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Pernille Spiers-Lopez grew up in a small town in Denmark. After
finishing college she worked as a journalist for a short time, but
she found that profession to be unsatisfying. Her next move was
to relocate to the United States and open a business importing
Danish furniture. Unfortunately, that venture failed. She then took
a minimum wage job selling furniture in Florida. Through hard
work and determination within two years Spiers-Lopez was su-
pervising 24 stores. The regional furniture company where she
was working was then purchased by IKEA in 1993.
She quickly advanced through the management ranks at
IKEA, where she was the only woman on the company’s North
American board. A 1997 businesswomen’s leadership conference
led her to reassess her priorities and her role at IKEA. In
response, she chose to alter her career path and moved into
human resource management. She subsequently became the U.S.
director of human resources; one of her first actions was to
implement programs to recruit more minority and female man-
agers. Today, half of the firm’s 75 top earners are female. Five
women now serve on the management board. She also increased
pay and benefits throughout the firm, especially for the lowest-
paid employees. Today, thanks in large part to Spiers-Lopez,
IKEA offers one of the most generous benefits packages for full-
time and part-time workers in the retailing sector. And along the
way she was promoted to the position of President of IKEA
North America.
Yet it was a very personal, frightening experience that led
to the most dramatic change. Spiers-Lopez is a working mother
whose husband is a public school principal. As her IKEA ca-
reer developed, the couple chose not to uproot the family.
Instead, Spiers-Lopez commuted home several times each
week from distant worksites. In 1999, Spiers-Lopez was work-
ing long hours and commuting frequently. Her competitive,
Type A personality caused her to push herself harder and harder without regard to the consequences. One night as she
left work she experienced tremendous pain in the chest and
arms. Rushing to the emergency room, convinced she was hav-
ing a heart attack, Spiers-Lopez found the problem instead was
exhaustion and stress.
She decided she wanted to continue working but with more
limits. “I’d been in denial for some time about my own
strength. I’d been emotionally numb, ignored things and
moved ahead, and put my family on automatic pilot,” Spiers-
Lopez says. “Now I’ve acted on that wake-up signal and am
working on balancing life and work.”
One of her coping mechanisms was a reduction in working
hours so that she could relax with family. She says, “For years
I’ve struggled with questions of whether I’m a good mother, a
good friend, and a good wife. … [Now] I avoid business travel
on weekends, try to keep regular hours at work and leave the job
at the office.” Her coworkers help, too. “We have meetings, and
they know if they don’t say, ‘Let’s take a break,’ they won’t get a
break. So they say, ‘Pernille, in order to help you, we’re going to
all take a break.’” A perfectionist, she struggles to keep from be-
ing overwhelmed but adds, “I am continuing to learn how to
‘wing’ things.” Her career and personal life have both flourished
as a result of better balance.
Her personal experiences with balancing career and family
have affected her choices as a manager. She is a strong advocate
for telecommuting, alternative work arrangements, and job shar-
ing. IKEA’S policy of generous leave for new or adoptive moth-
ers and fathers was designed by Spiers-Lopez. The organization
has also flourished under Spiers-Lopez’s leadership. The number
of American stores has doubled and sales are the fastest growing
of all the IKEA regions.
The combination of hard-driving competition and a culture
that values people has resulted in an organization that is both
supportive of its workers and profitable. Author Andy Meisler
calls it “high-yield humanism.” Spiers-Lopez admits that it is
not easy for her to walk the line between challenge and nurture.
“I want things done quickly,” she says. “But in big organiza-
tions you have to be careful not to move too many things too
quickly. Elevators have to stop at every floor.”
Case Questions
1. Can you speculate about the personality traits that per-
sonify Pernille Spiers-Lopez?
2. Describe the role that motivation has played in the
choices made by Pernille Spiers-Lopez in her career.
3. Discuss how her experiences with stress may have been
impacted by international issues.
4. Describe Pernille Spiers-Lopez’s approach to leadership
at IKEA.
Sources: “The Ikea concept,” IKEA website, on May 16, 2008;
Joseph Roth, “Unique training program key to timing for recruitment,” IKEA
press release, April 24, 2007, on May 16, 2008; Andy Meisler,
“Success, Scandinavian style,” Workforce Management, August 2004, pp. 26–32;
“Pernille Spiers-Lopez has designs for IKEA,” WomensBiz.US, June 2005, www. on May 16


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