After spending 25 years in various executive roles in the private sector, in 2023 Normunds Staņēvičs became the CEO of Rīgas Austrumu klīniskā universitātes slimnīca, the largest hospital in Latvia. Previously, he spent almost a decade working for Food Union, an international manufacturer and marketer of ice cream products. As he himself stated, during the final two years when serving as the CEO, the company had its best financial performance and received very high international recognition.

Normunds's true passion is cycling, so much of his free time is spent on the mountain bike. He has also completed a Transalp mountain bike tour — a seven-race event in the Alps, where the total elevation gain during the entire trip is equivalent to ascending and descending Mount Everest twice.

What was behind your decision to transition from the private to the public sector?

I'm a finance guy, a numbers guy, always have been. I believe that many things in life can and should be explained by numbers and data. This is one of the things dramatically missing in a lot of decision-making at the government level, particularly in healthcare. Operational and execution are true passions of mine, and I saw a great opportunity presenting itself. I think it would be irresponsible for me to let it go.

How different is it from the private sector?

Very. The speed is different, the bureaucracy is different, procurement is different. It's not fair to say that people are different, but I think the culture embedded in many of these organizations is different. And I see that as a great opportunity. I'm neither a hospital nor a government man, so all I can do is trust in the team that we can set up a structure which will make healthcare in Latvia a much better place for all of us in the future.

How would you summarize your 10-year experience at Food Union?

It's always about culture. It's creating the culture. We managed to increase the combined EBITDA more than twofold for like-for-like assets and it wouldn't have been possible without a collaborative culture. The biggest gains were achieved through intellectual synergies from people's experiences and mutual support.

When you graduated from the Executive MBA programme at SSE Riga, you transitioned into the role of CFO at the company. Did the studies have anything to do with it?

One of the biggest takeaways from SSE Riga that actually changed my professional career was the focus on sustainability. In many instances, sustainability is viewed as environmental, governmental, and social, but in reality, it's about creating an organization that takes care of its people. It's easy for a boss-style leader to create an extremely efficient environment. But it’s not very sustainable. I've got a lot of great friends from SSE Riga, who also joined my team at Food Union. I've got a lot of friends that I keep very close contact with and sustainability is one of the passions that we share. Regarding career advancement — I'm never sure that there's a single act in life that has an impact; rather, it's that there's always a combination of factors.

What were the reasons for you to decide to pursue the executive MBA?

Continuous education is paramount to me.


The minute you stop learning you basically fall back. Education is something that you challenge yourself with.


You learn new things, you meet new people. Through this, you also create this bubble of like-minded, intelligent people who are interested in challenging their status quo, discussing things that are not always easy to discuss. By 'intelligent', I mean the ability to keep two contradictory thoughts in your mind and discuss them in a structured and calm manner.

Why SSE Riga?

Back then, it all started with a conversation in a cafe with the programme director at that time. After that, I met a couple of people who studied here. Obviously, proximity also played a role.


However, it's the overall package that made me choose SSE Riga. Looking back, sure, the programme is important, the faculty is important, and the prestige of the school plays a role. However, at the end of the day, it is the other programme members who actually make or break it.


What was your decision making process? Any doubts or concerns?

The decision of whether to study or not is something you have to answer for yourself. But very quickly you are faced with the option of either selecting individual courses to upgrade your skills or pursuing a full academic degree, which in addition to the practical aspects of the business world also sets you with a very specific framework for academic thinking and academic way of looking at things. Why is that important? It provides structure and it also disciplines you. I love cycling, and for that, you need to dedicate a lot of time to training. And you need to have a very rigid structure and commitment to that. Any academic institution, through its approach over centuries has proven that this is the way you raise, maintain and grow intelligence in society.

If somebody told you, “I want to take this challenge, but I'm in doubt”, what would you say?

If in doubt, have a cake (laughs). I think it comes down to whether you can afford that. And there are three elements to that — monetary commitment, your personal time commitment, and intellectual commitment. 

