Kim Povlsen: Fresh Perspectives From the New President of Universal Robots
March 1 2021 marked a new chapter in the history of Universal Robots as 38-year-old Kim Povlsen took the helm as President. We caught up with the ambitious and technologically-driven Dane for insights on his background as well as his visions for his new assignment. Plus a few words on his coffee-obsession.
Passion. Curiosity. Presence. And the ability to ask tough questions with no easy answers. In this Q&A, we dive into the guiding principles driving UR’s new President:
Q: Universal Robots has transformed global automation. How will you continue to drive innovation?
A: I already feel part of something unique, and I look very much forward to learn and to leverage the UR ecosystem of distributors, UR+ developers, systems integrators and OEM partners that are all part of a fast growing UR family. I believe that we have merely scratched the surface of potential within cobots and flexible automation. The global Covid crisis presents enormous challenges for businesses, communities and individuals. But we have also witnessed new innovation and the need for more agile and flexible production paradigms. In my view, this trend will only increase moving forward. Universal Robots holds an incredible potential. Not only to grow as a company but to actually transform global productivity. I’d like to be the special enzyme in the UR innovation formula. I will engage, vitalize and empower the boldest ideas and the most innovative teams and partners. My role will not be to dictate but to facilitate new perspectives and to launch new UR moonshots. We are a company driven by innovation, and I will continue to build on this heritage and fuel it.
Q: How does your background align with the UR World?
A: I am driven by technology, I have a global ambition and outlook, and I thrive in complex environments. I graduated from The Maersk McKinney Moller Institute at Syddansk Universitet (SDU), same as UR co-founder Esben Østergaard and since then, I have found myself in the technological fast lane of the international business world, mainly within the global energy management company Schneider Electric. I have held a number of executive roles in the company’s various business areas, and I have led the largest “product-to-solution and software” transformation program in the company. Experiences like these have provided me with new perspectives on global business transformation and technological leadership.
Kim Povlsen grew up in Odense, Denmark – which is also the birthplace and global headquarters of the company he now leads.
I could also mention my Danish background and the quality design thinking that drives many Danish companies forward globally. It is hard to pinpoint exactly how this Danish approach impacts business development, but it might relate to genuine curiosity and a true desire to design quality products. I can build on this Danish heritage in the global UR organization.
Q: What have been your leadership mantras so far? And which ones will you use at UR?
I spent my career in large global organizations, managing complex innovation processes. This has imprinted in me how imperative it is to keep asking the “Why?” question. We need to truly understand why we are doing what we are doing and letting that guide us. May seem obvious, but in my experience, this question is often too easily overlooked. If great answers are skillfully deployed, it can truly guide an organization towards a unified goal. I will be asking this question a lot.
As a former elite athlete, I also believe in the power of the team and a holistic approach to talent development. To grow and to create results, you need to strengthen multiple parameters simultaneously. The individual can improve new dimensions of their talent, if they work more holistically, and the team can adopt new approaches to grow their ideas exponentially. Sometimes a focal shift requires an active coach involved in the game, and this will be my essential role in the UR world.
38-year-old Kim Povlsen holds a Masters Degree in Electronics Engineering and Computer Science from the seminal Maersk McKinney Moller Institute at Syddansk Universitet (SDU). The institute was one of the first to initiate robotics research in Denmark and has spawned a cluster of more than 130 Danish robotic companies, including Universal Robots and Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) as two of its flagships.
Q: What were your considerations before accepting the new challenge as President of Universal Robots?
A: None, really. I was at a time and place in my career where this opportunity was perfect for me, and I believe I can help bring new momentum to the UR ecosystem. The company is ready to take a new global leap in growth and innovation. Of course, I feel the responsibility, and I am very aware of the ambitious scope in my new position. But I truly believe that we can create magic in UR. I did not hesitate for a second, when this opportunity presented itself.
Q: How do you manage a healthy work/life balance?
A: I’m a family guy 100 percent. I work hard, and I am very competitive. I like to win, and I like to celebrate achievements. But at the same time, I made the important decision to be present with my family when we are together, and not to be distracted by my phone or other screens. I live with my wife and our two children in an ordinary family home. And I try to be efficient with projects around the house in order to spend quality time with my kids. I want to be the best dad I can be.
Q: Foodie or sports maniac?
A: Actually a bit of both, I suppose. I am obsessive about coffee, and I experiment like a maniac with beans, roasting, grinding and equipment. As a former member of the Danish national squash team, spending a lot of time and energy in large tournaments, I’m addicted to physical exercise. I run four times a week, which gives me a super-efficient workout and energy boost for the rest of the day. And if I get a little weary in the late afternoon, well then it´s back to the coffee grinder.
Q: Besides growing the company and retaining its global leadership position, what new characteristics would you like to see as part of UR five years from now?
A: I believe UR is in a position to transform the market and the way companies approach automation. More complex and dynamic market behaviors challenge companies to increase not only their productivity but also their ability to seamlessly shift between different production paradigms. In this new landscape, cobots are positioned as an essential enabler of more productive, innovative and safer workspaces. Universal Robots can build on this position and create new synergies between human ingenuity and cobot flexibility. On a different note, I envision UR playing an even greater role in leveraging the power of the entire Odense Robotics cluster. UR can provide a fertile environment for scientific ideas to grow exponentially. Building on my SDU background, I will nourish the collaboration with the local academic institutions and their talents.
Q: What will be your first task with Universal Robots?
A: First of all, I am excited to meet all members of the UR family and to familiarize myself with the entire organization. I also look forward to engage in the development of the new cobot hub and UR headquarters in Odense, where we will develop new synergies with our great colleagues at MiR. I can’t wait to get started and embark on this incredible adventure with Universal Robots. And I will definitely check up on the office coffee quality.