Mark Duchesne is the man powering Northvolt Ett's progress

Canadian Mark Duchesne, CEO of Northvolt Ett AB, has dedicated his entire professional life to launching factories. He thrives on bringing order to the chaos that invariably accompanies startups.

Mark Duchesne, started work at Northvolt Ett in July 2023.

Mark Duchesne, started work at Northvolt Ett in July 2023.

Foto: Lars Westerlund

Engelska2024-04-15 14:00

Mark Duchesne commenced his tenure at Northvolt Ett in Skellefteå in July 2023.

– Northvolt's CEO Peter Carlsson, whom I previously worked with at Tesla, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be part of developing the battery factory in Skellefteå, Duchesne recounts when Norran meets him at Northvolt Ett's temporary headquarters just outside the factory gates.

Mark Duchesne in conversation with Matti Kataja, Northvolt's head of communication and community relations in the Nordics.

Within three weeks of the initial inquiry, he had assumed the role of CEO of Northvolt Ett.

– I really liked what I saw and heard – the passion, the company's philosophy, and the mission of the business, Mark says.

He spent nearly four years at the American company Nikola Motor Company, specializing in battery-powered vehicles, electric vehicles with fuel cells, and energy solutions. 

During this tenure, he oversaw global operations and served as site manager at the factory in Phoenix, Arizona. In recent years, Mark spearheaded the establishment of a new factory in the city of Ulm, Germany.

– My wife Sarah and I enjoyed life in Europe and wanted to stay here. Since Nikola decided to divest its operations in Ulm, Peter's offer came at a very opportune time, Mark explains.

About 3,500 people from 106 nations work at Northvolt, and by the end of the year, they expect to reach 4,000.

Mark and Sarah's three children are grown and living in the USA, so it was just the two of them who relocated to Skellefteå, where they purchased a house in Stackgrönnan.

– Here, we can sit and overlook the river, and it's not too far from the factory. It feels great, and we really want to become part of the community. Nowadays, I'm a big fan of Skellefteå AIK and have a season ticket.

Mark was born and raised in the city of Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.

– When Toyota was building a factory with 3,000 employees in my hometown, I started working there and was part of the startup. I stayed there for 22 years, including as head of several departments, he recalls.

Mark Duchesne outside Northvolt Ett.

In 2015, he transitioned to Tesla's factory in Fremont, California, where they manufacture electric cars. There, he served as a production manager. Subsequently, he ventured to Nanjing, China, where, as vice president, he contributed to the establishment of the Chinese-German company Byton's factory that manufactured electric cars.

– But now, it's all about Skellefteå, and I am thoroughly enjoying my new role, Duchesne says.

– For the past 15 years, I have been working with startups on a large scale. Working in the innovative and creative chaos that always exists in a company's early stages is a wonderful challenge. I could never imagine working as a leader in a company where most of it is about management.

He mentions that the company is now hiring about 100 people every month.

– We are about 3,500 employees from 106 nations, and by the end of the year, we expect to be 4,000.

They are still in the early phase of the first two production blocks at Northvolt Ett, with a total capacity of up to 16 GWh.

Duchesne has put a lot of effort into creating a strong management team with experienced senior leaders.

– Leadership is immensely important in all companies and perhaps especially in a large startup where things can be a bit chaotic. Growing rapidly puts extra demands on creating stability.

He notes that production at the factory has increased significantly since he started.

– At that time, the production rate was about 1,000 batteries per week, while now it's tens of thousands, and the volume is increasing all the time, Duchesne says.

"Working in the innovative and creative chaos that always exists in a company's early stages is a wonderful challenge," says Mark Duchesne.

He emphasizes that they are still in the early phase of the first two production blocks with a total capacity of up to 16 GWh.

– Currently, only a few lines are operational, and regarding phase 2, with an additional three production blocks capable of producing up to 44 GWh, the building is complete, and now the machines are being installed.

Another important issue that Duchesne has focused heavily on is creating as safe a work environment as possible. Since he started, there have been quite a few incidents, including a fatal accident in the factory and one involving a contractor.

– The worst thing that can happen to a manager is when an employee doesn't come home from work. It is our responsibility every day to prevent accidents. The teams have been working tirelessly since the accidents to understand what happened, make changes, and strengthen our capabilities to ensure as safe a work environment as possible, says Duchesne.

Northvolt Ett

Northvolt Ett, a lithium-ion battery gigafactory located in Bergsbyn's industrial area, spans roughly 150 hectares. At full capacity, the facility is expected to employ 4,000 people. Across its 11 production buildings, Northvolt Ett will boast a manufacturing capacity of 60 GWh, translating to roughly one million batteries produced annually.