Before I Was Boss: What adventure teaches you about fashion e-commerce

Zalora

"A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life," it is written in Oscar Wilde's play A Woman of No Importance.

But for Magnus Grimeland, managing director for marketplace at Global Fashion Group (GFG), some of the most important steps in life were taken way before he made tying ties his business.

As a co-founder and former managing director of Zalora, Mr Grimeland sure knows a thing or two about fashion, although you probably would not have guessed if you knew him by his earlier job - roughing it out with the Norwegian Navy Seals in the country's Special Operations Forces.

Mr Grimeland first moved from Oslo to Singapore when an investor he worked with approached him about building a fashion e-commerce firm in Southeast Asia. He saw the opportunity as a golden one and took the big leap. Today, the company, Zalora, is the region's largest online fashion company.

Since January 2015, the 36-year-old has been leading marketplace operations at GFG, Zalora's parent company with over 10,000 employees around the globe.

He speaks about his current role with passion, but Mr Grimeland appreciated his job in the navy as well, as it helped to push the limits of his 19-year-old self to the extreme.

"The great thing about the special forces is that you learn very well how to handle chaotic environments, focusing on the right things and push yourself to the limit. There are things you experience in the special forces that are so extreme that you are quite well prepared to handle any situation afterwards," he tells AsiaOne in an e-mail interview.

For instance, being in the special forces has taught him about managing of teams in high velocity environments. This skill comes in handy when "suddenly your orders go up ten-fold in a day and you need to ensure you get them all delivered across SEA on time".

We know what you're thinking: How does one go from working in the special forces to leading a global fashion e-commerce firm?

Well, take a look at Mr Grimeland's work history and you will not be so surprised.

It started in high school, when he would work hard to put himself through school.

The outdoorsy teen became captain of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution station despite his young age, patrolling and conducting rescues in the Bristol channel. But that's not all the life-saving he did. He also trained and worked as a lifeguard on Welsh beaches at one point of time.

He must have been born with an adventurous streak, because Mr Grimeland then went on to work in a bike rental shop in the mountains.

Other part-time jobs include potato and cabbage picking, barn painting, cow milking, ski-guiding, bartending, answering calls at a call centre, and working as a hotel janitor.

When he was 16, the gung-ho and wide-eyed teen took up his favourite part-time job of all time as a summer ice-climbing instructor. He continued to do so for the next 11 years, returning to the stunning deep blue glaciers every year.

"I would work for them during the summers I was at Harvard, teaching people how to walk and climb on the glaciers. It's a very gratifying job to meet 10 new people every day, from all over the world, who are about to get one of the top experiences of their life time," he says.

"You get to spend eight hours with them where you push them a bit outside of their comfort zone. It's a great way to learn a lot about people."



20 years on and half a world away from his homeland, Mr Grimeland has his eyes set on yet another challenge - to help his company grow to new heights in the Southeast Asia market.

While the firm is already doing well, the e-commerce industry in this part of the world is still at its beginning stages. Like many analysts, Mr Grimeland is excited when he describes the huge potential in Southeast Asian e-commerce despite economic slowdown in recent times.

"I think the Southeast Asian economic climate is just becoming better - you have to have a long-term view on these things. Yes, there will be times when the macro-economic environment tightens, but it's pretty clear that this region is a tremendous growth engine that has an amazing future ahead," he says.

Zalora reached its fourth birthday this year, but the task of improving efficiency and service quality is never finished in the online world.

As for Mr Grimeland's personal development, being at the top of the corporate ladder has not changed his love for the outdoors, cultivated from a long history of adventurous part-time jobs.

ljessica@sph.com.sg

We asked Mr Grimeland for some tips on leadership:

1) Build and recruit an amazing team and help them develop. It's only through building an amazing team and helping them develop that you can truly succeed as a leader.

2) Always think about the customer in every single decision you make. You will only win if the customer prefers you versus other alternatives out there.

3) Focus on results. It's not about how much you do, but about the results you deliver.

4) Work hard and efficient. Being smart helps, but it's only being smart combined with hard work that will deliver long-term results.

5) Be humble and curious. There is always someone out there you can learn from.

This 8-part #BeforeIWasBoss series is brought to you by FastJobs, your fast track to part-time and non-executive jobs. Visit www.fastjobs.sg or download the FastJobs app on your iPhone and Android smartphones.