Going out isn’t something you just do once

As a CEO with an impressive career of innovation and leadership, Jesper With-Fogstrup can clearly see opportunities to break down barriers – in business and beyond. That same desire – to liberate people to fulfill their potential – drives him to be active for people who are at work, including serving on the board of EUROUT (the leading LGBTQ+ business conference in Europe).

“I can give you many examples of not feeling comfortable being outside, and I’ve probably been limited on certain occasions in my professional and personal life, preoccupied thinking about it, instead of doing what I I should do. So if you can eliminate that – give people a safe environment to share what they have – I think that helps them perform better.

A quest for learning

Jesper grew up in Denmark with his university professor mother and doctor father. His dad’s job meant they were on the move a lot, and he got used to adapting to new neighborhoods and new schools. “My resilience grew as a result,” he says. He seems to be thirsty now for knowledge from new places and conversations.

“I was quite a rebellious teenager, so I wouldn’t say things were always calm at home, but there was a calm base where we could always have a good conversation. It was rational, based on facts, positively stimulating, all of those things.

“In my late teens, I went to the United States as an exchange student and lived with a Jamaican American family in Michigan. It was one of the best years of my life; taught me a lot and was a big influence to me I’m from Scandinavia very white background Detroit went through a lot of changes in the 60’s and 70’s and it really opened my eyes to the value of diversity and the kinds of changes needed – in education and everywhere else.

After a few years in Scandinavia, Jesper came to the UK to go to university. “I thought I would be in the UK for a few years and then move back to the States,” he recalled. “But I never did, I still live in the UK and am now a citizen.”

After college, he began his career in the travel industry, rising through the ranks for 15 years. “It was an industry that was disrupted – there was a lot going on, it was very interesting. If you think back to the 90s, you take a brochure and walk into a travel agency. Now we all book online. This is why my career shifted towards digital, customer preferences, markets and business models were changing very rapidly, many mergers and acquisitions (M&A), changing and growing teams.”

I wanted to stretch my brain

With all that experience under his belt, Jesper wanted a new challenge and decided to do an Executive MBA.

“A lot of people study for an MBA because they want to move from industry to consulting or from finance to entrepreneurship. I didn’t have that goal. I was senior vice president at the time, so it wasn’t a conscious step to a higher level, my motivation was to stretch my brain.

“I got accepted into LBS and it suited me and my schedule perfectly – great school, nice people, just a good vibe. It gave me basic business skills that maybe had been difficult before. I can speak with confidence on a wider range of topics and I think this has a positive effect on my business.

“I think it developed me a lot as a person, I could talk about it all day. It was so intense, every night you could read, every weekend you could study. And during all of that, I was doing two M&A deals at work.It showed me that you can do something with every minute you have.

“At the end of the course, we had to write a physical letter saying where we were going to be in five years. I didn’t know – my approach to my career at that time was pretty organic, there were a lot of opportunities coming up and things were going well. But I think I wrote something like, “I’ll be CEO in five years.”

“After a great year and a half, when I finished my MBA and we had just sold the company, I moved on to a new company as COO, and within 10 months I was CEO . So my statement in the letter was correct. Many of my classmates with clear goals also achieved theirs. I think LBS gives you what you want out of it.

Going out isn’t something you just do once

Hanging out with his family in his late teens wasn’t a problem for Jesper. “I wasn’t kicked out of my house, there wasn’t much confusion about ‘what does that mean? “, it was just an acceptance: “Oh yeah, OK, next.

“But coming out isn’t something you do once. It’s something you do frequently. I think part of the resilience I’ve developed is a product of coming out often, especially going from school to school and moving to new places.

“I grew up with it and got through it, but it’s not the optimal way to operate. If you think of any other context in which you are trying to optimize performance, you will try to remove all the obstacles. Yet for many LGBTQ+ people, society has deep-seated – though perhaps unintended – barriers to growth and realizing potential. They should be removed the same as a lack of funding or tools to do your job.

Although Jesper says he has had few overtly negative experiences of being in the workplace, he gives a number of examples where conversations had to be “corrected”, including one time a colleague used a homophobic slur in conversation.

“I could see the regret – the blood running down their face – when they saw me. They approached me and later apologized. On the one hand, you could tell it was positive because they knew it was a mistake and apologized. On the other hand, it’s clear that it wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t a natural way for them to speak.

Of course, these conversations take energy, even for someone who is clearly not afraid to open up difficult discussions and knows how to defuse tension.

Anything wrong will fail

“If your heart isn’t in it, it will fail and you will be found out – with Pride month as with anything,” Jesper suggests when asked about corporate involvement in one-off moments in the world. calendar to celebrate diversity, and if it can be symbolic .

“Would I like every month to be Pride month? Other than being very tired, yes – it’s fun and it’s another platform. I was recently at an event, sponsored by a great company with deep roots in diversity and inclusion. A lot of management, customers and suppliers were all there under that banner. It was fun, but there were also some difficult conversations – so if it can happen during Pride month, I’ll take it.

But he doesn’t believe there’s just one way to foster greater acceptance, and suggests it can be harder to invest and do well in small businesses.

“I’ve worked in companies with up to 4,000 people. Where I am now there are no more than 200. I spent a few years running the global digital channel for HSBC – a massive company – and all of a sudden you see there’s a good awareness that something has to change and positive progress.

“I strongly believe that the best way to overcome discrimination in all its forms, whether it be racism or homophobia, is through personal experience. You have to create the right platform that is open, not stereotypical, it needs to foster one-to-one conversations. In creating this, people who identify as LGBTQ+ need to allow people to ask questions, even if the question may be perceived as silly, to be part of an open and safe environment so that people with the right intentions don’t feel scared of inadvertently disturbing people.”