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Creating impact close to home

Interview with EMBA Alumnus, Claus Højbjerg Andersen
September 2019

caAfter studying for an EMBA at IMD, Claus Højbjerg Andersen was inspired to focus his career on creating positive impact for society. Claus founded a groundbreaking “sustainability” hotel in his home city of Copenhagen to tackle the effects of mass tourism.

Claus first came to IMD in the 1990’s and has been coming back ever since. He was the Valedictorian of his EMBA class in 2012, and completed the Program for Executive Development in 2006 after his first experience in Building on Talent. IMD recently caught up with Claus to discuss his journey and learnings along the way.

IMD: What kept you coming back to IMD?

Claus Højbjerg Andersen:
I had a long stretch of being in and out of IMD, but the good part of that story is that I always knew that I would go back – and I did. When I was doing the EMBA, I was thinking about what I wanted to do next. The program opened my mind. When I finished the EMBA I wanted to work with a company that had some kind of social impact.

What changed after your EMBA?

After the program, I partnered with a few other people who were working with companies that had inside issues with corruption and had been blacklisted by organizations like the UN or the World Bank. They carried out programs within the companies to get them back on the white lists, allowing them to once again deal with other public companies. My associates were really into trying to change the culture, behavior and processes in these large companies. I thought this was an interesting approach to corruption and how to make companies better.

Then I bought half of the company, GAN Integrity, and developed a software that supported its work. The company then grew very fast and we opened up an office in New York. Although I’ve since moved on due to geography and my family situation, it continues to become larger and larger because the need for its knowledge and software are growing fast.

I then joined a London-based company, ETF Partners, where I still am today, working out of Copenhagen. The company’s focus is on sustainability technology investments. It covers everything from drones that can go into harsh environments to check pollution levels, to reusing leather waste to reduce pollution related to developing leather, to strengthening cybersecurity for green technology such as windmills.

How did you go from investment to founding a hotel?

My focus on sustainability led me to my next venture in the tourism industry. With my wife, we bought a hotel and created a concept to make it as sustainable as we can be.

All of the furniture is vintage or used. Even the paint we used to decorate the hotel is very environmentally friendly – you could drink it if you wanted to. Our food is prepared so we create as little waste as possible. When it comes to cleaning, we make sure that the products including what we use for our linens are environmentally friendly.

That’s one side. Another is that we make sure that our guests tread lightly when visiting local attractions. We also involve locals to help us welcome them in a different way and make sure they are less of a hassle. It’s encouraging to see how many people are interested in this type of tourism.

One of the most important parts of the venture has been creating a joint project with my wife. Doing it together has made the biggest impact on my life.

Why did you decide to work on sustainability in Denmark, a country that already performs well in that area?

Once I started thinking about the impact of sustainability, I started to think about what it really is. Do you need to go to Africa or India or can you do something where you are? It’s very clear that there are a lot of issues in those areas but there are issues everywhere. You can approach sustainability in many ways. We decided to do it on our front doorstep.

How did what you learned at IMD contribute to your career path?

Once you get a taste of learning at IMD, you want more. I appreciate learning much more now as an adult. I still remember my first time at IMD and enjoying every day of learning there. I knew what I would get from the EMBA was to broaden my vision of what I could do. I knew I needed help to do that because as the years go by in your industry you become more and more of a specialist. Climbing up from that and looking at what else you can do and having the tools to do it is what I expected – and that’s what I got.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for the IMD Alumni community on how they can contribute to a more sustainable society?

Problems exist everywhere. Of course it is noble to want to help starving people on the other side of the world. But there are problems that need to be solved right where you are and in your everyday life. Once you start to think about that, you will notice all the things that could be done.

Another important point is that social impact and financial impact can go hand-in-hand. You don’t need to work for free to save the planet. Initiatives that have both a social and environmental impact have the biggest overall impact in my opinion. Financial impact can allow you to continue to do all the good stuff you want to do. Otherwise you run out of money pretty fast. There is nothing wrong with volunteering, but to be able to create impact again and again you need a sustainable model and that takes money. That idea is where it all started for me. It was the subject of my thesis in the EMBA program at IMD.

What’s next for you?

The hotel project has opened my eyes that the sustainable tourism industry is bigger than I thought. There are so many related areas where we can do much better than we are doing today. It has also been rewarding to work with my wife, so I think I will continue in both of those directions. I would also like to work closer with the city of Copenhagen to see how we can further build upon sustainable tourism there together.

It’s been a very fulfilling journey so far. I have met so many interesting people from around the world and learned about their personal stories. I am encouraged that Denmark and the rest of the region is going in the right direction. Thankfully for the first time in recent memory our elections were focused on climate and not foreigners coming into the country. Consumers are starting to react too. In Sweden, for example, airline traffic was down by 8% in the first part of the year. That is a huge impact.

Career Path

  • Venture Partner, ETF Partners
    Jun 2017 – Present
  • Co-founder, Nærvær
    May 2017 – Present
  • Chairman of the Board, European Value Partners AG
    2013 – Present
    Zurich, Luxembourg
  • Chairman of the Board of Directors / CEO / Co-founder, GAN Integrity Solutions
    Jan 2013 – Apr 2017
    Copenhagen/New York