The story of an acquisition: When things are going well, you can easily get bored
In 2019, 29-year-old Fie Hetting sold her design business to Flügger. As part of the deal, she will further develop the brand for the next five years at the paint giant. Today, the product portfolio has expanded, and Fie Hetting and Flügger are in many ways a perfect match for innovation, but her creative urge is still strong.
In a short time, Fie Hetting has achieved what many entrepreneurs dream of in a whole lifetime. As a postgraduate student at CBS, she became co-owner of the design company Detale Copenhagen (formerly Kabe Copenhagen), specialising in putty paint. And just four years later, she managed to sell the company to a major player in the industry.
The paint giant Flügger was one of the customers of Detale’s handmade putty paint, and showed an interest in buying the company after a few years. In 2019, only a year and a half after she completed her degree at CBS, Fie Hetting managed to negotiate an attractive purchase agreement for Detale. There was a condition that she would stay with Flügger for five years to grow Detale with full access to Flügger’s knowledge and production equipment.
“At that time, our paint was hand-made in small batches in Rødovre. We therefore faced a classic dilemma of scaling-up: If we were to grow, we needed to be able to produce much more efficiently, and maybe even open our own stores. With Flügger behind us, there were completely new opportunities,” explains Fie Hetting, who thought things through carefully about whether the entrepreneur in her could become part of a large company,
“Basically, I am driven by changing something that doesn’t work, so it was very important for me that I retained the freedom to be able to experiment and make decisions.”
Expanded product portfolio
In the almost two years that Fie Hetting has had a desk at Flügger’s head office, the product portfolio for Detale has exploded from three to more than 40 new products, many of which are on their way to market at the time of writing.
“I didn’t come to Flügger with a firm plan for Detale. We have been given the opportunity to maintain our agility to a large extent, and not drown in processes. This could be done because we were so small when we came along, and because Flügger has been determined the whole way to not put us in a box,” she says.
Fie Hetting points to Flügger’s CEO Sune Schnack as a decisive factor for the favourable conditions for growth.
“If it wasn’t for Sune then I wouldn’t be here at all. He was the one who first spotted Detale and had the vision for an acquisition. He has given us space to experiment and freedom within the organisation, which have always been crucial for us as a small company to be able to go from idea to action in just a few days. In this way, we have been very privileged.”
But there have also been bumps along the way. Problems arose when Detale’s manual production had to be moved to Flügger’s factory in Kolding, and when production errors and IT infrastructure delayed deliveries to dealers in Norway.
The research community doesn’t have exact numbers on how long owner-managers and entrepreneurs stay in new companies, if, like Fie Hetting, they are part of the trade with their knowledge and skills.
“It is very normal that an owner-manager follows with the sale for a limited period, but the vast majority return to entrepreneurship. This is where they most feel at home and get the most energy from their work. It’s not impossible to keep entrepreneurs for longer, but it requires a company that can accommodate very independent and enterprising individuals,” says Jette P. Jørgensen from the Centre for Owner-Managed Businesses at CBS.
However, Peter Møllebjerg Andersen – SVP for Digitalisation and IT at Flügger – is not nervous. As part of the company’s acquisition strategy, he will attract even more talent to Flügger such as Fie Hetting and Detale.
“Fie has a completely different approach to the market than what Flügger is used to. She is the driving force behind Detale, and it is precisely this that we have bought into. She and the team have been asking questions about our business model since day one and challenging us time and again. She has a strong creative drive, and entrepreneurial spirit never sleeps. If you can’t accommodate this as a company, you can forget about being an industry leader,” says Peter Møllebjerg Andersen, who emphasises that Flügger has a much more innovative culture than the reputation attributed to the paint company, which was founded in 1783.
The need to create is bubbling away
Despite the fact Fie Hetting and the Detale team have succeeded with a year and a half of hard work and challenges, and have good growth projections for Detale, she is already feeling the creative drive growing inside her.
When things go well, it can be easy to get bored and look for new challenges. I want to be here for as long as I can help to change something. Fortunately, we are working on an exciting new project, so it’s not a problem just now,” she says.
She finds that several of her colleagues in management have an innovative mindset. And she benefits greatly from chewing over things with one person in particular, 86-year-old Ulf Schnack, who today is CDO of Flügger, having previously been CEO for the paint company for 37 years.
“I’d have a hard time doing it without him. In addition to being my role model, we have the same alternative view of things. He’s on board with the wild ideas, and doesn’t let himself be limited by the cost. I realise his role today gives him that, but it gives me a lot of energy to be able to think freely with him. It is fascinating that our mindset is so similar, even though there is more than 50 years between us,” she says.