“It looked like mission impossible but we were determined to succeed”

Career Path: Former Managing Director of SKAGEN Fondene in Denmark Jens Elkjær considers his role at the Norwegian fund provider the best job move in his career as its founders were "some of the most visionary and competent entrepreneurs in Nordic fund management". They taught him to think outside the box during his work to establish a branch in Denmark when the "massive challenges" were piling up.
Jens Elkjær | Photo: PR
Jens Elkjær | Photo: PR

Which career path did you envision for yourself when you were younger?

"When I was younger, I had a strong ambition to become an equity analyst or a portfolio manager in a major Danish bank or leading pension fund.

In high school, I traded stocks almost daily and I also had a long-term equity portfolio that actually earned me money. The dream of becoming an equity analyst or portfolio manager grew as I gained more knowledge about trading and investing in equities.

During this period of my life, I became deeply fascinated by the market dynamics and the performance opportunities in the stock market. I wanted to understand the financial markets even better and began to closely follow the development in global economy

After my high school graduation, I received an offer as a part of my education from Amagerbanken to complete its trainee program and subsequently become part of the bank's trading and investment department.

I didn’t hesitate to accept.

The 80s were a special time to me. I experienced my first financial bubble. Black Monday occurred on October 19, 1987 when the Dow Jones index on New York Stock Exchange plummeted 23 percent, or 508 points! The biggest ever drop in a single trading day.

On this day, I realized that stocks could fall and that there is an upper limit to everything. Two years later, however, the stock market was already at the same level as before the crash.”

Which part of your education have you used the most in your career?

"That would be my Graduate Diploma in Finance from Copenhagen Business School (CBS). All my jobs, each in their own way, have evolved around investment with a sharpened focus on equities, on both the investment and advisory side of the table.

Moreover, throughout my career, I’ve managed small teams comprising highly specialized individuals and as a leader I've benefited from my Executive Leadership training and education in Organizational Leadership from University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

The program provided me with new leadership and management tools. As a leader, I’ve learned that employees won’t follow you just because you are a leader. You have to earn it and you need to show the way, especially when times are tough.

I’ve also learned that If you don’t care about the person behind each employee, you shouldn’t become a leader. The best leaders take a natural interest in other people and are empathetic.

In asset management, teams often comprise highly skilled specialists and while it is important to allow them to do their jobs without micro-managing, the leader has to be available as a sparring partner.

Leaders of specialist teams need to understand that they‘re rarely the most skilled within the particular professional field and that a leader's success is not defined by him or her alone, but by the achievement of the employees in the team.”

Which part of your resume represents the biggest change in your career?

"No doubt, becoming Managing Director of SKAGEN in Denmark (2008-2019, edit.) has been the most significant change throughout my career.

I had been Pensam Head of Equities (2001-2008, edit.) for seven years, working with Danish and global equity investments and strategy, outsourcing of equity mandates and strategic and tactical asset allocation.

A typical buy-side job. 

The position at SKAGEN Danmark was on the sell-side. It concerned the establishment of a Wealth Management function, expansion of distribution to Danish banks and sales to institutional clients. I’ve never felt the slightest regret; to date, it was the best job in my entire career."

Which leader in the business has inspired your career the most?

"A couple of the SKAGEN co-founders Åge Westbø and Kristoffer Stensrud have been a great source of inspiration. I've spent more than a decade in their company and they still stand out as some of the most visionary and competent entrepreneurs in Nordic fund management.

In the past 25 years, Stensrud has generated great returns in asset management and he has often been referred to as the Warren Buffett of the Nordics; for his investment results and for his ability to communicate his philosophy with a unique and clear profile.

Ten years ago, Westbø taught me a thing or two about fighting for my beliefs, think outside the box and never ever give up.

Establishing a SKAGEN Branch in Denmark was technically complex. The Danish financial infrastructure wasn’t ready” for international mutual funds actively marketing themselves to Danish private clients.

Taxation on international mutual funds, customers’ tax declaration and not least, settlement of Norwegian mutual funds through VP SECURITIES were massive challenges.

It looked like mission impossible and none of the other international asset managers were willing to go anywhere near it. But Westbø firmly believed we’d be able to find a solution by doing our own analyses and seeking a constructive conversation with the Danish authorities.

Our persistence paid off and we managed to have an impact on Danish mutual fund tax regulation.

The Danish authorities changed national regulation on individual mutual funds’ accounts of minimum distributions. The reporting on annual minimum distribution is a Danish phenomenon and made entering the Danish fund market all the more complex for SKAGEN.

The underlying principles for reporting the minimum distribution once a year were simplified for the benefit of international mutual funds, such as those from SKAGEN.

What occupies you the most right now?

"My hope is to gradually do more board work. I’d really like that.  For now, I’m pleased that CABA Capital has offered me this first opportunity. I dedicate much time to getting to know CABA and contributing to the development of the company’s strategy.

However, I’m going to take on other responsibilities in addition to board work. Whether in a new job in Asset management or perhaps as an independent adviser or consultant, I have yet to decide. I’m in no hurry.

I’ve made a promise to my family not to rush this important decision. Other people that I know well, and who have considered something similar, have also recommended I take my time."

Elkjær ready for board level experience as hedge fund seeks to boost sales  

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