The path to the top

“How do you become the top executive for 18 000 employees in 49 countries? It’s all about seizing the opportunities you’re offered – and about some fortuitous circumstances,” says Orkla President and CEO Peter A. Ruzicka about his path to the top.


President & CEO Peter A. Ruzicka. Photo: Stig Jarnes
President & CEO Peter A. Ruzicka. Photo: Stig Jarnes

Four years ago Peter A. Ruzicka was appointed President and CEO of Orkla.

“I’ve had an exciting career. It’s largely been a result of chance occurrences. I started out in a seafarer trainee course because I was a little tired of school. Eventually, I understood that an education was important, and took an MBA. I wrote a paper on the grocery trade, and that’s how it all began. Shortly before I finished my degree, I had a chance to attend the grocery suppliers’ annual meeting. I had brought along my CV, plucked up my courage and went over to Stein Erik Hagen, who owned RIMI at the time. I introduced myself and said that I was interested in a job. Hagen said that he’d call me, and I thought that he undoubtedly wouldn’t. But a few days later, I was offered a job. I held many different positions, and worked my way up. They showed trust in me, and I was given more responsibility than my experience warranted, but I seized the opportunities.”

“When I was offered the position of CEO of Orkla, I had to give it some serious thought. Orkla is a complex, listed company, and I had no experience with the investor market. I asked myself whether I had what it took to lead this company, and whether I was willing to spend so much time on my job. In the end, after consulting my family, I decided to grasp the opportunity. I haven’t regretted it,” he relates.

“Heading a large group is a demanding job, and it takes up a lot of time. All things considered, it’s an enjoyable experience, but being CEO is no eight-to-four job. For me, work has been priority number one, two and three for several years.”

“My time at Orkla has gone by fast, and it feels as though I started here yesterday. There are a lot of amazingly competent people here, from whom I’ve learned and am still learning a great deal. When you’re given a big task that you might not be entirely qualified to handle, it’s incredible what we human beings are capable of doing. Especially when you work in collaboration with other people,” he emphasises.

What advice can you give to others who want to have the same kind of career?

“You have to think things through very carefully, because it’s a big decision. Otherwise, I have three leadership tips:

  1. Seize the opportunity when it presents itself. My own career has been shaped by the fact that I have said yes to all the opportunities that I’ve been given, and I would give the same advice to my colleagues if they are in doubt as to whether they can take on new challenges. You can adjust to almost anything as long as you take the opportunities that you’re offered. Unfortunately, I see all too often that women, in particular, are much too modest about their own qualifications.
  2. Hard work trumps almost everything. An education and good grades are important, but they’re no help if you’re not willing to make the effort.
  3. Be a team player. No one has all the answers, not even leaders. If you don’t think that your employees or colleagues have anything to offer, you have the wrong attitude. Show respect for other people’s opinions, even though you do not always agree. Working together makes everything much easier”