They say that necessity is the mother of invention and in Jonas Oppedal’s case there may be something in that. His refreshing candour in admitting that he joined Meltwater in 2003 with a burning need to earn some money, but how he soon found himself swept away on a tide of enthusiasm, sets the scene for eight years of challenges and achievements.
Name: Jonas Oppedal
Birthplace: Tønsberg, Norway
Joined Meltwater: September 2003
Current job title: Executive Director, Meltwater Reach
Who inspires you: Anyone who is able to remain humble after achieving success
My three words to describe Meltwater: Team, performance, care
Just starting out
Oppedal turned his back on what he humorously refers to as his “series of glamorous jobs” in the past – most notably picking strawberries, flipping burgers at McDonald’s and being a tennis coach – and Meltwater was to become the start of his professional career.
Like many people with successful careers at Meltwater, he didn’t realise what he was looking for until he had found it.
“I think part of the challenge was that I didn’t know what I wanted out of my career,” he says. “I was completely broke so money was clearly a short-term goal.”
But within a few short hours of meeting the team at Meltwater, which at that time was only a 10-person company, he wanted “in” and no mistake.
Thinking back to where it all began, Oppedal reminisces. “I met the founding team one Friday evening at the office in Oslo. We opened a few beers and a few hours later a box full of hot dogs materialized. All of a sudden it was midnight and no one had left. I thought this was incredible. This wasn’t ‘work’ the way I had imagined it. This was a group of really passionate and intelligent people that loved hanging out together. It struck me – this is what I want.”
Having grown into a 900-employee company, with 57 offices across the world, Meltwater today has a sophisticated approach to recruitment. But, of course, that was all very different in 2003.
“My interview process was very different from what potential hires go through today,” Oppedal tells me. “I had a five-minute conversation with the person in charge of the sales team. He asked if I wanted to do sales, and I hesitated for a second and reluctantly responded “yes”. I remember feeling like a hypocrite because I didn’t want to do sales. I had a very stigmatized view of sales.”
Which is true of many people new to the world of sales. It has become a byword for pushiness, shallowness and an over-reliance on doing whatever it takes to hit your targets. So, would Jonas advise everyone entering the job market to throw away their preconceived ideas of sales and consider joining Meltwater?
“It depends,” he replies, again exhibiting a refreshing honesty. “Meltwater is a very ambitious company. If that trait aligns well with you, and you are looking for responsibility and real exposure – then I would absolutely recommend it. At Meltwater you get to work on real accounts; dealing directly with customers, with real problems and real opportunities pretty much from your first week. This type of learning is very different from the theoretical and abstract nature of the learning that takes place in academia.”
It’s also not what many people expect from an entry-level sales job, is it?
“This exposure builds character and confidence, which helps you become more decisive, a better communicator and more trustworthy. These are key traits needed in any profession and I think Meltwater provides a good, let’s call it, a postgraduate ‘real world’ education.”
Beginning to grow
Having joined Meltwater in September 2003, the end of the following month Oppedal had achieved a staggering 286% of his monthly target. At which point surely any doubts he’d had about a career in sales must have felt like a dim and distant memory.
“I’ve always had high standards and worked hard at whatever I’ve set my mind to. I think that helps to compensate for a long laundry list of weaknesses. Verbal diarrhea, being overly spontaneous, lack of structure, fear of failure, lack of patience etc,” he laughs. “My whole career at Meltwater has been challenging. I’ve had more responsibility than I’ve felt prepared for at times.”
He continues: “I’ve continuously been faced with situations I haven’t dealt with before. One area that stands out as the biggest culprit for insomnia is people. How are we going to find the right talent? Are we doing enough to support our employees? Do we have enough resources to develop our people? Who will be ready to shoulder management responsibility next quarter? What are the most effective ways to motivate people?”
Extending the family
So, how does he think finding the right people and allowing them to develop can best be handled?
“Perhaps it sounds reckless but I think if you hire smart and driven people and give them responsibility, they desperately want to succeed, and therefore end up giving 100%. Creating a trusting environment by giving people responsibility elevates performance and consequently people accomplish things that exceed their expectations. I’ve seen that happen many times in our teams. I believe that belief in people’s abilities is a unique quality to Meltwater.”
Believing in your people certainly sounds like a recipe for success when it comes to getting the best from them. Too few employers get the balance right between supporting staff and pushing them to deliver.
“You have to be driven,” is Oppedal’s advice to anyone who wants to investigate a career at Meltwater. “I’ve yet to met a single person in an interview process that said he/she wasn’t ambitious. The question is: are you able to focus your ambition to accomplish something spectacular – a story you can proudly tell your grandkids?”
This is great advice for anyone starting out. But looking back on his eight years, what had Oppedal gained on a personal level?
“I was broke when I started. I’m no longer broke,” he laughs. “I wanted to work abroad. I have worked in four different markets and been extremely fortunate to be able to live the life that I dreamt about when I started my career. Early on I learned how crucial it is to allow yourself to dream about what could be.
My professional experiences so far have helped reduce my fear of failure. Mistakes are unavoidable. I know.
If there was a book titled “The Idiot’s Guide to All the Mistakes You Wish You Didn’t Make as a Manager” I could probably add a chapter or two. Knowing that you can’t have perfect information has helped me become more decisive and more comfortable accepting mistakes.”
At the end of the day, what is it that really matters to Jonas Oppedal and to Meltwater? He says it all boils down to two things:
1) providing significant value to customers through the services they buy.
2) that his coworkers have meaningful careers, that they enjoy their work and feel a sense of accomplishment through it.