INSIDE TRACK: The complexities of products and procedures make for a challenging but fun job
by Nathalie Rothschild
Niklas Staxhammar has managed a range of projects since joining Volvo in 2011, but for the past year his work at the Volvo CE articulated hauler facility in Braås, a small town in southern Sweden, has been shrouded in secrecy.
As chief project manager in charge of the confidential development of the A60H articulated hauler – the largest hauler of any brand ever to hit the market – Staxhammar has faced many challenges, but says that is what makes his job interesting and fun.
“The biggest challenge when developing this kind of complex product is that there are so many people with different roles involved and, in a cross-functional manner, you have to make sure you come up with the best solution to the right cost and at the right time,” says Staxhammar.
“In such a major project it is hard to predict the challenges that may arise and so you cannot really plan for every potential scenario. What’s important is to find the right fora and the right solutions together, in a collaborative manner, and then to implement those solutions in a timely fashion.”
The A60H articulated hauler was unveiled at the Bauma industry trade fair in Munich in April, and Staxhammar was certain from the outset that it would make a big splash in the industry and become a trendsetter product.
“I’m confident that there is a need for this product,” says Staxhammar. “Previously, the challenge was that the technology wasn’t advanced enough for building such a large machine and it took a long time to develop the components. But now we’ve seen this project through and we managed to keep it under wraps throughout the process.”
Keeping the development of the A60H confidential has not been a big problem, according to Staxhammar, and that is largely thanks to his colleagues – he says there is a deep sense of loyalty among Volvo CE employees at the Braås plant and beyond.
“Of course, in theory, staff members could take pictures and post them on social media or leak information to the press, but nobody has done so. They know they would break their contracts if they were to reveal any details, but it really hasn’t been an issue and it’s not something we’ve had to point out, either. It simply doesn’t happen,” says Staxhammar, adding that certain procedures still have to be followed when products and components are moved between test sites and factories or when they are shown to clients.
So how does leading a confidential project affect private conversation? Is it hard for Staxhammar to talk about his working day at home with the family or at dinner parties?
“Yes, I’ve made my wife and kids sign a secrecy deal,” Staxhammar deadpans, adding: “No, but seriously, these products are so particular and complex that there is no risk of my family spreading the information or contributing to it ending up in the wrong hands.”
Staxhammar is a 47-year-old married father of two, a 12-year-old daughter and son, nine. The family lives in Växjö, a town with a population of roughly 88,000. Braås – where the Volvo CE plant is located – is part of Växjö but has just 1,500 residents. Staxhammar moved there in 2000 but has lived all over Sweden as well as in Germany, his father’s country of birth.
While his job involves quite a few domestic trips, he rarely travels abroad for work. However, his passion for the great outdoors and for skiing means he spends most winter breaks on different slopes around Europe.
“I love all forms of skiing, which is why winter trips are my favorite kind of vacations, but I also do a lot of running and cycling and I love motorcycles and boats,” enthuses Staxhammar.
He has worked for a range of companies of different sizes since graduating from the civil engineering program at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg in 1997. His credentials include posts as head of logistics at Electrolux, CEO at floor manufacturer Rappgo, production manager at Getinge – a provider of disinfectors and sterilizers within healthcare and life sciences – and deputy CEO at Stena Aluminium.
Staxhammar joined Volvo CE around five years ago, first as a consultant and then, after a couple of years, as a permanent employee.
”The main difference between working at Volvo and other companies is that, here, I get to work with really impressive and complex products that demand deep knowledge shared by many different individuals. In a way, you are a small cog in the wheel that is Volvo CE and the projects tend to be large scale. So the challenge here is to find the right paths and figure out how these different people can work together in order to advance and see projects through.”
As for the A60H articulated hauler, Staxhammar says: “This is a globally unique product and to be part of developing it has been both a great honor and great fun.”