This portrait is made on the basis of an interview.
WHAT IS YOUR TYPICAL WORKDAY LIKE?
We are a small company, which means that I basically do all kind of things during a normal working day.
Usually, a typical workday for me includes anything from quotations, coordination of existing projects, customer visits to follow-up on work which have been made for our customers. Basically, I do anything from management, board meetings, strategy to forging of end-products. Actually, it was even me who brought breakfast this morning, so generally speaking I do every kind of work in the company.
However, the only thing I don’t do anymore is programming. Programming requires a lot of time, which I usually don’t have during a normal day. Therefore I leave the programming for our dedicated programmers to handle this.
Actually, I would say that I have done anything an entrepreneur do - I’m part of everything happening in the company, but I also need to practice to delegate work to my colleagues.
WHAT HAS YOUR CAREER PATH LOOKED LIKE UP UNTIL NOW?
I did my PhD alongside being part of another very interesting EU project, which meant that I used longer time to write my PhD than usual. In that EU project we worked with automatic painting robots and implemented them in a laboratory, after which we conducted tests of the robots for end customers. We were able to make the robots function in the laboratory, which also meant that I was able to sell the idea to some investors. After receiving the funds from the investors, I was able to set up Inropa. So actually, my employment at the EU project formed the basis of the company I partly own today.
I started as a one-man business and knew from day one that I had to find additional funds to survive. The money I received from the investors made it possible for me to work on my company for one year. Fortunately, I was able to secure additional funds and sold a few projects to customers. Over the next two years, the company grew at an easy pace and I was able to hire two new employees. I have to say that I was expecting that my company would grow in a faster pace than it actually did, and I also realized that the process from “research to invoice” can be long and demanding.
From the beginning, I was expecting that I had a system that could do anything, but later I realized that we have to focus on offering more specialized services for our customers.
HOW CLOSE IS YOUR CURRENT CAREER TO THE IDEAS AND DREAMS YOU HAD AS A PHD FELLOW AT AAU?
That is a very tough question. Actually, I don’t really know what I imagined at that point. I just thought that the technology was exciting to work with, which I still think today.
I have always had a dream about becoming self-employed, but did not really think about how demanding it is. As an engineer, I did not think about that I had to do both sales, management, financial management and so on. Many of these tasks I could go without, but the contact with customers and selling our solutions to them I really enjoy.
HOW HAVE YOU MADE USE OF YOUR PHD EDUCATION, AND WHICH OF YOUR PHD COMPETENCES HAVE BEEN MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Clearly the ability to see things in the bigger picture which is easier due to my experiences from my PHD education. I don’t make detailed calculations, simply because I don’t have time for it. As the CEO, I need to take care of many different things within the company so it is not possible for me to only focus on my expert field.
Sometime I have the feeling that I barely solve any of the things I am supposed to, but we manage to get things done, so I guess I must be doing something right.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST FROM YOUR PHD STUDIES?
My time as a PhD student was amazing! During my PhD I had the time to be immersed into a topic, I had time to find out why a specific problem occurred and how to solve it in a generic way. When you were able to solve the problem, the satisfaction was enormous.
Moreover, I think it was very motivating to work on the technology and learn from the smartest people within the specific field. For me, it was very motivating to work with some highly competent professionals.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST MEMORY FROM AAU?
I have many great memories from my time at AAU. Both professional and personal memories.
I was part of a very good PhD group. Even in spite our differences we learned a lot from each other.
Being able to do teaching, supervising and examination of students is also something I appreciated dearly. For me working with talented and energetic students was really motivating and rewarding.
IS THERE A TEACHER/COLLEAGUE FROM AAU YOU REMEMBER ESPECIALLY, AND WHY?
There is definitely more than one, but if I have to point out one it must be Hans Holm. He functioned as my PhD supervisor. He was extremely far-sighted and had an enormous motivation and willpower to do things, but always with a smile on his face.
I must say that he was very inspiring. Actually, he is the only one that I wrote an email of appreciation, after I was done at AAU. He really inspired me during my time as a PhD fellow.
Many of the methods I use in my daily work to run the business, I believe I “inherited” from Hans.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO DO A PHD, AND WOULD YOU HAVE CHOSEN DIFFERENTLY IF YOU WERE TO DO IT TODAY?
Yes, I would! Not because the title means anything to me, but I can see that it means something to some of my customers. Especially in Germany and other parts of the world, it means something that you have a PhD.
I have tried to remove my title from my business card, but people tend to find out that I have the degree and ask why I don’t use it. In some parts of the world, the titles give some kind of credibility.
But to return to the question, yes I think I would do it again. Mostly because I think it was really interesting. You have the chance to concentrate on one specific topic and thing at a time, and simultaneously you are able to teach and develop others.
Back then, my biggest concern was if I would become too specialized when I had finished my PhD. Later on, I found out that it is almost impossible to become too specialized.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO CURRENT PHD FELLOWS AT AAU THAT WANT A CAREER OUTSIDE ACADEMIA?
For PHD-fellows I would advise just to enjoy the possibility to go deep and focus on interesting topics. If you want a career as an entrepreneur afterwards it is a valid point that you don’t necessarily has to come up with a new invention – you have to be good at doing what you do and in many cases develop something already existing.
WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE?
At the moment, at Inropa, we are trying to create a more organized workflow in order to create more growth within the company – I hope we will succeed with that and in that way continue the good path we are on.
About Henrik John Andersen
Place of birth: Søholt, Frederikshavn kommune
Current employment: Managing Director, Inropa
MA programme and university: Mechanical Engineering
Department at AAU: Department of Production
Year of graduation: 2001
Title of PhD dissertation: Sensor based robotic laser welding
This portrait is made on the basis of an interview, and it is made in collaboration with Science for Society, an interreg project which focuses on PhD careers outside of academia.