OHB is kind of like an extended European family. It is not uncommon for employees to move from one location to another in order to continue their professional activities there. This is also true of Benoit Mathieu, who recently moved from the role of Copernicus Coordinator at OHB System AG to join OHB’s Swedish subsidiary OHB Sweden, where he and Fredrik Sjöberg form the new management duo. Together they want to successfully navigate the company, which is based in Kista near Stockholm, through significant future missions. In this interview, the two managing directors talk about cultural challenges, space projects and the beauty of simplicity.
Benoit, a French national in Sweden … what does that feel like? Have you already experienced your first cultural shock?
Benoit Mathieu: I originally come from Toulouse in the southwest of France. If you have seen the French film “Les Ch’tis”, you will readily understand that it could be quite a challenge for someone from the south to move so far north. However, in my life I have always progressed by taking many small steps and so I have gradually moved further and further north – always driven by an interest in new cultures and new experiences. As I previously worked as Copernicus Coordinator at OHB System AG in Oberpfaffenhofen and lived in Munich for a long time, the main aspect was the cultural change from Germany to Sweden. And there are already many differences.
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Whereas other countries are still talking about the digital transformation, it is already being practised in Sweden and pervades all aspects of everyday life. Electronic money has replaced cash and some shops are entirely cash-free. Many administrative tasks are also completed online. Plus, I must say the people are more patient and relaxed. If you need help, they’ll take out time for you. People are not already chased out of the store five minutes before closing time. (laughs)
Fredrik, you’ve been with OHB Sweden for several years, what does it feel like to be part of a management duo? Does it now mean twice the power?
Fredrik Sjöberg: Yes, absolutely! As I have been with the company for a long time, it is very enriching when a colleague brings in new impulses from the outside. Moreover, holding a leadership position can sometimes be a bit lonely, so it’s nice to be able to face challenges and embark on the path towards a successful future with someone else now.
What will be your first joint milestone at OHB Sweden?
We had already worked together in our previous roles, and when we joined forces in OHB Sweden we quickly realized that we had very complementary experiences, skillsets and knowledge. This is a success factor as a team. That’s why we’re greatly looking forward to working together to make the Arctic Weather Satellite (AWS) mission a success and, of course, to celebrating OHB Sweden’s 10th anniversary together this year. We also want to finalize our vision and strategy for 2025 by the end of the year. This is an important step for us in the company’s future orientation and development.
What importance does the Arctic Weather Satellite Mission have for OHB Sweden?
All satellites in the planned future constellation are to be based on the InnoSat platform. This will make rapid and cost-effective series production possible in the constellation phase. In mid-January, we placed the first InnoSat-based satellite in orbit in the form of the GMS-T communications satellite. This allowed us to demonstrate the maturity of the design as the satellite had been developed, integrated and tested in less than a year. AWS is the first ESA mission for which OHB Sweden is the main contractor. ESA’s trust testifies to the quality and performance of our product and paves the way for low-cost approaches. We also see the mission as paving the way for our future growth, as we are hoping to be awarded a contract for a constellation of up to 20 small satellites by Eumetsat. Our vision is to play a major role in small satellite constellations.
What are you particularly proud of?
Our employees. It is amazing how much competence there is in such a small company – we are 84 people. OHB Sweden has all the skills needed to cover a mission end-to-end: design, development, verification and validation, launch and operation. Thanks to the partnerships with the OHB Group, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defense and Space, OHB Sweden has accumulated expertise in the field of electrical and chemical propulsion S/S and AOCS S/S for a wide range of missions from Low earth orbit, science and exploration missions and geostationary telecommunications satellites. Our AOCS (attitude and orbit control system) knowledge also includes the formation flight and rendezvous technologies that we gained during the Swedish PRISMA mission. In fact, we can rightfully claim to be at least as advanced than many major operators in this field.
We definitely consider the commitment, enthusiasm and dedication of our teams to be impressive. As we are a small company, our employees may sometimes have to shoulder heavy workloads. We are very grateful that we have always successfully mastered these phases. Accordingly, we see it as our central task to preserve this corporate culture.
Benoit & Fredrik, do you have a life motto?
Benoit Mathieu: I really like this quote from Albert Einstein: “Two things are necessary for our work. Tireless endurance and the willingness to throw away something that you have put a lot of time and work into.” It is always about persistently pursuing a goal but at the same time always being open to questioning yourself and, if necessary, taking a different course. In a management position, I think that it is particularly important to listen and constantly review your own underlying assumptions.
Fredrik Sjöberg: I’ll choose a short motto: “Keep it simple!” In our business in particular, people tend to complicate things. Isaac Newton said: “Nature is pleased with simplicity”.
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