Lego traded its CEO in for a younger, Danish model

The new chief in charge
The new chief in charge
Image: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer
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Lego replaced its first ever non-Danish CEO, who was only in the job for eight months, with a younger, Danish executive.

Reverting to type, the iconic toy maker announced that a 51-year-old Dane, Niels Christiansen, will replace Bali Padda, 61, in October. Christiansen is the former chief executive of Danish industrial producer Danfoss. Padda will help Christiansen transition into his new role, and then take up a special advisory position in the Lego Brand Group, a holding company run his predecessor, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp.

Knudstorp, who was the first non-family member to become CEO in Lego’s 85-year history, was boss for 12 years and credited with rebuilding the toy maker, brick by brick. This was perhaps why Lego’s board was tempted to flirt with another “first.”

Padda, a 15-year company veteran, took over from Knudstorp as CEO in January. The company reported its slowest sales growth in nearly 10 years last year, ending an outstanding run of double-digit increases.

Christiansen is now charged with leading the company into the digital-play age, and Lego told Quartz that Padda was always meant to be a CEO for a short time. His replacement had nothing to do with age or nationality, the company said:

“We made clear from the get-go that Padda would not be here for ten years… the new CEO was found faster than anticipated. When we have a candidate that meets all of the criteria it is about making a deal at the time when the opportunity is there. This was in alignment with Bali’s expectation so this is no surprise. The only surprise is that we were able to find a candidate so quickly.”

However, the press release from Padda’s appointment in 2016 did not indicate that his appointment was purely for the interim.

Christiansen’s nationality may have helped more than Lego cares to admit. Its press officer noted that “an understanding of a family-owned business and what makes a Danish company special, how to operate a company where the root and culture is Danish” plays into the hiring process. With the caveat that you don’t have to be a Dane to do it, the spokesperson said this culture features “a lack of hierarchy, respect, and individual professionalism and competencies, rather than having bosses dictating what to do in different ways.”