GN Hearing Gitte Aabo is a woman on a mission. She understands that “hundreds of millions of people around the world” are suffering from untreated hearing loss but are not receiving the medical help they badly need. So, they are unable to live their lives to their fullest capacity.
At GN Hearing, Gitte Aabo knows that hearing loss affects not just a lot of people, but their families, their workplaces, and their societies as well. Speaking honestly, she admits that to a certain extent, the hearing industry has allowed this to happen. However, she and her company aim to change this situation radically.
Gitte Aabo wants GN Hearing to “help create hearing aids that people fall in love with.” She wants the company to produce “hearing aids so attractive that they are the top of the wish list,” and “hearing aids that truly are life-changing.”
Through her exciting journey in the hearing industry, Gitte Aabo is proud to lead GN Hearing, along with the company’s “experienced leadership team.” She cites her inspiration from “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” In particular, she mentions Mo O’Brien from the United Kingdom, the first deaf person to row across the Atlantic Ocean.
Gitte Aabo holds up Mo’s example as proof that “hearing loss shouldn’t stop you from doing anything.”
I’m on a mission to change how we see our customers and respond to their needs. Gitte Aabo, GN Hearing
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Gitte Aabo: I started out in life sciences as a mere coincidence but, after 30 years in the industry, I can tell you that staying has been deliberate. Having just finished college, I was keen to find a job as soon as possible and found myself working as an accountant in a pharmaceutical company. I soon realized that I could make a huge difference to people’s lives working in this field with such important products. This is the main reason I have remained in the industry for so long. This is truly a place where you can transform people’s lives. From my first role as accountant, I moved into various positions, spending the past 12 years leading teams and companies across the sector.
The red thread throughout everything I do is helping people through products — and doing so together with other people. I have the privilege of going to work every day to spend time with talented colleagues who I learn so much from. When you create a team of great people, something great simply happens.
Like most people, certain defining moments have had a huge impact on me throughout my career. When I first joined GN Hearing, I had the privilege of meeting a very special woman named Mo O’Brien. Earlier this year she became the first person with profound hearing loss to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Together with her daughter and another crew member she rowed into history, becoming the fastest female trio to complete the Talisker Atlantic Challenge whilst raising funds for hearing loss charities in the UK.
Listening to Mo’s story and hearing how ReSound hearing aids helped her to communicate with teammates in the most difficult conditions at sea has had a lasting impression on me. But more so, I will never forget listening to how Mo’s childhood and personality were severely impacted by untreated hearing loss and how our technology had enabled her to transform her life and believe in her dreams. I’m humble and grateful to have the opportunity to provide heroes like Mo with the tools they need to succeed.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Gitte Aabo: The proverb that first impressions last is true in many cases. My first impressions when joining the hearing industry was the lack of understanding of our customers. When I say customers, in this case I don’t mean hearing or healthcare professionals, but the people that use our products every day.
When a customer walks through the door we should treat them like family members, paying close attention to their needs and explaining carefully how to use our devices. People don’t need a hearing aid, they need someone to help them hear better, connect with loved ones and be the person they want to be.
I’m on a mission to change how we see our customers and respond to their needs. ReSound delivers outstanding technology — and we’re known for it. I saw this the first time I entered the clinic of one of our largest retailers in the US. They were so thrilled with our technology they gave me a huge (pre-pandemic) hug! It was heart-warming and a huge encouragement to see such appreciation of what we do. But we must become better at understanding our customers’ true needs and adapt our cool technology to become more intuitive and easier to use.
Many people choose not to wear a hearing aid, waiting an average of 7 years before finally asking for the support they need — and I want to change that. When those people do get hearing aids, 96% say it changed their lives, and two out of three say they wish they’d done it earlier. As the hearing industry, how can we make people want to use hearing aids? How can we make them acceptable, cool or something people aspire to use? My big goal is to make people fall in love with their hearing aids. But it all starts with understanding our customers better.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Gitte Aabo: Before joining GN Hearing one year ago, I had spent the majority of my career (27 years in fact) in one company, so leaving felt like a bold move.
As you can imagine, I was touching unknown grounds in many aspects and, despite having 11 years as a pharmaceutical company CEO under my belt, things felt very new. This became clear to me when I struggled to find my way around the buildings during in my first week at GN Hearing and when trying to keep track of people’s names and the different departments. Needless to say, a few silly mistakes were made over those first few weeks, at a time when I was hoping to instil trust in people to follow my lead!
The companies I’ve worked for have all delivered products that have a transformative impact on peoples’ lives thanks to the efforts and dedications of all teams.
Jerome Knyszewski: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Gitte Aabo: The companies I’ve worked for have all delivered products that have a transformative impact on peoples’ lives thanks to the efforts and dedications of all teams. Hearing aids connect people to sounds, but more importantly to their loved ones. Many people don’t realize that not treating hearing loss means so much more than just missing out on the chirping of the birds. Over time, many people withdraw from conversations and social situations such as parties and restaurants, slowly becoming lonely and isolated. Untreated hearing loss can cause depression, mental health issues and illnesses associated with cognitive decline such as dementia. These things can all be helped by treating hearing loss early, so our mission to change hearing loss care has the possibility to impact peoples’ lives and society in a massive way.
People will look at what you do more so than what you say. Gitte Aabo
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- More so than I had realized, you’re alone in this job. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true. When you become a CEO, you cannot maintain the same relations to colleagues as you’re used to. Some years back we had just bought a company, and soon after I signed the contract new information came up on potential side-effects related to one of their key products. It turned out not to be an issue but I did wonder for some time if I’d got an expensive lesson. While many people were celebrating the signing of the agreement, I was alone in worrying about this new development. A colleague gave me a big hug that day. That was heart-warming.
- People. It is all about people. In a company you’re often focused on your product and financial results, but at the end of the day it is all about the people you serve — your customers — and the people in the company — your team. I consider listening to customers and surrounding myself with the right team as my most important, but perhaps most difficult, tasks.
- People will look at what you do more so than what you say. This has made me more self-aware because people assign much more meaning to my words and actions than ever before. When launching a significant change at my previous company I was struggling to make people believe in this until I changed my car, believe it or not! Before then, it had been company policy for all senior managers to drive a dark blue Volvo. When I changed to an Audi one day, people started to believe that I was serious about driving change.
- The expression “change is good” is not always true. Change can be great if you’ve chosen it yourself, but you don’t always get to choose. It’s my responsibility to look to the horizon and see where we should be taking the company. That naturally instils change, and I do this to keep the company safe and sound. Our company has existed in over 150 years, through world wars, revolutions, times of unrest and change, and today it’s leading in hearing aid technology. It’s my duty to make sure this company exists and thrives for many years to come. To ensure this, it’s my responsibility to successfully guide the company through change. When I retire from GN Hearing I want to pass on a stronger company to the next generation of GN employees than I inherited.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Gitte Aabo: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” by Margaret Mead. Mead studies small, native societies as an anthropologist, but what she says is true for anyone who wishes to make a difference and change things for the better. Change in a company happens when you have a common goal and commit to it. We can all make a difference with actions driven by passion.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!