Inspirational Woman: Janne Villadsen | Program and Development Director, Heartland Festival & Executive MBA student, Copenhagen Business School

Meet Janne Villadsen

Program and Development Director, Heartland Festival and Executive MBA student, Copenhagen Business School

In this piece, we talk to Janne Villadsen, Program and Development Director at Heartland Festival and Executive MBA student at Copenhagen Business School.

With a background in culture and the arts, Janne Villadsen is not a typical business school student, currently studying the Executive MBA at Copenhagen Business School. As the Program and Development Director of Denmark’s Heartland Festival, part of Janne’s role is to build partnerships between the arts and commercial sectors.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I work as one of two directors for the culture platform called Heartland, a culture festival that combines music, arts, talks, and food.

My focus is on trying to make festival culture into a business, so I work a lot with culture-business relationships, as Denmark doesn’t have a strong tradition of businesses supporting culture and art. I am trying to work on that and was part of starting Heartland in 2016 and have been working with them since.

After a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s in Journalism, I started off writing about fine art and contemporary art and wrote a lot of features on culture. Culture has always been my biggest interest, especially architecture, design, and literature.

I was eventually headhunted for a role as Head of Communications and Marketing for Copenhagen Fashion Week, as they were trying to position themselves as a culture platform. I then discovered it was actually much more fun to create culture than write about it.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career? 

I remember very clearly in 2008, I sat down and wrote what I wanted to achieve. At that point, it was “I want to start a culture company or be self-employed.” These goals were part of getting to where I am now.

My interest in developing my career and path really took off when I turned 30, and I’m now 39. When I turned 30, I was already running quite a big company in a management role, and then wanted to be a CEO before 40.

Life happens and things change your plans, and I don’t have that same ambition to be CEO before I turn 40. I’m happy sharing the director position which somebody else at present, but maybe CEO before I’m 42!

I was always quite specific with what I wanted, which is also why I stated the Executive MBA at Copenhagen Business School. If I want to run businesses, I need to be able to offer something that others can’t and develop my knowledge.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course! I have faced defeats and looked myself in the mirror and asked “Is this really what you want to do?”

I had a company called Force of Nature which I sold; it was not the direction I wanted to go and I felt a little lost. I had used so much energy on this company and then realised it wasn’t what I wanted.

So yes, I have faced challenges, but l also appreciate that I have been quite lucky and privileged, meeting the right people at the right times.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievements come when I can be a motivational leader – I remember telling two of my closest employees at my previous work that I was leaving, and they both started crying. I felt so honoured to have worked with and had an impact on those two amazing people.

I think the biggest achievement isn’t about making money; it’s very much about when my employees are happy and when I make cultural impressions that last, and give people something to treasure in their hearts and remember forever. In that way, I am super lucky because I work with culture – that’s something that sticks with you.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?  

My will to keep on going – I am very determined and I have a super positive attitude. I really believe that I can achieve what I aim for. I think if you have the right attitude towards making something happen, you can make it happen.

I have also always believed that responsibility is something you take; not something you’re given. I always have this natural way of taking responsibility of something, which isn’t necessarily always a good thing, because I might take responsibility for something I shouldn’t.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? 

I had a mentor myself, so I was a mentee. When I turned 30, I wanted to meet with someone who I could ask questions to. I knew a man who was a Chief Editor at a huge newspaper, but had previously worked in business. He didn’t know much about culture but was a former host for a TV programme where I worked when I was young. I asked if he could mentor me. So, we would meet for lunch and just talk about work which was incredibly useful.

I have now found a very good network of peers on my Executive MBA that I can talk with about my education and career.

I have also mentored, but that’s been mostly younger artists. I’ve been asked several times by the Danish Art Foundation to mentor younger artists trying to break through and find out the right steps to take in their careers. A few times, I’ve been contacted by younger women who think I have an interesting professional profile, and I always say yes to meeting for a talk and a coffee.

I think mentoring is great as long as you don’t use it to become your mentor, but use it to become the best version of yourself.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I think this differs from country to country. In Denmark, we are quite good with gender parity, but nowhere near perfect, and it probably looks better from the outside than the reality. On boards, for many years, I was the only woman. I truly believe one of the best ways to increase the number of women on boards and in business is to use quotas.

I also think you need to look into how people hire. We have a small problem in our company where we hired too many female employees. I believe you need to look at how you employ people, even down to the process of how you screen applications, and it needs to come from the top.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

“Take it easy” – I was always so eager to go fast, but there’s no reason to rush. When I was younger, I was always too concerned with what other people thought of me. I would have to say, take it easy, you’re good enough as you are, and don’t rush.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future? 

I really like the idea of making a difference and creating something that sticks with people as a memory. I think that’s why I always enjoyed working with culture as some of my biggest memories are viewing artwork or a concert or reading literature or watching an amazing movie. These things have a special place in my heart, and would love to keep doing that and having an impact people’s memories and mindsets.

I work with culture because I believe that culture is what can bring us closer together; important in this very mediated world where borders are constantly being drawn.

I hope to be able to create even greater cultural moments in the future – and prove that a business can do good and still be successful.

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