“At least we’re not being shot at”

Henrik Nordskilde
Jesper Juel-Helwig (private)

The Danish UN observer and his fellow officer – a Norwegian – had just parked their white UN vehicle, wearing the classic blue helmets and bulletproof vests. They began walking down the path in southern Lebanon, a UN flag in hand. They were there to mark the border between Lebanon and Israel, as the conflicting parties in the area disagreed on its location. Suddenly they heard a shot, followed by several more. Jesper Juel-Helwig and his Norwegian colleague dropped to the ground. Positioned on the hillsides were Israeli soldiers on one end and their Lebanese counterparts on the other. It would later turn out that it had all started with a soldier accidentally firing off a shot. However, that was all that was needed to trigger the ensuing fire exchange across the valley. Caught in the bottom of the valley was Jesper, who grabbed his radio transmitter and called headquarters.

“I gave the call signal that meant we were under fire and asked them to report to the Israelis and Lebanese that we were caught in the crossfire. It felt like a long time before the fire exchange died down, even though it probably only took five minutes. I remember that I was lying down and looking through a patch of tall grass, seeing the corner of a very old anti-tank mine sticking out of the ground. It had probably been there since the 1970s. ‘This is a really bad day,’ I thought to myself.”

In the middle of the conflict

Jesper Juel-Helwig was stationed to Lebanon in the summer of 2006 as head of the UN mission’s information and intelligence section of the Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO). He had completed his bachelor on Middle East studies and political science and had prior experience as a platoon leader in the Danish Battalion in the NATO mission in Kosovo, where he was deployed in 2002. The conflict between Israel and Lebanon had escalated after the killing of two Israeli soldiers. Jesper would be stationed there for 13 months, replacing one of the four UN observers who had been killed during the Israeli invasion in July.

Part of his assignment entailed participating in the coordination of the Israeli withdrawal and the subsequent advance of the Lebanese army into southern Lebanon. Jesper’s working environment in Lebanon has little if any resemblance to the Deloitte building in Amager, Copenhagen. Nevertheless, Jesper returned home with experiences that he makes use of today in his role as Senior Manager in DC Government Strategy & Operations. Among other things, he received training in how to build relationships when sitting down for meetings with military, administrative and religious leaders.

“We were interested in taking the temperature of the area, understanding their problems and their sentiments towards the UN. Naturally, we also asked what issues the local area was suffering from and how reconstruction was going. It was a bit like nurturing client relationships. Sitting across the table from military commanders, mayors and even the president of Lebanon at the young age of 26-27 was also valuable training. Of course, we had to discuss specific issues, but that was only possible once we had built a relationship – despite not always having shared interests. I first had to figure out what kind of person I was sitting across from and then build a relationship of trust, which could be a lengthy endeavour that would require lots of meetings and a great deal of patience.”

Use empathy

There were meetings where either the Lebanese or Israelis would believe that the UN was supporting the other side. The Danish envoy was also accused of being a ‘Zionist crusader’ more than once. Unlikely as it is that Jesper will face similar accusations as a Deloitte consultant, he nevertheless sees some parallels between his time in Lebanon and some of the tasks he works on today.

“When we’re working on budget analyses, not everyone particularly enjoys talking to us. If we step into a CFO’s office to ascertain whether they’re doing their job optimally or propose combining some accounting functions, for example, we may face a bit of resistance. But the key is to make use of the genuine empathy that most of us possess. You have to be honest and curious. If someone complains about something, it’s not necessarily dangerous to tell them they’re right and say ‘I can’t do anything about that, but I understand why you feel that way’. You have to engage with people from their perspective.”

Jesper Juel-Helwig rose to a leadership role at a young age in the Danish Defence, where he was put in charge of six officers and 30 privates, giving him hands-on experience in personnel management. His leadership skills would be further tested in Lebanon, where he was put in charge of leading personnel from other countries who had an entirely different view on hierarchy and leadership than Danes.

  • 2016 – Senior manager at Deloitte
  • 2016 Stationed on behalf of the Danish National Police to the NYPD
  • 2011-2016 Chief Financial Officer, Mid and West Zealand Police
  • 2010-2011 Team Leader, Budget Secretariat, Copenhagen Police
  • 2009-2010 Technical Finance Legislation Coordinator, Danish Ministry of Finance
  • 2009 MSc in Political Science, University of Copenhagen
  • 2006-2007 UN observer, head of the intelligence section in the UN mission to Lebanon (UNTSO)
  • 2002-2003 Platoon leader, Danish Battalion of NATO’s mission to Kosovo (KFOR7)

“In Lebanon, I was in charge of people who were significantly older than me, and many of them also held higher ranks. I was a captain, and they were majors. The Italians, Russians and Chinese, for example, felt that rank was quite important. Fortunately, that’s not the case in Deloitte. You can easily be a project manager here and end up with partners who work for you in a specific situation. But when you’re standing across from a 55-year-old Italian major, you need a toolbox. You shouldn’t be afraid of arguments, and you need to perform at your best and demonstrate why you’ve been put in charge.”

Important to acquire internationalexperience

Aside from his time in Lebanon and in the Balkans, Jesper also spent half a year with the NYPD, where he was stationed on behalf of the Danish National Police to strengthen international police relationships and gain an insight into the NYPD’s work with analytics and innovation. Unusual as parts of Jesper’s international experience may be, he believes that getting out there and gaining an international outlook is possible through many other organisations than the Danish National Police and Danish Defence.

Hit the bass

Jesper Juel-Helwig plays bass guitar in a band called The Burgermeisters. They play everything from The Beatles to Bruno Mars, holding 20-25 concerts a year for week-long events, festivals and fairs. You can also listen to Jesper’s bass guitar skills on the Danish teenage idol Christopher’s 2016 album ‘Closer’. When he was stationed in New York, a friend of his who works with Christopher asked if he wanted to record the bass line for three tracks on the singer’s upcoming album. Jesper had to stop by a music store in New York to borrow a bass guitar and the equipment he needed, but he got his recording on the tracks in the end, meaning the Deloitte consultant’s list of achievements include playing a small part in the Danish pop sensation’s rise to fame.

The Burgermeisters on Facebook

“Military operations are, of course, an extreme way to work abroad, but you could also have been stationed abroad for Deloitte, have studied abroad or something else entirely. It all helps you gain a different perspective on everyday life and working in Denmark. Sometimes, consultants talk about difficult client meetings or perhaps being unsure about how things will go at an upcoming steering group meeting or workshop. I’ve noticed that I can sometimes draw on my experiences in such situations. Fortunately, it’s rare for someone to get decidedly agitated in DeloitteHuset. When you’ve sat down for a meeting with a Hizbollah leader or had to walk up to an Israeli tank because it’s deployed itself somewhere that’s off-limits, a person would have to get really angry at a meeting here at home before it starts to ruffle my feathers.”

He also wouldn’t describe the fire exchange in the Lebanese valley as one that was outright dangerous for himself or his colleague. They were taking cover in the bottom of the valley, while the shooting was taking place further up. Nevertheless, experiences such as those still put things into perspective for him in a positive way.

“When you’ve experienced being shot at, it really takes a lot to affect you at work here in Denmark. Today, I use that experience when everything’s going off the rails or if I and my colleagues feel the pressure increasing a bit too fast. I occasionally end up remarking that ‘at least we’re not being shot at. It’ll be fine.’”