Cato Syversen left his home country of Norway in 2001 to help the credit checking firm Creditsafe, then in its infancy, set up a new operation in the Welsh town of Caerphilly. The company had been struggling to keep costs down at its former base in London and was losing money, and he was to be in charge of the relocation.
Cato agreed to stay in Wales for 18 months to get it done, but he felt so at home there – another nation of just a few million people with a striving attitude – that he decided to stay longer.
“I went over to do that for one and a half years, and I’m still here,” he smiles. Cato has now been CEO of the company for almost 20 years, a time in which he has overseen a massive global expansion and turned Creditsafe into the world’s most-used provider of online business credit reports.
The company has 23 offices across 13 countries and provides reports on 365 million businesses in 160 countries. Creditsafe has expanded its services beyond just credit checking, using its data to gain a deeper understanding of commercial credit, mergers and acquisitions, and relationships with suppliers.
The models it has created can predict almost 70% of insolvencies up to a year before they happen. Achieving global success has required upending the norms of the business credit reporting industry and constantly looking ahead to determine how digital tools will create new opportunities.
Cato has loved every minute of it. “I’m very much enjoying being a disruptor,” he admits. In fact, it was Creditsafe’s disruptive approach that first drew him to the company when he came across it in 1997.
Because I started out so young, I got to be a CEO by the age of 35. I’ve been able to have so many failures and get a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
“It was traditionally an industry where you paid per click, and Creditsafe moved towards paying a flat rate,” he shares. “It was this concept of having a global ambition and doing this at full scale. So it left behind this traditional idea of having field reps and did it all over the phone. It broke so many barriers, and the global perspective intrigued me.”
Hire for attitude
Cato may have accomplished more in his career than most, but he didn’t start out with a hunger to lead. In the early 1990s, he was content working as a bank clerk, he explains. “It’s a weird one because I was a happy social democrat in Norway when I had my job, and I didn’t even have that much ambition in life,” he recalls.
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Source: The CEO Magazine
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