Taking Pride in One’s Team: An Interview with Jotun Arabia’s Kjetil Urheim

Kjetil Urheim, General Manager, Jotun Arabia describes the need for taking an interest in the team’s growth, being accountable for environmental sustainability, and leading with compassion in his interview with Gulf Insider.

What was the best lesson in leadership you’ve learned?

Everyone should be given the freedom to do their job better. If I as a leader can inspire or motivate a team member to aim higher, by unleashing the inner energy and drive that we all possess, then I have done my job; be it through praise and positive feedback, through correcting fatal flaws, or by removing obstacles in our internal processes.

What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your business?

The last two years proved to be the toughest time and a time of exponential growth for us as a team and as individuals. We were dealing with a shortage of raw materials and peaked prices, potentially hurting our customers’ business as well as our reputation and profitability.

To understand and analyse the situation, come up with solutions, and above all, change people’s thinking, enabling them to handle the situation with both suppliers and customers (who again had to push it to their customers) was a challenging process. We had to dig deep into ourselves and our mindset and relook at the value proposition we at Jotun give our suppliers and customers. We really needed to understand what makes us different and to believe in ourselves a lot more. This has been a time of tremendous learning and growth for us all.

To date, what has been your proudest moment while leading Jotun?

I have proud moments almost every day when I get to see and hear about how the team is succeeding and when they share their efforts and achievements with me.

On a grander scale, I’d like to mention two proud moments; the first was when we were awarded four stars in the UAE Taqdeer Award for our work on employee welfare, and the second, was when we won the most awards and nominations among at Jotun MEIA’s Marketing and Sales Awards, The Golden Can.

Speaking honestly, what do you consider are the major difficulties about the particular industry you’re in?

We are lucky to be in an industry that deals with the protection of assets and beautification of spaces – these basic needs will hopefully not expire, ever. A challenge we occasionally face is our readiness to adopt sustainable solutions, products, and business methods. There is an urgent need for authorities within the business community and society to set minimum acceptable standards that ensure our well-being and environmental sustainability. This alignment would accelerate innovation and development and lead to a greener future.

What do you most love about working in your industry and what do you most dislike about it?

What I like the most is the change we are able to bring to our customers, their assets and spaces, whether it’s the upgrade of a neglected oil refinery, the fuel and CO2-saving antifouling on a supertanker, or the new, long-lasting look on a beautiful villa – all these visual testaments to the quality of our paints drive us to aim for bigger projects and reaching out to new customers.

What according to you are the key qualities or skills that every leader should possess in order to thrive?

A clear understanding of the business goals, a genuine pride and love for their team with a will to boost their success, and the ability to laugh with them are some of the most important qualities I believe good leaders must possess.

Can you describe a difficult business decision you had to make and how did you handle it?

Handling the raw material shortage and price increases in 2021 and 2022 conceived a process that lasted for months with seemingly never-ending challenges. The analytical tools we developed, the mindset change and the request for everyone’s boldness were the answers.

Is there a particular saying or motto that guides you?

Be yourself. Only better.

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