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From engineer to CEO of Universal Robots

The same year that Universal Robots sold their first robot arm, Kim Povlsen graduated as a robotics engineer at SDU. 12 years later, he is president of Denmark's leading robotics company.

By Birgitte Dalgaard, , 4/8/2021

While Kim Povlsen studied robotics at SDU, Esben Østergaard, Kristian Kassow and Kasper Støy were elsewhere in the university, in full swing developing the robots of the future and founding Universal Robots.

- All of us students knew who Esben was, Kim Povlsen smiles:

- If you were studying at SDU, you knew that he was a man of ingenious ideas.

In 2008, Universal Robots sold its first robot arm, the same year Kim Povlsen graduated as a robot engineer. After 12 years, their life paths miraculously crossed each other again. Kim Povlsen will continue Esben Østergaard's life's work as chief executive of Universal Robots.

- I see myself as an engineer. I am first and foremost an engineer. Many of my basic qualities come from my time in studying engineering, says Kim Povlsen, while for a moment he sets aside his new presidential identity and reminisces about his time as a student, where his heart beat for robots.

As the algorithms determine more and more, it is important to discuss the data sets that we put into the algorithms and their transparency

Kim Povlsen, Universal Robots, President and CEO

- The important thing is that in the process we quickly find out whether it is right or wrong, but we should not be afraid to try.

Learning to learn new things

Today, Kim Povlsen is 38 years old and the newly appointed president of Universal Robots. With an international market share of 50 per cent and offices in 20 countries, Universal Robots also stands out as a beacon for the entire robot cluster in Odense.

- The majority of the closest private friends that I have today, I also studied with. We spent a lot of time together whilst studying as well as in our spare time. When you spend so much time together, deep friendships arise, says Kim Povlsen.

But it was not only friendships that were built during the five years as a robotics student at SDU. Book by book, lesson by lesson, his professional identity was founded.

- The way the engineering programs at SDU are designed is really interesting. We learned a lot of theory, but it was constantly used in project-contexts with companies. Everything we learned, we got to try, so it was not just theory but also practical, says Kim Povlsen:

The basic knowledge and insight into how things work, I still use on a daily basis. As an engineering student, you learn to learn new things all the time. Familiarise yourself with new technology and be curious about how things work. I learned that at SDU.

Kim Povlsen, Universal Robots, President and CEO

For Kim Povlsen, it is not crucial that when Universal Robots hire new engineers, whether or not they are equipped with all the latest technological advances. The crucial thing is whether they master the basic skills of maths and physics, possess curiosity and the ability to learn new things.

- We are in the technology industry. Development is going really fast. And since Universal Robots is doing everything we can to stay ahead of the curve, this means we are working on the latest technologies at any given time. So the engineers who work with us must constantly learn new things.

Ready to do even more

Although Universal Robots is today owned by American Teradyne, the company still shares DNA with SDU. Not only because the founders found each other at the university, but also because many of the employed engineers have graduated from SDU.

- I have experienced that many of my colleagues from SDU have the same mindset that it is ok to try things out. It is also from this that true innovation arises; by putting things together in ways that no one has thought of before - and then see what happens, says Kim Povlsen.

Universal Robots has 4-5 major research projects running with SDU and in addition to various project collaborations, the company has always got 8-12 students employed.

- We are ready to do even more as soon as the opportunity arises. It is a fantastic collaboration we have, and the close relationship means a lot to us. These are some very exciting projects that the students are doing with us, and they achieve really good learning and insight into the business world, says Kim Povlsen and elaborates:

- Universal Robots is the robot cluster's beacon, and I think we have a responsibility, in collaboration with SDU, to continue driving the talent pool for the benefit of the entire robot cluster in Odense.

Kim Povlsen's CV

  • Universal Robots
    President and CEO
  • Schneider Electric
    Vice President of Global Technology Strategy and Systems
    Vice President of General Manager, Software & Digital Services Business
  • APC by Schneider Electric
    Senior R&D Firmware Engineer - Edison Expert
    Firmware Engineer
  • Master of Science in Engineering in Robot Systems at SDU
    (The education had a different name 12 years ago)

Kim's advice for engineering students

  • Enjoy your time studying, the period in which you study is the most amazing time of your life.
  • Also engage in the social study environment outside of studying. It helps shaping you as a person, and strong relationships can help you later in life.
  • When you enter the business world, remember to be open and curious about opportunities. Opportunities arise, and it is important to seize them - even those that may be less straight forward. I've done a lot of different things in my career, and that's how I found out that I thrive best in the tension between technology and business.