”Honestly. It's great that we've got some old guys on board." It's 2016, and there's a board meeting at Soundboks. Around the table are the founders and parts of the management team of the young Danish startup. The man referred to as the old man on board is Tue Mantoni. He is 41 years old, and he has just stepped down as CEO of B&O. He feels anything but old."
BARONS meets Tue Mantoni in Charlottenlund in the afternoon of the Monday in August when the kids start school again. He doesn't look like an old chairman of the board in his shorts and with his slightly boyish appearance. He begins to tell about his day.
”Today was the kids' first day of school. Tine, my wife, had gone to work, so I got up with the kids, cycled to school with them and back again while listening to a podcast. Then I had a couple of phone meetings and one meeting here this morning. At 3 pm, I'm going out for a two-hour bike ride, and then I have a lot to read tonight because I have three major board meetings this week," he says, looking like someone who appreciates the day.
Tue Mantoni enjoys controlling his day himself. He calls himself a workaholic and works many hours. But he is the one who determines the day. That hasn't always been the case.
Most people know Tue Mantoni as a young, up-and-coming CEO of B&O. He was only 36 when he took office. The reality was that B&O wasn't his first job as the top executive. Already at the age of 28, he became CEO of the motorcycle company Triumph in England. Two years later, he became CEO at the same place.
”When you're a CEO, your day is just locked in. Many believe in quality time, but I also believe that the amount of time with your family is important. That you can be there when you need to, not just when it fits into the company's financial calendar," he says.
It is precisely this flexibility that Tue Mantoni has now, using his experience from large companies as an investor and chairman of the board in a number of start-ups and as chairman of the state financing fund, Vækstfonden.
People are important
In 2003, Tue Mantoni was well on his way to a career in the consulting world. He had read the nerdy cand.merc. in mathematics and got a job at McKinsey. If he keeps going, he's in the fast lane to the title of senior partner and a lot of money in the bank.
But then Tue Mantoni meets a person who changes his life course. The man's name is John Bloor. John Bloor was born and raised in central England. His father was a coal miner, and due to health problems, John had to leave school at the age of 15. He apprenticed as a craftsman, quickly started his own business, and built houses before he was 20. The rest is a kind of history, and John Bloor is now one of the richest people in England.
And he owns Triumph Motorcycles, where young Tue Mantoni completed a McKinsey project. John Bloor asked him if he would be the commercial director, and he said yes to what he called "my first real job". Here, Tue Mantoni met real employees for the first time, who were not ultra-ambitious and for whom the job was not their primary focus in life.
”John always said that knowing people is the most important thing. I went there in a shirt and tie and thought, 'What is this as long as they are smart and good at PowerPoint? One day we had to recruit someone, and we had two candidates who were equally good. Then he said, 'We'll take him because his father is a farmer. Farmers get up early in the morning 365 days a year, and then they work hard in the summer and save for the winter. It's good to be raised by a farmer.' And that was interesting because I had never thought about it. I looked more at people's CV. It's important, but the person behind it is often more important," says Tue Mantoni today.
When asked how he selects the companies he invests in, Tue Mantoni says the first thing he looks at is the people. It always takes a long time, from when they start talking to when they actually start working together. With Soundboks, it took six months or so.
”I like getting to know people - that I think they're talented and pleasant. I want it to be such that I'm looking forward to the meetings," he says.
In 2012, Tue Mantoni returned to Denmark. He had agreed to become CEO of B&O, a company that is quintessentially Danish. Beautiful design, high quality. He is called "the sky stormer who contributed significantly to tripling Triumph's turnover during his eight years with the English motorcycle brand" by journalist Rune Skyum-Nielsen in an interview with Børsen in 2012. In the interview, he also says he can triple B&O's turnover, now in just five years.
The self-confidence as CEO of B&O for years led to lots of critical press coverage of Tue Mantoni.
”We promised too much, and we didn't deliver what we should have,
However, he believes that there are two stories - the press's story and the internal one.
”There's also another story about how we reduced a lot of complexity, modernized the products and the self-perception and thus ensured that the company survived at a time when things had looked bleak for several years. When I visit B&O today, there are several colleagues who say that if it weren't for the decisions we made while I was at the helm, we wouldn't be here today. We did a lot of things where the impact wasn't as clear to outsiders in the short term, but which in hindsight were clearly necessary and right," he continues.
Tue Mantoni says he's happy he got scratches on the paint.
”It's very healthy to experience that you can't walk on water. It's probably been good for my ego, I think. I don't dare think about what would have happened if B&O had gone incredibly well. It would have been good for the company, but I'm not sure it would have been good for me," he says with a smile and quotes the Stoic philosophy: "Adversity only knocks you down if you've been seduced by prosperity.”
A different chairman of the board
Tue Mantoni is very clear when he says that he will never be a CEO in a big company again. Today, he is an investor and a board member of several companies including Joe & the Juice, GUBI, Stine Goya, Lakrids by Johan Bülow, and Soundboks. In addition, he is trying to take social responsibility as chairman of Vækstfonden and AM Hub, a Danish cluster of companies that work with 3D printing. He has recently become an author with the book "The Social Contract", in which he argues that companies and society are deeply dependent on each other.
”It's interesting that a pharmaceutical company is measured by its stock price instead of the number of lives it has saved. If you told the CEO of a pharmaceutical company that their salary depended on both the stock price and the number of lives the company saved, they would start making different decisions. Once we have paid for our development costs, we should go to Africa and save 50 million people," says Tue Mantoni as an example of this issue.
He also tries to live this philosophy through his own investments. He invests in purpose-driven companies that can also be profitable.
That's why he's a very different board member from the others he sits with. He is far from just attending meetings, reading papers, and sharing his experience.
”Some people ask me if it's not a bit early to just have a board career. But I don't have a classic board career. In some of the companies, I am very hands-on. In Soundboks, for example, I participate directly in design workshops. Then I draw on my experience from Triumph, which has some similarities. Board work has actually changed a lot. Companies are developing so quickly that if you only attend board meetings, so much has happened since the last one that management has to spend all their time updating the board," he says about his approach to board work.
A small regret
Tue Mantoni has tried a bit of everything. He has been a CEO with lots of people under him - in good times and bad. He has tried life as an investor and board member. However, there is one thing that he regrets not doing.
”It bothers me a little that I never started my own business. There is really a drive to have your own project. I would recommend all young people, 'Start your own business. It could be just making a cool t-shirt and promoting it on TikTok. It might not become a big business, but then you learn entrepreneurship, and it would have made me a better leader,'" he says, adding, "But it's not too late yet.”
And no. Even though the young management team thought it was cool to have an old man on board, it's not too late to jump into entrepreneurship when you slowly start getting gray hair. The average age of new entrepreneurs in Denmark is 41 years old.
Tue Mantoni i The Consultant
MAN IN THE SHIRT “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood” - quote Theodore Roosevelt in Paris, 1910. In the portrait series, Man in the Shirt, BARONS meets with inspirational people with one thing in common, that they have put themselves in play and at stake. Where do they find courage? What is the most crucial thing they have learned along the way? And what can we learn from them?