Upon meeting Petur Haraldson, the executive chairman of Fidesta, a venture capital and private equity firm, I had the impression that he was a little serious. Perhaps it was his beautiful collared shirt. But after he made some comments about why he does what he does—he’s a facilitator, and while it sounds shady, it’s more exciting than anything else—I began to admire all the roles he plays: he’s a mentor, an educator, a philanthropist, a father, a husband, an innovator and, mostly importantly, a person who gets things done. He says, “I like simplifying things, removing hurdles and making the world a better place.” Curious? Read on!
How would you describe what you do?
I facilitate things.
That sounds like a Mafia thing. Like you’re greasing palms.
I started my company, Fidesta, in 1999. It’s in corporate services, which mean that we’re able to represent companies in many different countries. We know who to call to get something done.
Are you focused on Europe, or can you do it everywhere?
I can do it everywhere now, because I have associates around the world. I used to just focus on Iceland. When you break into corporate services, it’s a lot about knowing your clients, and being able to advise them on what to do. You get to know them and earn their trust.
I’m a generalist. I like people. Early on I said, “I specialize in nothing but the facts.”
That’s a good tagline.
It has served me well. I was working with accountants and lawyers, but I just focused on the clients, who told me what they needed. Then I would communicate with whomever was necessary to make whatever we wanted to have happen, happen. That’s what Fidesta does. I always say yes to clients. There are always avenues. It’s like a tree—if you keep to the core, you follow that core all the way up, and then you start dealing with versatile issues, which are the limbs. You become the center for clients to come to for all the services that they need.
Do you think you’re a facilitator outside of business as well? Is that your personality in general?
Yes. I really like to be around people and to make things happen. A lot of people hit walls when they start to get out there and try to start a company. And then they meet me, and learn about Fidesta, which offers both services and experience.
How do you barrel through the walls when they appear?
I try to bypass them.
You try to find the hole in the wall and break it down?
Yes. If you say that a bank is a wall, and they have all the products you need, then you’re stuck in that niche. At Fidesta, we’re like a funnel going upward. You focus on the client first, and the world opens up. You can take him where he wants to go. I’m the person who introduces people to one another.
What was the most difficult problem you had to solve? Because when you’re dealing with people, there are always problems.
Yes. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I once had a case that involved lawyers in four countries. Four lawyers in one country is bad enough. The hardest thing was just keeping the project on track. Being able to do that comes with experience. My goal for Fidesta is for it to be a solution-driven company. I’m trying to do is build a new kind of organization, not a bank or an advisory firm. It’s a platform.
That’s interesting. Why do you choose that word?
Because a platform is where you can gather task-specific people together to build something, to resolve something. You pick and choose people from various countries and various disciplines—you don’t just fill a room with anyone who comes along. It all depends on what the project is. Not everybody is good at peeling potatoes. We ask our clients, “Do you want us to do everything for you, or do you want to do some of it yourself?” The client might have an idea or an investment, and what they need is the infrastructure to make it happen. Or they may have a particular skill set, so I set up a team around that skill set.
Do you have any other companies that you run?
I’ve started a few companies. My first company was in telecom, in Luxembourg. I was 26. I was right out of school, and I met an American entrepreneur. He had built this machine, a public telephone and fax hybrid that took credit cards. It didn’t exist in Europe at all, so I got the license for Europe. Back then there was no Euro. If you had to drive from Holland to Switzerland, you traveled through four different countries, which meant dealing with four different currencies. If you needed to make a phone call, you had to make sure you had the right currency. The new machine seemed like a great idea—you could just swipe a card. We jumped into it, but it was really difficult. Not only did these countries have different currencies, they also had different regulations in regards to telecommunications and processing credit cards. That experienced ended up being my MBA.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur, or did it just happen that way?
I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be in control of what I did. I did work in corporate America, and I realized that was not right for me. It assumes that you don’t think that much, that you do what you’re told. And I wouldn’t do what I was told, exactly—I would always try to improve it. If I were writing a report, I would want to move the report format forward, to make it easier for people to read. So that’s when I realized I liked to improve things and make them efficient. And that’s the core of what I do now—facilitate, avoid the walls, set aside all of these outdated conventions that slow down progress. It’s fun.
You said you liked improving things. Do you do philanthropic work too?
A few years ago, I was asked to do a seminar by an organization in Sweden. When I looked at the agenda, I realized that it was a big business opportunity, as well as an opportunity to move the world along. It was in sustainable transport, so, moving away from fossil fuels. What we found is that there are many ways to turn this thing around, to implement stuff that already exists. We found that there are a lot of politics in this—a lot of walls—as there are in everything. So we thought, let’s get people together and let them compete for who has the best solutions. It was a very active platform, where people got together with very different views on the future. And as it turned out, we were pretty spot on in terms of what the future was going to be. So we pushed things forward. We created alliances, and things happened. Top level CEOs from Japan met for the first time.
If you were to give three pieces of advice to someone starting a new company, what would they be and why?
- Think global. The world is global. Your idea might work better in another company. It might be more valid somewhere else. It’s like the way I started my first business in Luxembourg. It’s on the border of many countries.
- Find mentors. I love mentoring. Helping people. I put a lot of time into pro-bono projects. It’s just pure enjoyment.
- Avoid getting trapped into one source of financing. Don’t go to a bank. Start researching. There are so many different kinds of funding today. There’s crowd-funding. There are grants. A lot of people forget about grants. But definitely don’t get stuck in the money. Remember, money can’t buy a great idea.