Multi-billion company founder: “I’ll never build a company the same way again”
Ashkan Pouya has built several multi-billion kronor technology companies, but he says he will never build a company in the same way again.
“As an entrepreneur, you dream about building the next product or service that somehow makes life better for everyone. The irony is when we accept to first make life worse for many, with a pressured organization and a lot of pain,” Pouya said. “But the stress and the pain become constant when we are doing that all the time over and over again – doesn’t this just make workers worse off now?”
Today, more than a million Swedish adults are on anti-depressants. That is 10 percent of Sweden’s population and between 15- 20 percent of the active workforce. Psychiatric diagnoses today account for 70 percent of the costs of sick leave.
“Will our societies even be able to be competitive when such a large part of the population suffers from mental illness,” Pouya asked. “Isn’t it time to rethink and design a new culture?”
The European Union and the World Health Organization estimates that mental health issue cost Sweden about 150 – 200 billion SEK, or 5 percent of Sweden’s GDP every year.
The issue is not specifically a Swedish problem, but looks very similar in most parts of the western world.
“After having built companies, you notice how the culture forms, how it’s very tough in the beginning to just get something rolling,” Pouya said. “You just have to get things done. You can easily slip into a very unhealthy culture if you don’t conduct it consciously.”
Pouya says society rewards economic success, but doesn’t value health or well-being in the same way. He believes society should transform the way entrepreneurs think about work.
“There is a big need for companies to consider this, because this is what all the experts are pointing at,” Pouya said. “This is going to be an even bigger problem in the future.”
Pouya says there is no need for structural changes in how we go about in doing business, there is just a knowledge gap on how to conduct the daily activities in way that doesn’t deteriorate the mental body. He believes it has to do the overall culture but also the individuals subjective perception and handling of the world.
Pouya says there is sometimes a misconception that working hard and being productive automatically leads to stress. In many places, if you look stressed you are viewed as one who works hard and pull their weight in the office – these are examples of culture and perceptions that needs change.
“Why are we proud of our culture,” Pouya asks. “It seems to be a culture and a society that produces more and more unhappy people.”
“Being stressed, angry or frustrated, decreases your efficiency, your immune system weakens, you make poorer decisions and the list just continues. With time you might even be left with a body, constantly flushed with stress hormones even without external stimuli. Just like an autoimmune disease. By then it will very difficult to have pleasant or productive experience of life. “This is something that they should teach you more about in school already.”
He believes that it will be up to the business community and entrepreneurs to change the course and find new ways to solve this pressing issue.
Today, Ashkan Pouya is the chairman and founder of the investment firm Systematic Growth, where he is building a prototype of a culture that actively works to prevent these issues and promote mental health. Even though it is early in, he says the results are positive. Commercially, he says the company is reaching their targets and that the company culture is stronger and more inclusive.
“I don’t really like the term work life balance. It should only be life balance. Once we are able to understand how to take care of our wellbeing trough out the everyday life, including work, then we are on the right path.”
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