Former General Manager Kristian Susnic is here to share his story working with Stansefabrikken UAB and Ukmergės Pramonės Parkas UAB.
This story started 20 years ago and is not about to end! Mr. Susnic shares his thoughts about the humble beginnings of Stansefabrikken in Lithuania, differences between Lithuanians and Norvegians and even a few unexpected stories that happened along the way.
- How did your journey with Stansefabrikken Group start?
I started working at Stansefabrikken in 1998 as a consultant and a General Manager of their factory in Fredrikstad where they were making the Stansefabrikken electrical cabinets and postboxes, in addition to making sheet metal products as a sub-supplier. Since then I have had a role in the Stansefabrikken group as CEO of the daughter companies in the group or on the board.
- Why was Lithuania/ Ukmerge chosen as your business location?
Stansefabrikken made several thorough investigations about where to establish their production lines outside of Norway. High cost level in Norway was one of the main factors why it was wise to relocate our production. We contemplated going to the Baltic countries due to costlevel and short distance to Norway. After some investigations we found out that Lithuania was the best country for us. It is safe to say that Lithuania had more opportunities than the other Baltic countries (Latvia or Estonia). Also, one very important factor was that we had a lot of support from Innovation Norway with Rita Bogužaitė as our consultant here in Lithuania. We looked around all of Lithuania to find the right place for us to locate our factory. Ukmerge was at the very center of Lithuania yet it was not a capital city (Vilnius) where salary levels always tend to be a bit higher. At the same time the city had industrial history and was not too small to meet our needs. This, in addition to the opportunity to buy the old factory in Pasiles street, was the reason why we ended up in Ukmerge.
- Was it difficult for you to relocate to Lithuania and why?
No, we did not find it difficult to relocate to Lithuania. It was of course a lot of work, but the local authorities were really helpful. We had a lot of support from some good lawyers, accounting specialists and consultants of all kinds so we managed to do it quite effortlessly. Starting in a new place, we needed to train all of our new workers and share everything from our production know-how to our values regarding quality of the final product. Good and open communication with the Norwegian colleagues was extremely helpful here.
- What are the main differences between Lithuania and Norway and also between Lithuanians and Norwegian people?
This is a tricky question. Difference nowadays is definitely much less visible than what it was when we started operating in Lithuania. I think one of the main differences is that Norwegians have a tendency to trust people first, and with Lithuanians you need to earn and prove to be trustworthy before they decide to trust you. Also, I find Lithuanians to be more ambitious and hard working than most Norwegians.
- We know that you speak Lithuanian! How did you learn the language and if you had any challenges while doing so?
There is no doubt that the Lithuanian language is quite hard to master!
At the beginning, I did not speak the language at all and all work related communication was in English. But after some time I managed to learn a bit and could make myself understood in more casual social settings, but not in a professional way.
- You started as a general manager in Stansefabrikken UAB and later in Ukmerge Industrial Park, what were your main responsibilities?
Actually we founded the two companies at about the same time, and I had to be employee no. 1 in both of the companies. It was my responsibility to establish the factory and all the infrastructure, employ all necessary personnel, renovate the factory, set up production and move it from Norway to Ukmerge. It was a busy time and required many different steps so that we could start working in Lithuania.
- As you relocated with your family, what was their approach or struggles coming to Lithuania?
I had full support from my family. We all thought it would be exciting to move to another country and get some new experience. My wife and I had 2 boys of 7 and 9 years when we moved to Lithuania for 4 years. They went to the American school in Vilnius so it was a great experience for all of us.
- What would be one (or more stories) that you can remember regarding your positions as a general manager in both companies?
Well we had many interesting things happening during the startup. I remember I was a bit surprised when the building project was a bit delayed and I saw some of the workers cleaning each separate brick of the demolished walls. I found that a bit strange since the contractor company had a rather large fine for each day of delay of the project. I asked them to stop and start building the factory, and could not understand the reason for this. Later I could see that some of the personnel were moving the cleaned bricks back home in order to sell or use them themselves. I was not used to this kind of thinking since it takes a lot of time and effort to clean each individual brick. I also remember when we were about to sign the first building contract. This event took place in the morning and I was introduced to the tradition of getting a not-so-small glass of vodka as a tradition to seal the contract.
I remember it very well when we first bought the building at the Vienybe plant where the production was to be set. Unfortunately when we made the detailed technical investigation we found the construction to be full of rust and in much worse condition then we first expected it to be. This was in February of 2002, and we had made a promise to start production for Bang & Olufsen in the summer of the same year. The day when I wrote to the board that we need to start looking for a new location and place to build our factory was very special. Soon we started driving all around Lithuania for the next two weeks. We found 7 different options but we decided to buy and renovate Ukmerges Stakles company who had a factory in Pasiles street. This is the factory you all know very well. From the search for a suitable place to the first painting of ball-lamps for IKEA it took only about 8 months. So it was a pretty busy time!
- How do you see our company in 10 years? What are your predictions for the future?
My predictions are very optimistic, as I see a lot of potential in this business. It is my belief that Stansefabrikken will continue growing in Ukmerge. I am certain that we will complete our plans for new production buildings and create an even better place to work for everyone.
- What would you wish for all of our employees?
I think all employees who have worked for Stansefabrikken in Ukmerge should be proud of what they have been a part of for the last 20 years, as we started and have been operating here in Lithuania something great.
My greatest wish is that everyone working at Stansefabrikken could feel comfortable, and be sure that every one of them is incredibly useful and is always appreciated. I would also wish everyone to find a way to develop themselves in our company.