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50 Most Admired Companies of The Year 2018

An Interview with Håkon Volldal, Q-Free ASA President and CEO: ‘We are Leading the Way in Intelligent Transport Systems’

thesiliconreview-h%C3%A5kon-volldal-ceo-q-free-asa-2018

“Our technology and solutions assist companies and governments in solving challenges arising from urbanisation and increasing traffic.”

Today, there are over 7.5 billion people living in the world and half of them reside in cities.

While endless data flows faster and virtually connects us with more people, things, cities and nations, our streets, highways and means of transportation have come under great pressure, making physical commutes a challenge for millions of people.

In light of the above-mentioned scenario, we are thrilled to present Q-Free ASA.

Q-Free supplies products and solutions for the intelligent transportation systems (ITS) market, and all are designed to improve the way people and goods are transported, thus improving our way of life. Operating within areas such as Tolling, Parking, Traffic Management and Connected ITS (C-ITS), the company provides electronic toll collection, truck tolling, congestion charging, enforcement, and enhanced image processing solutions, as well as managed services; parking guidance, and outdoor parking monitoring systems; infomobility solutions; traffic management, truck parking guidance, and ramp metering solutions; monitoring and controlling solutions for traffic signals and street lighting. In addition, they provides service and maintenance, and back-office services.

Founded in 1984, Q-Free is headquartered in Trondheim, Norway and has approximately 380 employees with 17 offices around the world. With an annual revenue around 1 billion NOK/ 120 million USD, the company is listed on Oslo Stock Exchange.

Håkon Volldal, Q-Free ASA President/CEO, spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

The company was set up to develop a smarter and more effective way of collecting road tolls.More than 30 years ago, some engineers, in the village of Selbu outside Trondheim, invented the world’s first free-flow electronic tolling system. Their concept has since been deployed all over the world. Over the years, Q-Free has expanded from electronic tolling into other traffic technology systems and today has one of the most comprehensive portfolios in the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) industry. Q-Free’s offering encompasses products, systems and solutions in tolling, parking, inter-urban traffic management, intersection control, cooperative-ITS (C-ITS), traffic detection, weigh in motion etc.

Q. What challenges did you face in your initial years?

Q-Free has gone through some turbulent times since its inception. Some years ago, the company was too dependent on tolling projects and went through multiple expansion and contraction phases. Hence, the company decided to diversify its offering and entered new traffic technology segments with different business models and more recurring revenues. Another challenge Q-Free faced was related to the lack of integration of acquired businesses. A key learning for us going forward is to ensure a rapid post-acquisition process and to unite under the Q-Free brand instead of allowing acquired entities to operate as companies inside the company.

Q. What kind of responses have you received from your consumers over the years?

You can do focus groups, conduct surveys and ask your customers to provide feedback on your company. All of this will give you good insights. However, at the end of the day your customer relationship boils down to one fundamental aspect: Will your customer place its next order with you? We have successfully retained customers for decades because we have not given them a reason to go somewhere else. We have, of course, also lost tenders and contracts because we have not met expectations/demands. When this happens we conduct a ‘loss review’ and use the insights from this process to shape future product roadmaps and customer teams as one mean to assure our customer value delivery.

Q. Building a culture of sustainability inside an organization is very important to maintain a reputation in the global market. How is this true with your company?

Q-Free is in the ‘lucky’ position that our solutions address sustainability issues and offer ways to reduce emissions from traffic – our mission is to make travel from point A to B more effective, safer and environmentally friendly. We deliver on this mission when we deploy new tolling systems that take cars off the road and raise money to build green mass-transit infrastructure, when we help drivers locate vacant parking spaces instead of circling around in cities, when we reduce stop-and-go traffic with our smart traffic light controllers, when we help enforce load restrictions on heavy vehicles with our weigh-in-motion systems, when we facilitate increased use of bikes with our cycle counters etc.

Q. If you have to list five factors that have been/are the biggest asset to your organization, what would they be and why?

  • Our core technology teams – unparalleled domain know-how in our target segments
  • Our sales and support people – they maintain and nurture customer relationships by going the extra mile every day and make it easy for customers to trust Q-Free
  • Our strong references from successful deliveries around the world – nothing sells like positive customer references and testimonials
  • Our willingness to think big and place bold bets despite small budgets – we have pushed and continue to push the envelope
  • Our ability to introduce global, open standards in tolling and C-ITS – true interoperability ensures a bigger total market for companies like Q-Free

Q. Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

We will be bigger, stronger and more successful than ever! Q-Free will have leading positions in tolling, parking, infomobility, traffic management and cooperative-ITS. With strong industry growth and exciting new offerings, Q-Free will also become more attractive in the talent market. At the end of the day, making sure we can attract, develop and retain new talents is the best way to stay relevant and create future success.

Håkon Volldal: A Brief Background

Håkon Volldal, a Norwegian citizen, has held the position as President & CEO in Q-Free since August 2016. Prior to joining Q-Free, Volldal spent more than 12 years with Tomra Systems ASA where he held several senior positions such as Director M&A, VP Investor Relations, SVP Business Development, and finally Executive Vice President and Head of Business Area Collection Solutions. Volldal has also worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. He graduated with a Master of Science degree in Industrial Economics and Technology Management from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway.

“We have 350 bicycle counters, 3000 traffic counters, 20000 traffic controllers and millions of tags operating across the world. We serve 300 parking facilities and do traffic management for more than 500000 lane-miles of roadway. Nearly 400 Q-Free employees spread across the world work together to foster ease of mobility in and around our neighbourhoods. This is something we are very proud of.”

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