A CEO that wants to make a difference
The new head of Ragn-Sells Estonia, Kai Realo, is a skilled leader who joined the company for the challenge of something bigger.
Kai Realo was named CEO of Ragn-Sells Estonia in August of 2021. It was a unique move for an experienced executive with a long career working for international companies, most recently as the head of Circle K in Estonia. But it’s one she felt compelled to make.
– I’ve realised over the years that I would like to have a bigger impact; not just a business impact on a company, but also an impact on society, says Realo.
A stronger environmental purpose
Realo claims she’s had the desire to make a change in her career for a while. She immediately recognised the opportunity when she learned Ragn-Sells needed a new leader in Estonia.
– Ragn-Sells is what I expected. The environmental aspect is much stronger than at other businesses. And it’s not only for the company's benefit, but also to help other companies, our customers, approach things from a circular economy point-of-view, she explains.
According to Realo, although she had work experience beforehand, her career really began at IBM. There, she started as an account manager and moved up to channel manager. She was eventually recruited by a telecom company. In 2005, she joined the corporate leadership in Estonia for the international gas station chain Statoil. After she reached the top spot at Statoil Estonia, the company rebranded to Circle K.
– It was an interesting challenge to change a brand for a big company like Statoil. We had to figure out how to prepare for it, how to make sure customers accepted the new brand...that was almost impossible to pronounce. In the Estonian language, there is no letter C. But it went very well, and it was a great experience.
A down-to-earth approach
While some leaders are quick to instil change at the start, Realo wanted to take her time to fully understand Ragn-Sells.
– I really spent the first four months just talking to people and meeting them on site. It was a very interesting process. I had a programme prepared for me on where to start, but it was really organic.
It’s an approach that reflects Realo’s leadership style, which values everyone in the organisation, no matter their position. Her ways of management are also a natural fit with how Ragn-Sells tackles diversity — something Realo sees as critical to leading a company.
– There are certain aspects that people see differently. And having a mixed team is like having a rear-view mirror covering all the angles; you see different approaches to solving problems.
But according to Realo, the most important thing for a leader is to be surrounded by a team they can rely on.
– In general, it's about trust. As a CEO, you can't be a person who knows everything. So, you have to trust the people around you.
Achievement based on trust
Not long after her first day, Realo’s approach to leadership was put to the test with the rare opportunity of a landfill coming up for sale.
– We decided to make an offer and put together a business case for purchasing the landfill. It was my second week with the company. I didn't even understand the basics yet, I had to trust the people around me. We won the tender process and are currently awaiting a ruling to decide if the acquisition is possible.
It's an accomplishment that can be seen as illustrating just how well suited Realo’s leadership is for Ragn-Sells and even signal a bright future.
– I'm very glad to be with the Ragn-Sells Group because it's a company with a lot of value in its organisational culture and what it’s aiming for in a larger sense.