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Dreamers: “They told me It was impossible and I did it anyway” With Per Nyberg

Credits: MASSIVART_PRMIA and Bruno Destombes and PRIMIA 2019

Build the right team. Everything of significance requires a team. From a tenacity perspective, a great team will create a support network when any individual’s tenacity is waning. A great team will also bring the best out of you and help steer towards the vision. Nothing is stronger than a shared sense of tenacity.

As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Per Nyberg.

Per Nyberg is the chief commercial officer at Stradigi AI where he oversees the company’s strategic growth initiatives including marketing, customer success and business development — helping to close a $40.3 million Series A funding round led by two of the most well-known institutional funds in Canada, Fonds de solidarité FTQ (the Fonds) and Investissement Québec (IQ). Prior to joining Stradigi AI, Per served as the vice president of market development at global supercomputing company Cray where he was responsible for driving Cray’s AI roadmap and market development.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?

I am the Chief Commercial Officer at Stradigi AI, a Montreal-based AI company, where I lead the company’s strategic growth initiatives including marketing, customer success and business development. Before I joined Stradigi AI, I was a part of Cray, the global leader in supercomputing, as their vice president of market development where I most recently drove their entrance into artificial intelligence. I spent most of my career in the supercomputing market where I was fortunate to work with industry leaders in verticals ranging from weather and automotive to energy and life sciences in almost every region of the world.

I received my college degree in computer science from Concordia University in Montreal as part of their co-operative education program which integrates work terms into the degree. I am a big supporter of this approach as it provides real-world experience to students as they are studying and considering their careers. In my case, I actually began working in the supercomputing industry before I graduated.

I decided to transition into a CCO role at Stradigi AI as it provided my next opportunity to help build something unique. The role itself combines everything I have done throughout my career across the go-to-market spectrum from product to marketing and channels. The challenge of bringing all of this together at a startup and working with a special team of people was impossible to pass up.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As you can imagine, we are almost entirely focused on continued development of our Kepler AI platform. This year we will be releasing our next version which we believe will change how organizations can benefit from machine learning and, to some degree more importantly, who will be able to drive this adoption. AI implementation to date has required a highly specialized skill set, which is in high demand but very hard to find. With the right AI tools at their disposal, the ability for a broader set of analysts to explore insights from more diverse and richer data sets will expand. Data is everywhere and getting AI capabilities into the hands of more people would be an inflection point for both the industry and society.

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

There are two things that make Stradigi AI standout. First and foremost are the people and culture. While our product and technology are great, I can say that the founders who created Stradigi AI are key to contributing to what makes us unique.

Second is the company’s clarity on purpose. The AI market is filled with noise and hype, but despite all that, we believe we have a clear vision of what the AI-enabled business user will become and what is needed for organizations to easily derive benefit from AI. What makes us different and the starting point for this vision is that we ourselves are these users. Our approach and platform originally came from our own business needs, and we continue to evolve our vision as we expand our work with customers.

Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

This was more a matter of facing and overcoming the persistent challenges when pursuing something new or different; be it on a daily basis or over extended periods of time where success was years away. For most of my career I have been focused on building new industry verticals or building new markets, or enabling internal change. The challenge was often overcoming unhealthy skepticism and doubt which would distract from dealing with the real questions at hand and block progress.

Unhealthy skepticism and doubt are easy to sow and can kill initiatives before they even start. Doing anything new implies some degree of the unknown and dealing with ambiguity in an environment of imperfect information. It also means change to the status quo. The pace and complexity of today’s business and technology environments mean that we are doing something “new” and “changing” almost every day. This has only emphasized the importance for leaders to regularly learn and adjust and help teams be comfortable with ambiguity and change.

Perhaps it is my Swedish-Canadian upbringing, but I try to approach every day with authenticity, humility and transparency. Organizations are all about people. Communication and trust-building are critical, and when combined with a compelling vision, strong determination and an “eyes wide open” approach, pretty much anything is possible. The goal is not to overcome every nay-sayer, but bring on board those who are key to success. Ignore the rest.

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? :-)

In some cases they were proven wrong through business results but naysaying is a state of mind so those results may only have had a temporary impact. More importantly, I hope that they reflected on the authenticity of the desire and approach to change the organization for the better.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father. He has always provided me with a compass on how to approach life, work and people. While he had a successful career rising to a very senior executive position in a large Swedish multinational company, it was his approach to each day against which I have always measured myself: humble, honest, respectful and hardworking with high standards.

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

One example from very early on in my career comes to mind that had quite an impact on me. As I mentioned, I spent most of my career in the supercomputing market. Two of the very exciting aspects of this market are that the wins can take years to develop and the contract values can be in the many tens of millions. The feeling of winning these massive deals is euphoric. Losses are very tough to take after having invested so much intellectual, emotional and physical energy. In the mid-90’s I was working for a Japanese company. Following a major contract win that we had at a high-profile customer in the U.S., the decision was reversed following an anti-dumping dispute. It took several years of work to win and then to have the decision reversed was devastating. I was in my mid-twenties and gained first-hand knowledge of business and political realities which taught me to refocus, compartmentalize, adapt and learn from the experience — from both business and personal perspectives. As it turned out, the U.S. market access restriction closed one door, and another opened which moved my wife and I to Australia. Looking back, that period of time was an incredible and life-changing experience in every sense.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

I would strongly recommend the “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” article by Jim Collins. I regularly read this as a refresher. Drawing on some of the elements outlined in the article and combined with my personal experience, here are five strategies that can help

  • Achieve breakthrough leadership by combining deep, personal humility with intense professional will.
  • Set the vision and set the standards required for success. While tenacity needs to be practiced on a daily basis, it should be treated as a marathon. A long-term view is needed to keep your focus through highs and lows, and the inspired standards will not only ensure sustained progress but also inform when your strategies need adjustment.
  • Demonstrate the standards every day and hold yourself accountable. As a leader, you are the first person your team will look to. But this is not about some hero-like work ethic, it is about demonstrating self-awareness and humility along with exceptional work standards.
  • Realize that the organizational aspect of tenacity is just as important as personal tenacity. We are only as good as our team. Organizational tenacity and personal tenacity are two foundational elements to taking on the impossible.
  • Build the right team. Everything of significance requires a team. From a tenacity perspective, a great team will create a support network when any individual’s tenacity is waning. A great team will also bring the best out of you and help steer towards the vision. Nothing is stronger than a shared sense of tenacity.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

The former CEO of Cray, Peter Ungaro, was quite an inspirational leader who loved a good quote. During our leadership offsite in 2014 he talked about something that Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, said to his team earlier in the year which culminated in winning the Super Bowl. Growing up, Wilson’s father had asked him, “‘Why not you, Russ?” He then similarly challenged his teammates, “Why not us?” I love this quote not only because it directly challenges unhealthy skepticism and doubt, but also forces some critical thinking on preparedness for success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

That’s a tough question. I’m sure that there are already movements out there, but a broader contribution by companies to leverage technology for good could have an immense impact on societies around the world. One of Stradigi AI’s unique avenues to AI includes our ongoing AI for Good programs. From community engagement to practical applications of machine learning to help improve key issues around health and accessibility, it’s an initiative that is deeply connected to our core belief in building technology that empowers people.

Can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes! Readers can follow me on Twitter at @_PerNyberg.

Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!



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