Why did you choose to study in Sweden?
After high school, I chose between a degree in economics and one in biotechnology. I chose the latter, and before I knew it I had graduated with a BSc in biotechnology and enrolled in a PhD programme at Dartmouth College in the US. I found myself remembering my years growing up in Germany and longing for a new adventure in Europe. At this time, my father was at Åbo Akademi in Finland and my mother was teaching in Lund. Sweden came up naturally, and I knew the MSc General Management programme at Stockholm School of Economics was perfect for me as soon as I saw it. I walked down the streets of Stockholm virtually in the street view version of Google Maps – and I could really imagine myself being happy in that beautiful city.
Tell us a bit about your programme. What subjects did you study and what did you enjoy about the the academics?
The programme was perfectly suited to my needs as a non-business student interested in building my skills in that direction. We studied everything from accounting to corporate finance to strategy and marketing – all of the necessary building blocks for understanding what makes businesses tick and what keeps them growing. At the same time, it allowed us to bring our perspectives from the industries we had all worked in so we could understand the dynamics from a personal perspective. The sheer wealth of experience in that classroom, from my classmates who came from all over the world, was truly what took the teaching to the next level for me.
How did studying in Sweden compare to being a student elsewhere? What aspects of studying in Sweden did you enjoy the most?
I have lived, studied and grown up in four countries and I have fond memories from all of them. But Sweden is where I feel most at home in so many ways. As a business student it was incredible to learn that so many of my favourite innovative companies, like Skype and Spotify, all come from Sweden. Another thing that stood out was the strong emphasis on values and sustainability that exists in Swedish culture, and definitely carries over to the classroom. The discussions were rich and well-informed and really tackled the larger sociopolitical issues that can affect business.
In terms of student life, there were dinners and parties, both out on the town as well as hosted by students after a hectic exam. Winter sports featured heavily on people’s list of hobbies, and so did summers in the archipelago when we ate and sang to celebrate Midsummer.
You’re now working as vice president, Corporate Responsibility, at Atlas Copco. What does that entail?
I love challenges and strategy, and that’s precisely what my role presents every day. Swedish companies are quite humble, but, to be honest, they do a lot of positive work in integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their business. Many others in the world still think of it as charity, whereas Swedish companies see it as a way to create long-term business value by cutting costs, risks and increasing productivity and sales – while creating a positive impact on society and the environment. I’ve seen it in action every day here at work. My role is to continue to develop the business in this direction and it’s been great to understand the global challenges in this respect.
How did you get interested in CSR, and do you think Sweden is a good place for students interested in CSR?
I wanted to work on something that I believed in, something that created positive change but also something that required strategy and analysis. I wanted to work on projects geared toward business where I could work in teams and see tangible results sooner. It really clicked when we did our final year capstone project at Atlas Copco. Unlike many programmes, our thesis was a change management project. It uses theory, but it doesn’t stop there: we had to create real solutions for businesses and for our project we looked into integrating sustainability and financial data. That’s where I learned how exciting it is to work with these issues across the world. Many Swedish companies work with this so it’s great for students who want to study and work with these issues in the future.
Why do you think others should choose to study in Sweden?
Sweden is a very egalitarian society, and it’s a unique experience as a student and an employee to ‘sit at the table’ so to speak, from day one. There’s a strong emphasis on values, learning by doing and, most importantly, innovative thinking. You get a lot of freedom, and as Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘with great freedom comes great responsibility’.