As someone who made a conscious decision to steer clear of the business side of finance and economics, only to find herself years later in the thick of dealmaking at Lønmodtagernes Dyrtidsfond (LD), the fund’s chief executive Dorrit Vanglo has learned to expect the unexpected
What career path did you envision for yourself when you were younger?
"I always thought I would work in the public sector, probably because both my parents were civil servants working in the municipality of Copenhagen. I didn't work for the municipality myself, but my first job was at the Ministry of Finance, in public budgeting and finance."
"And I think that was the right kind of job for me. Nowadays my grownup children say they don't want jobs where they sit behind a desk all the time, but that was the only kind of job I thought about! I got a masters in economics from Copenhagen University, which was all about macroeconomics in a theoretical way rather than a business way. That’s what you’re taught at university and if you want something more business-oriented, then you should go to Copenhagen Business School — but that didn't interest me at all. Business is not part of my background, and I had the example of my parents who were very happy about being in the public sector where you could do something good for society."
When did you decide on the career path that you're on today?
"I wouldn’t say I decided on a career path, because that’s not how i think about life. But when I had been at the Ministry of Finance for five years — and I must admit I was getting a bit tired of it — I saw an advert for a job at LD to do with investing in unlisted companies, which interested me for some reason. I knew someone at LD, and so I asked him about it. Anyway, I don't know why they picked me! Maybe it had something to do with my curiosity."
"I’ve been like that all my life — when I hear about something I want to know more about it, and that has been one of the key qualities that has helped me in my work. Being interested in what people around me are doing — some people would call it being nosey — has meant that I have been able to step in and help when the person who is needed in a particular situation is not there."
What part of your education has been most useful in your career?
"The most important thing about it was the macroeconomic background, which enabled me to understand what is going on underneath it all. It’s difficult to remember exactly, but within that, I learned how to work out the solution to a problem by slicing and dicing and breaking down problems into small parts and then solving them one by one. Part of that has been the skill of looking at the environment around the problem, finding out where you can get help, who would be happy to work the problem out in a specific way and who would not. I learned to look at people in this environment and ask myself why he or she is saying this or that. What is their intention? What are the different positions, the formal interests of the organisation they represent? People can be part of the problem, but the important thing is to know what are they thinking. How can you solve a problem in a way that doesn't leave a trail of casualties?"
What part of your CV represents the most drastic change in your career path?
"Well, the first one was when I left the ministry and joined LD, because that involved going from the public to the private sector, to something I knew almost nothing about. But then there were more big changes for my career within LD, because the pension fund itself went through some major transitions. In 2003, for instance, the government changed the law so that scheme members could leave and join other pension providers, and later, we persuaded the government to allow us to set up an asset management subsidiary, which was LD Invest — later becoming Maj Invest."
Which leader in the industry has been most inspiring to you career-wise?
"Michael Dithmer has certainly been one of them. As the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs for more than twenty years, he has served under perhaps ten different ministers from both sides of politics, giving them all advice on industry."
"He’s very thoughtful and has deep insight, but is also a person who is still open to new ideas. He can see new solutions to problems, and that is probably why he has been able to maintain that position. You need to have a very special personal balance to advise ministers from both the left and the right. On the more personal side, Carsten Koch, my predecessor as chief executive of LD, has been very inspiring to work with. He has an ability to face all problems in a cheerful way. His attitude is — let’s smile and see what happens. Carsten is able to separate the professional role from the personal one, and knows, for instance, that if someone writes something about you that is not very nice, it is not about you as a person, but the role you occupy. And that attitude is helpful because it gives new energy to the people around you — which we certainly needed at LD when we were facing strong headwinds."