Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Hege Lise Sørbye
Meet Hege Lise Sørbye, advisor and partner at Kingbird Executive Search / AltoPartners Norway. Armed with an MBA from the Norwegian School of Economics and extensive experience in retail, FMCG, industrial and professional services, Hege is one of the region’s leading experts on succession planning for privately owned / family businesses. She is also the former CEO of one of our favourite clothing brands, Esprit. We caught up with her in between Alpine skiing and putting Winston, the delightful working Cocker Spaniel, through his paces at agility training.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Oslo, close to Holmenkollbakken – the famous ski jump that has hosted international skiing events for more than a century.
What was your childhood career dream?
I remember wanting to become the first female mounted police officer in Norway! At the time, there were no female riders in the force.
But you went into business instead?
Growing up, my parents owned a textile company where my father managed the technical side of operations, while my mother was the CEO. As a result, business discussions were a frequent topic at our dinner table. I believe this played a part in nurturing my interest in pursuing a degree in economics, and eventually, The Norwegian School of Economics felt like a natural fit for me. While pursuing my degree, I opened and managed my own fashion store in Oslo. This undertaking – although making my schedule rather hectic – provided me with valuable hands-on experience and numerous lessons that have proven to be instrumental in my later career.
What was your first job?
Upon graduating, I entrusted my family with the responsibility of running the fashion store and assumed the role of COO at Modena, a clothing corporation which at the time had 25 stores across Norway.
How did you get into executive recruitment?
Since my early university days, I have been captivated by the intricate relationship between people and business operations. As COO at Modena and later as CEO of the ESPRIT fashion brand in Norway, I gained valuable insights into the critical role of effective recruitment practices in driving a company’s performance. My fascination with this field deepened over time, leading me to transition to a client-facing position at Personal Utvelgelse, a boutique executive recruitment firm, in the early 1990s. I’ve been doing this for some 25 years and never looked back.
Do you miss the world of fashion?
I miss collaborating with the exceptionally creative and forward-thinking individuals in the industry and the thrill of witnessing a collection striking a chord with the buyers and exceeding expectations with its performance. That was always a truly rewarding feeling.
What motivates you to do what you do?
Witnessing the positive synergies that emerge within an organization when the right manager is placed in the right leadership role. It’s magical.
Do you have a mentor?
My greatest mentor was my mother. She was always an inspiration to me, and I credit much of my personal and professional growth to her guidance. She instilled in me a sense of fearlessness and encouraged me to take on new challenges, saying, “Give it a go; just try. You might just surprise yourself.” This advice has stayed with me and helped me overcome many obstacles throughout my life.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust yourself. Don’t waste time worrying about what others may think of you. Most of the time, it’s just your own emotions and imagination playing tricks on you rather than reality. Focus on being true to yourself and your goals, and don’t let the opinions of others hold you back.
How do you relax and unwind?
For me, there’s nothing quite like hitting the cross-country skiing trails in Nordmarka, just above Oslo, or embarking on a Randonee skiing adventure in the mountains of Jotunheimen, to unwind and recharge. And not many people know this about me, but I have always enjoyed agility training with my dogs - from teaching them how to climb ladders to running slalom and navigating challenging obstacle courses. It’s always been a great source of fun for them and me.
Do you have a superpower?
While I don’t consider it a “superpower,” I have a knack for creating a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere during job interviews to allow candidates to be their authentic selves. I believe this approach helps me gain a deeper understanding of their personality and potential as a leader, which in turn helps promote more informed and effective hiring decisions aligned with the specific needs of a client company.
Name one thing you love about your work or your firm.
The people at our firm! I take great pleasure in collaborating with my exceptional team of partners at Kingbird Executive Search.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, a fascinating book that explores the complexities and misunderstandings that can arise when we interact with people we don’t know.