded areas and the technology allows them to monitor this before it happens.
What I’ve learned is that the culture in Asia is less individualistic compared to Europe: the benefit to the community will supersede the individual needs or benefit
Geographically, we are seeing it more in the APAC region. Here, every city can add more video surveillance cameras and functionality such as people-counting and crowd-counting. Another use case we see in the Asia-Pacific region is monitoring numbers for religious pilgrimages or festivals.
KT: As head of business development, how would you describe your role? And what are the key competencies required compared to a direct sales management role?
MHM: Business development in the long-term is about preparing the company for the next two-to-four years from now. And this is about building relationships with the end-customers. This complements well with sales activity. The sales team are working with the channel partners, really doing the push while business development is more about creating the demand for our solutions. So, this is the difference. And, as I mentioned, we are really focused on the long-term in business development and are measured on yearly figures.
KT: How did local culture and business practices impact your leadership style today after 25 years of work experience in Europe and South-East Asia?
MHM: What I’ve learned is that the culture in Asia is less individualistic compared to Europe: the benefit to the community will supersede the individual needs or benefit. I believe this is also one of the reasons why it is sometimes easier to get decisions from governmental organisations in Asia. They really care about the wellbeing and the security of the community.
From a leadership-style perspective, it is more due to the company culture than being in Asia. The company culture in Nordic countries and therefore at Axis is open and less hierarchical. I don’t think I have changed how I manage because I was already managing people from different countries. So, when you have a diverse team, you need to be very explicit and share more in order to ensure that people understand what has to be done and how you want it. This takes more time to reach the same level of understanding. But, in the end, when you are working out a problem, the inputs and solution discussed are much richer because you have people from different backgrounds and experiences contributing.
On a more personal point of view, I think Asia is more open to women in the business – and in science and technology leadership positions – compared to some other parts of the world. One main reason, from my point of view, is that there is a more structured way of getting access to childcare. I believe that there’s always a link between women at work and childcare infrastructure of a country. Swedish companies, which are advanced when it comes to diversity and inclusion, are at the forefront of this.
Because technology is moving so fast, if you are not able to find the appropriate skills and resources in your country then you need to look elsewhere
KT: Based on your personal experience, would you recommend sales and business development managers in the smart city industry take a role in Asia?
MHM: There are plenty of opportunities in Asia especially around 5G and smart cities. I think that 5G will accelerate the adoption of IoT devices in the near future and bring significant transformation to cities. It is a good time for smart city managers in Asia because of the 5G experimentation taking place. There are several Western companies that are able to provide 5G and IoT technology so those skills are in high demand in the region.
Despite tightening of employment permits for westerners throughout Asia, if you have a skill that can make a difference, there will still be a market for it and I don’t see anything stopping that. Because technology is moving so fast, if you are not able to find the appropriate skills and resources in your country then you need to look elsewhere.
KT: You have previously worked 18 years for two large French groups, Airbus and Thales. What are the main differences you had to adapt to when joining a Swedish company like Axis Communications?
MHM: There is the different relationship with the hierarchy that I mentioned earlier and the open and transparent culture that prevails in Sweden. These values are not just words. In some Western companies around the world, values remain something written on the wall but in Sweden they are practiced in reality. People are really open and transparent by culture and are keen to share lots of things with you. Even if they have difficulties or need help, they will ask you openly and would also expect you to help. Therefore, you can also do the same if you are facing a problem.
Look at how well female-led countries such as New Zealand, Taiwan or even Germany, are managing the pandemic
Telling your colleagues that you have a problem or need help in some cultures is a difficult thing to do because you are supposed to be strong and able to cope with every aspect of your job. So, to me, this was a major change that creates a different type of relationship that is more fluid, open and supportive. In this context, it is also easier to identify and approach the resources within the organisation that can help you.
I will add something else that is more specific to working for Axis: Axis believes that if you are happy in your work and happy in your life, then you will perform well. So, Axis is willing to grow you not only as a professional but also as a person and as a citizen in the country in which you are living in. In fact, I now know that you can be more creative if you don’t have fears or uncertainty about your job. You can free up your mind and focus entirely on growing customers, solutions and innovation.
Of course, we have targets and it is not a fairy tale world with no pressure but it’s a pressure in a positive way and departments are supportive of each other. Also, objectives are usually defined as team objectives rather than individual ones and every member of the team will get the same percentage of commission.
KT: Swedish companies are known for implementing gender equality policies. Can you tell us what is in place at Axis and how does it contribute to ensure gender equality?
MHM: We have an initiative in Axis, which is called Women in Security for which I am responsible for in the Asia-Pacific region. It started a few years ago in the US. We held online events in July and November for all Asia-Pacific partners and customers and had several talented women talking about what is happening in the security industry but also about their own experience.
We are also having an Asia-Pacific Axis internal event in which our CEO and CPO are joining. They personally demonstrate engagement towards this topic of gender equality by sharing their own experience about working with women and what women are bringing to the business and the workplace. This is impactful because it is not only about equality but also very much about business.
5G will accelerate the adoption of IoT devices in the near future and bring significant transformation to cities. It is a good time for smart city managers in Asia
In Axis we have a woman as the EMEA VP. It is always good to join an organisation where you know there will be some female role models. The advice I give to young women is to take a look at a company website to find out how many women are on the board of directors or on the executive board. If there are no women, consider not joining.
From a company perspective, if you are not using all of the available skills in the market because you don’t want to hire a woman, you are putting yourself and the business in a difficult position. For example, how women manage crisis is different from men. Look at how well female-led countries such as New Zealand, Taiwan or even Germany, are managing the pandemic.
In business development, we need good listeners and tolerant people. This is very important as it makes them more willing to understand customer pain points, needs and strategy. I have been seeing these skills in several female colleagues.
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