Any academic education will push you to the boundaries where you haven’t been before and put you in an uncomfortable situation where you need to rethink how you look at things. It's whether you are willing to challenge yourself from where you are. Probably if you're at this decision point, you're doing quite well in your life. So ask yourself — are you really willing to push yourself out of this comfort zone?

Do you remember the expectations you had just before you applied?

My biggest expectation back then was to really enjoy it. And I think I did that up to the point where I needed to write my thesis. Writing all of the references and citations was very hard. I chose to write about the subject, which was not that well researched, and it was hugely challenging.

Was it hard to combine studies with work?

It's always about setting priorities. When people say they can't find time, it simply means it's not important for them. Of course, there are things which suffer as a result, and in my case, in many respects, that was the family. There were just two of us back then, so it wasn't too bad. 

Within our family, we hold the view that education is a very important part of everyday life. If there is a general understanding that self growth plays an important part in your life, then your partner will always be supportive of that.

Anything else, besides the thesis, that was quite challenging during the studies?

This general juggling of time. Many people who join the programme are executives, and as an executive, you can always find a crisis to manage. However, you want to switch off from work and really dedicate your attention to the programme, to the course. And it really takes mental discipline, because it's very easy to say — I'll just go out for 5 minutes and make this call. But you know it's not 5 minutes, because you're thinking 5 minutes before this call and another 10 minutes after. And that is a great challenge — to mentally commit to the days when you're here.

Did you manage to do this?

Most of the time.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Sustainability, for sure. The other thing — during group discussions you learn a lot about yourself, about your management style, how you interact with your team. Many times, there were 'aha' moments when analyzing a particular case or problem, leading to in-depth discussions that revealed aspects of myself as a leader I may not have noticed otherwise.

Was there anything that surprised you?

I would say that the overall quality of the programme surprised me. Much of my education comes from outside Latvia, and there are those preconceptions about what education in Latvia is like. It was a very pleasant surprise at SSE Riga to find that the programme was of very high quality with fantastic faculty and an amazing curriculum.

Any bright memories from those two years?

One of the most vivid memories is from when we went to Stockholm for the environmental module. It was a fantastic time — we had a lot of group work together and we spent time together, which created fantastic bonds. Also a lot of us were interested in the subject matter. We had very late night discussions about the course and not only.

During the programme, you also went to Singapore  — how valuable was the international aspect of the programme?

One of my tasks in the Food Union was to help set up the Shanghai Office in China, so I was reasonably exposed to Asia. In Singapore and Malaysia, we learned a lot about the surprising cultural differences among Asian nationalities and how cultures view and face different problems. This knowledge proved very practical in my professional life, especially in working and interacting with Chinese counterparts.

Was there a point when you thought you might want to give up?

Aside from the thesis, no, there wasn't (laughs).

How has this programme transformed your life as a professional, as a leader, as a manager, as a person?

One very beautiful element of the school is that you become a member of its alumni society. It's sort of a nice chip on your shoulder that you can come to these sometimes overglorified evenings where you meet other graduates. However, it still remains somewhat of an elite club in Latvian business and society at large, and being a part of it is very comforting. Other than that, I would highlight the amazing contacts I've made and the friends and acquaintances I've gained from my time in the programme. And I'll be honest, I'm quite proud to be associated with SSE Riga.

Do you remember the last time you found yourself in a situation where you could use knowledge gained at SSE Riga?

Sustainability has become a significant aspect of my life since graduation. You look at the world as a totality and consider the net effect your actions have on it. And looking at this not in the medium term, but in the long term, where your input can either do good or harm.

What would be your advice to those who decided to take on the challenge?

Enjoy! If you're not having fun, what's the point? You have to make the process pleasant and enjoyable for yourself, because if you're forcing it, it's not going to work. The only way to make this a sustainable process is to enjoy it.