Smart surveillance technology and a staffing company to supply expertise made them winners of the very first edition of Axlab. Olga Krejci Halkovova and Robert Hård believe in renewal to generate long-term, sustainable business.

Axlab in brief

Axlab is the innovation program for all employees of the Axel Johnson Group. The purpose is for our employees’ ideas to help create even better business. This allows our employees to participate in impacting the future of the Group.

Axlab was launched in October 2015. The innovation competition was held over 48 hours, during which our employees submitted their best ideas to increase future customer value – in total, 847 ideas were submitted from our six Group companies.

The best ideas were then presented in Axel Johnson’s “Dragon’s Den,” which consisted of Axel Johnson’s owner Antonia Ax:son Johnson, Chairman of the Board Caroline Berg, and our business management team.  The final winners then had the opportunity to bring their ideas to fruition.

The technology for surveillance has been used for a while. And it isn’t revolutionary to use sensors for the purpose. What made the idea smart and unique – and what made the team from Axel Johnson International one of the Axlab 2015 winners – was the choice to rejuvenate something that already exists.

“Our idea, Sensor Tech,builds on the existing surveillance technology for – in our case – cargo securing equipment, pumps and cables. When the alarm sounds, it simultaneously sends a signal to request spare parts or an inspection. That gives us a major opportunity to build close and long-term relationships with our customers who have no scope for damage to loads, unforeseen downtime in production or other errors,” says Olga Krejci Halkovova, Marketing and Communications Director at AxFlow, which is part of Axel Johnson International.

The team from Axel Johnson International and Robert Hård, Director HR/Legal/Environment at Meca – part of Mekonomen – took home a shared first place in the first edition of the Axlab innovation competition.

Staffing company solves several challenges

Meca’s workshops are often small companies with few employees, which entails certain challenges when demand for workshop services is high. To meet customers’ needs while maintaining profitability all year long, Robert Hård came up with an idea in which everyone wins.

“The workshops are afraid to hire more people because it will be expensive during low periods, but you also need employees to cover the peaks,” says Robert Hård at Meca.

The solution: starting an auto mechanic staffing company focusing on staff with foreign backgrounds.

“This allows our workshops to handle business during high-pressure periods while staying profitable all year long, even when there is less pressure. For Meca, the idea may mean improved profitability for the company and for customers – and contribute to the goal of being a sustainable company,” continues Robert.

Many new Swedes have backgrounds as auto mechanics, which creates additional opportunities for Meca and Mekonomen. Because in the next few years, there will be a shortage of auto mechanics in Sweden.

Involvement crucial to better business

The idea behind Axlab is for our employees’ ideas to help create even better business. Olga Krejci Halkovova thinks the first Axlab competition was a good example of how to engage all employees in the idea process.

“We get to participate and impact the future growth of our companies and the future of the entire Group. The large number of participants and ideas submitted in such a short time shows that,” she says.

At the same time, Axel Johnson’s leaders are taking an important stance with Axlab, according to Robert Hård. The competition sends clear signals to the Group’s approximately 20,000 employees.

“All ideas are equally valuable, no matter who submits them. The company may be successful today, but that doesn’t mean it can survive solely on past merits. Without developing new business ideas, there is a risk that sooner or later, someone else will compete the company out of business,” he says.

 How does it feel to win the first edition of Axlab?

“Unexpected, but above all, it’s a great honor,” says Robert Hård.

“People are creative and engaged in their work, and they care about the future. Axlab has the potential to become a platform to seize upon and develop that creative energy. For us, the win is the first step on an exciting journey in our work with smart machines that communicate with us and help us provide our customers with even better service,” says Olga Krejci Halkovova.

What Mia Brunell Livfors, CEO of Axel Johnson, thinks of the winning submissions:

Sensor Tech by Axel Johnson International:

“An idea that can create a great deal of customer value in terms of cost reduction and from a security standpoint, while improving our business model and the opportunity to cultivate long-term relationships with customers.”

Staffing company by Mekonomen:

“A perfect combination of how we can help our workshops with staffing, help the labor market by making sure there are jobs for the work force, and build a new service operation within Mekonomen.”