Chairman, Inspire Invest and ZEM – Zero Emission Mobility

“I am a typical engineer. When I see an opportunity for a solution, I just have to do something about it.” This enthusiasm is a driving force in all of Jan-Olaf’s work, and one he would add to the list of characteristics of the opportunity leader. In addition to being a systems-thinker, having the courage to challenge conventional thinking, and being capable of spotting the right mix of partners for change, Jan-Olaf believes an important trait is being impatient and optimistic, especially in challenging times.

In Jan-Olafs’ own words, “today’s challenges require a new kind of leader, who can spot synergies and connect ideas from one area to another.” He has demonstrated this kind of leadership throughout his career. For example, he was at the forefront of introducing electric cars, launching the THINK as the first fully EU-approved electric vehicle, in 2007.

Later, in order to convince people that electric cars actually work, he launched the concept of car-sharing for electric cars. This resulted in Move About, a European electric car-sharing company for businesses Jan-Olaf founded and is Chairman of today. “With this company, we introduced to corporations what we know today as the sharing economy, allowing them to enter the arena with no risk and become comfortable with electric cars. This to me is turning a risk into an opportunity.”

The list of pioneering initiatives Jan-Olaf has been involved with is long. He was a co-founding director of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, put climate and CSR at the forefront of the agenda at Storebrand, Norway’s largest financial institution, and co-founded a solar company at a time when few believed in its feasibility in a cloudy country like Norway. In 2009, he launched the fast-growing battery company ZEM, today a key player in the greening of the shipping industry. “This is generally the case – you see that sustainability can be tremendously useful when you start early, take the risk to become a pioneer, and are willing to stay through long enough. Then you create opportunities by being first at showing what this new world could look like.”

Looking at the wider shift towards the opportunity mindset, Jan-Olaf is optimistic: “When I was a young student, it was considered radical to want to do something more with your life than simply earning money.”

This is changing, Jan-Olaf believes. “An increasing number of the big banks and financial institutions, but also many successful entrepreneurs, want to think further ahead. That is why the trend towards impact investments is growing stronger and stronger.” From his own experience as part of the Toniic Impact Investing Network, the trend is clear: “People want to make a change, not just make money.”

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