Johanna Småros

Johanna Småros is a co-founder and CMO of Relex Solutions. The company provides groundbreaking retail and supply chain planning software that reduces inventories and waste and improves sales. Johanna is the mother of 1.5-year-old Siri and is an occasional kickboxer.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m really a basic engineer, a logistics scientist. During my career as a researcher at Aalto University BIT Research Centre, I created a code to simulate retail store replenishment. This code was the basis for the company Relex Solutions, which we founded in 2005 with two of my university colleagues. Nowadays the company operates globally and employs over 380 people.

I’m truly analytical, problem-solving skills is my major strength. I enjoy breaking a problem down to pieces and start working on it. People say I’m quite determined, a bit absolute. I don’t mind hard work, I will push any project through, and find a way towards a solution. Persistence describes me pretty well. Setbacks don’t much hinder me, I limp to the goal no matter what.

I’ve always wondered how I can have such a serene baby! My daughter Siri, 1,5 years, is the most relaxed and easy-going baby – a bit of an opposite to my current life.

What drives you at your work?

Sounds ridiculous, but everything! After returning back to work from mothers’ leave, I truly enjoyed the working atmosphere. We have extremely smart people working at Relex, it is truly rewarding to see the personal growth and success of the employees. I enjoy finding the inner capabilities of a newcomer and let them flourish. Success doesn’t always require a huge amount of experience, it requires right people at a right place.

People say they feel safe at Relex, hence the employees have the courage to try new things and make decisions. Most often the employees are the right people to say how to reach a specific goal, not the management team. We aim to give the employees responsibility and encourage initiative and peer-to-peer skill sharing. We trust our employees and have minimum control mechanisms, it brings challenges but it is worth it. Everybody at the company should know where we are heading, we constantly improve internal communication to ensure it.

I originally ended up to study logistics, because it is so concrete and extremely measurable. The impact we can achieve for the clients is truly motivating. We have cases with fresh groceries where we have managed to reduce food waste by 40 %. For sure, our work is ecological, but at the same time, it has a definite influence on clients’ profit.

What do you respect, what’s valuable for you?

I value freedom at work. I find it restrictive if I would have a too tightly defined area where to operate. I enjoy utilizing my skills broadly. That must be the main reason why I eventually started as an entrepreneur.

What does ‘curiosity’ mean to you?

To me, curiosity means that things can always be done better. I’m extremely curious to investigate not only how things currently are, but how things could possibly be. I’m interested in finding out, how you can exceed the current state, move the expected limit forwards. That’s why it was inherent to become an entrepreneur.

For us, the motivation was never money, we aim to see how far can we go, how can we develop our preliminary idea to optimize and automatize complex systems. Technology develops constantly, the possibilities are endless. Also, I’m curious to learn new business cultures. When we enter new markets, it is fascinating to learn the cultural differences in behavior, in communication and so on.

Is curiosity visible at your free time?

I love reading. I read with other languages, it provides a different reading experience. Norwegian, especially! Norwegian books may be published in both variations of the language, in Bokmål or Nynorsk. It is fun to detect and compare differences when reading in both dialects.

I’d also like to activate some languages that I already know, French for example. I’ve already practiced German with a phone application and aim to speak it sooner or later. I’m interested in all popular sciences and gather new trivial knowledge, no matter if it is useful or not, it is just so cool to know new stuff! About Rockhopper penguins or mummies just to name a couple!

How do you balance your life between work and free time?

In a way, I don’t separate work and spare time. Work is my way of being creative and it brings me pleasure. I don’t think that there is work, and then out there somewhere is a thing called life. For me, it is all united. All in all, small things are meaningful to me – a giggling child, a thank-you call from a client, or a perfect kick in kickboxing.

What would you tell for the teenager Johanna?

At least I could say, that life gets more enjoyable day by day.

What are you looking for (in the future to happen)?

When I was studying, most of my friends had career plans. I never had any. I’ve been driven by my curiosity and embraced the opportunities as they’ve shown up. I try to build Relex as successful as possible. I concentrate on one thing at a time and work for it as long as it brings me pleasure and motivates me.

We founders think alike, which has been our strength. I’m inspired by the teamwork that always makes the solution better than I ever could have done by myself. At the beginning of our company, we had no clear goal, but have managed to grow and find vision together. It is comforting to get support and trust when some of us is facing some troubles. We want to become the world’s best in our business, we want to become a market leader in retail planning and optimizing. That was the reason why we expanded to the United States. We cannot be the best in the world, if we only operate in Europe.

How would you describe your style?

I have never had a feeling that I want to be fashionable. I seek clothing that has a life cycle, that’s why I like Vestiarium so much. I can have dresses in my closet that are twenty years old. I like to wear clothes off. When I traveled more, I used to have lots of black tricot dresses, that could be rolled in the suitcase, and then ready to be used.

Nevertheless, I admire people who spend time expressing themselves through clothing. I don’t understand why some think fashion would be somehow superficial. I think fashion is like aesthetics, like painting a canvas, a process where you look for a specific mood. Dressing up is can be a true channel for creativity, but my current lifestyle requires easiness and concentration elsewhere. My fashion philosophy is more like wash-and-go, you get dressed in a pretty dress and ‘ta-da’ you’re ready.

Johanna received Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award this year. At the Award Ceremony, she wore the Osaka dress, proposed by Vestiarium personnel based on her guidelines. For her, this kind of service for saving time and effort is the best value for money.