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QlikTech CEO Lars Bjork: Swedish Sensation

When Lars Bjork joined the nascent business intelligence software company QlikTech in 2000, it was a tiny entity with 35 …

When Lars Bjork joined the nascent business intelligence software company QlikTech in 2000, it was a tiny entity with 35 people and $2 million in revenues based in Lund, Sweden. Bjork came aboard as CFO, but his role proved much broader.

“In a company of that size, your title may be CFO, but you’re a jackof- all-trades,” says Bjork, who took the CEO seat at QlikTech seven years later. “You start with at least 50 hats.”

At the time, QlikTech was in the early stages of commercializing a patented in-memory analytical software that provided a streamlined way to view and crunch data. And commercialize it did, convincing more than 1,500 customers to adopt its flagship product, QlikView, bringing its revenue to $13 million by 2004.

In the years to follow, QlikTech logged a phenomenal 75 to 80 percent growth each year until 2008, when revenues increased a mere 50 percent to $120 million. Along the way, QlikTech moved its global headquarters from Sweden to Radnor, Penn., in 2006, in order to better access U.S.-headquartered global companies.

“In four years, we more or less tenfolded our revenue,” recounts Bjork, who reports that new license sales currently account for 65 percent of the company’s revenue. “If you look at new license sales at our competition, they’re all plateauing or decreasing.”

What’s driven some 500,000 users to adopt Qlikview? Two things, says Bjork: simpler deployment and richer analytic capabilities. “I have a saying, ‘If it’s not simple, it’s simply not going to be used,’ ” he says. “Our technology is complex, but the end user doesn’t see that. It’s very simple to use and understand.”

In the field of business intelligence, where companies have long been frustrated by the inability to mine the immense amount of information stored in their databases, that’s an impressive claim. So how does QlikTech deliver? Its technology involves an “associative” database, meaning data values are directly linked with related values as opposed to the table-and-row organization of a traditional relational database. As a result, QlikTech users can select any value of any data element and get a list of all other values on records associated with that element. For example, a consumer company can view and analyze sales and margin impacts of thousands of individual products from every angle – margin rates per customer, sales per quarter by salesperson, sales per product code by district and salesperson, as well as manage freight costs and examine freight against sales at a customer level.

But plenty of software solutions can deliver that capability. QlikTech’s edge lies in speed and ease of deployment. Most solutions delivering that functionality are Structured Query Language- based, meaning that a skilled technician has to design the database tables and the links between values within them, and specify how which data elements are available. With Qlik- Tech, users simply load the data –  which can take hours or a few days, depending on the data and system in question – and the system makes it available – immediately.

“We’ve had clients tell us, ‘We spent six weeks with a competing tool trying to build what we needed and couldn’t do it. We spent two days with QlikView and we got it,’ ” says Bjork.

Until recently QlikTech’s customer base was primarily firms with 100 to 1,000 employees, but recently it’s been adding larger corporations, such as Volvo, Deutsche Telekom, Novartis, Fujitsu, Campbell Soup, Shell, 3M and ADP.

Today, while other companies struggle to tread water in a downturn, Bjork’s challenge is to forge partnerships that will help build on that large corporation base. “We can’t knock on all of those doors ourselves,” he explains, noting that the company serves clients in 10 countries and relies on 500 global partners to reach another 80 nations. “We’re going to build a stronger indirect channel to make it easier to purchase our software.”

With that piece of the puzzle in place, the opportunities are limitless, he says. “Our market is infinite in the sense that you have almost a billion laptops and PCs out there and they are all potential clients at some point.”

About Jennifer Pellet

As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.