Interviewee Name: Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia, Founder
Company Name: NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I am Norwegian, I have lived in Switzerland, Cyprus and the US, now I’m living in France. I am a consultant, trainer and coach – and also mentor on a voluntary basis for the European Professional Women’s Network (EPWN). And I recently started up my company NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: Not sure I have a typical day yet, as my company is still in the making. But the day always include morning, afternoon and evening walks with my Golden Retriever. The last few months I have been working on three trainings, and recently I have been busy setting up a blog and using Twitter.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: It is rather easy, as my work is something I feel passionately for. Otherwise it is important for me to keep a balance between work and leisure, and this balance keeps me motivated.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: Concerning my business, I would have contacted more large consulting companies to freelance at an earlier stage. The financial market is still tough in the consulting business and if I had more freelancing contacts I think that would have been better.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: It has been a pleasure to discover that the consulting business is very supportive. I had expected fierce competition, whereas what I find is that my “competitors” if you like are very willing to share information and be supportive
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I would say that it’s E-learning, blended learning, more structure – and demand for certification – around what it means to be a coach and mentor
Avil Beckford: When you say blended learning, what do you mean by that?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I mean training that has many different elements so that could mean an e-learning element within the blended learning. It could be that you have to do exercises, or group training combined with more traditional face-to-face training.
Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia:
- The financial market and competition.
- It is all about networking and creating trust so that customers choose me despite the above.
- Gender discussion “fatigue”. By that I mean I have noticed that some people feel tired of the subject “women on boards, leadership.” I think that communication that focuses on a better future for men and women in business and at home is the way to go forward.
Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: To do that I have to go back a little. It is proven that a diverse company with an inclusive environment produces better bottom line results. I help businesses increase organisational performance through focus on inclusion, a diverse workforce and a better understanding of working across national cultures.
As a consultant, coach, mentor and trainer, my strength lies in my combination of strategic and operational experience, as well as having worked internationally cross-border and living in different countries. I am a good listener and have a solution-minded attitude.
Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I don’t like to focus on what others do badly. But I see a danger in cross-cultural trainers getting too hung up on the theories of intercultural specialists like Trompenaars and Hofstede. Their tools are helpful, as long as one does not forget about individual differences and taking the time to get to know people.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it.
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: It was actually to get all the paper work done to set up my business. With my cultural background (Norwegian) it is not natural for me to chase people, it is considered rude in my culture. But here in France it is more common to chase people to get things done. I learnt it by doing, and I got it done, but it was hard for me.
Avil Beckford: What lessons did you learn in the process?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: Listen to the people who have “inside information” and follow their advice, even if it is difficult to do.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: It wasn’t a big break, but I would like to mention the story. In high school I had a gym teacher that had the ability to “see” people. One time I was going through a difficult time, she saw it without me having to say a word. She asked me if I wanted to talk and I said yes. It was a relief to talk with an adult that showed so much understanding. It is something I have carried with me, the importance of “seeing” people and reaching out a hand. Sometimes I fail, but I try the best I can.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: One time I did not work well with a superior. I learnt that there may be greater cultural differences than one would expect between neighbouring countries. It forced me to flex my style, it wasn’t comfortable, but it gave better results.
Avil Beckford: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I rather tend to have many small disappointments, and they come in squadrons, as they say in French. When these periods arrive, I focus on “what happened instead?” “What positive outcome has there been from this disappointment?”
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: Well, I think the toughest decisions in life are most likely to be very personal ones. One that I can share was the decision to settle in France with my French husband. I knew that it would be a long process to integrate, as I had to learn the language (which isn’t easy!) and get used to yet another culture. The result is that I have indeed learnt the language, although it took longer than I liked, and I live in a very beautiful country with a wonderful climate – and we live a blessed life.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia:
- The fact that I decided to take an education abroad set the scene for my intercultural experience. I had traveled over longer periods of time before that, but actually spending years abroad gives a stronger impact.
- My husband. He provides a balance to my life that is amazing.
- It is rather a personality trait than an event, but it does shape my life; I tend to take calculated risks (e.g. quitting my job before having another one, starting my own business). These risks have brought me exciting challenges (e.g. international job in a large petroleum company).
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I am very proud of a blended learning on working across cultures that I produced (main designer and team leader) in 2009 for a large petroleum company.
Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: I have had many invisible mentors, and some formal ones. They help me to trigger off new ideas or push me to get done things I already have in mind.
Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: That they believe in me
Avil Beckford: As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Sunniva Heggertveit Aoudia: Follow your interests and don’t give up.