Leader, entrepreneur or both? Discover your purpose with this Swedish MBA
How can executives use their leadership positions as a power for good? What distinguishes the style of entrepreneurship in Sweden and the Nordics from global approaches?
If you’re following an international career in Scandinavia, these questions may resonate with you, just as they did with Elodie Plan and Henry Arousell.
As part of the Executive MBA at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), they were able to personalise their education with elective courses focusing on these two topics. These courses are offered by business schools in the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), of which SSE is a member, and earn participants an additional certificate following an intensive course week.
“I think how we act as leaders should always be impacted by current events and trends,” says Elodie, a Frenchwoman who has lived in Sweden for 15 years. While the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shaped the 2020s so far, she feels the movement for positive change in business is gaining momentum.
“Purposeful and holistic leadership is finally moving forward and I want to be part of it,” she states. This is why she chose Holistic Leadership: From Purpose to Impact, given by IE Business School in Madrid, as her GNAM course.
“I felt it was a bold choice but it reflected my firm belief that a professional journey is about the people more than it’s about the tasks,” she says. “I wanted to dig deeper into the authenticity aspect of leadership.”
Elodie works as Business Development Team Leader at Pharmetheus, a life sciences consultancy in Uppsala that she co-founded. She describes herself as “a pharmacist, a data scientist and an entrepreneur”. So, as she focuses on the challenges ahead, how will she remember her GNAM course week?
“We were 50 people from around the world, from amazing schools – leaders and people aspiring to be leaders – all focusing on well-being, how to create positive emotions, how to work with purpose, and establishing our values and strengths. Everyone had their mind blown. I felt like we’re in a good place if all these people spend time on this.”
Focusing on practical steps that can be replicated anywhere was especially valuable. “The teachers would ask us to take a minute to meditate a little, in order to capture everything. Or they’d ask us to get up and do five lunges or squats, to get energised,” she recalls. “We had one lecture on meditation and one on how exercise can help us to be resilient and efficient leaders, using the full power of our brains.”
A speaker from Cisco explained his company’s use of Appreciative Inquiry. This method uses the 4 Ds of discovery, dream, design and destiny, to help organisations change by focusing on their core strengths.
Choosing Nordic Entrepreneurship for his GNAM elective was an easy choice for Henry, CTO at Swedish software company Björn Lundén. “I set up a couple of tech companies earlier in my career, so I identify as a Nordic entrepreneur,” says Henry, from Hudiksvall, three hours north of Stockholm.
“Then I joined Björn Lundén, and in 2021 the company was acquired by Main Capital, a Dutch private equity firm, and together we’re building an ecosystem of companies through a ‘buy and build’ strategy.
“I wanted a better understanding of the Nordic entrepreneurial space but also to understand better what venture capital and private equity are looking for. The course was eye-opening and really delivered.”
Given by SSE in Stockholm, the Nordic Entrepreneurship course involved more than 45 students from business schools globally. On top of thought-provoking academic input from SSE faculty, they met and listened to a range of top entrepreneurs and investors, as well as making visits to the Swedish bank SEB and vehicle manufacturer Scania.
“It was a special opportunity to realise things about the Nordic region that I wouldn’t otherwise have thought about,” says Henry. One major difference was in Scandinavians valuing family businesses as “robust and sustainable”, while many students from other countries saw evidence of nepotism. This led Henry to reflect on the “consensus-seeking culture” in the Nordics.
“I’m convinced that we should be proud of that and not apologise for it,” he says. “We make better, higher quality decisions because we listen to all relevant people.”
He was also challenged to consider whether entrepreneurship differs from “just running your own business”. Henry now believes true entrepreneurship means seeking to “disrupt or change something” in a way that attracts like-minded people.
Pär-Jörgen Pärson, a partner at the VC fund Northzone and an early investor in Spotify, was one speaker to make a big impression on Henry.
“He’s looking only for the best of the best companies,” says Henry. “The very early investor has to make a decision on something that doesn’t exist yet, investing in a team based on profiles and gut feeling.
“In investment, it’s important to understand long-term versus short-term goals and how decision-making can change depending on the agenda of the investors or owners of a firm.”
Stronger networks and self-insights
Henry has already shared some professional dilemmas with his SSE MBA classmates. “I’ve reached out a number of times and had good, meaningful dialogue. It’s a very strong network and also a friendly, helpful environment in which to share best practices, as well as findings about what doesn’t work.”
A key reason for doing the Executive MBA at SSE was to communicate better on tech issues with senior colleagues without a tech background. “Before I spoke in tech lingo about how to build something,” he says. “But my colleagues just want to know the outcome in terms of return on investment or risk exposure.
“Some big decisions have been made, based on stuff I presented after applying lessons from the SSE MBA, that would not have gone that way if I’d used my old language.”
The Executive MBA at SSE – ranked as the best EMBA in the Nordics by the Financial Times – has also changed him personally. “I observe myself and how I think about things, argue about things and prepare for things,” he says. “Life is more interesting when you know more about dynamics in the work space, in business and in society as a whole.”
Elodie has also been inspired by her networking opportunities. “In Madrid, I met some ladies working on transforming healthcare for pregnant women and it was great to exchange ideas with them.
“I also felt an urgent responsibility to share my experience there with my colleagues and my family. I have two little girls and I believe we need to think about values, purpose, and attention from an early age.
“Professionally, I’m certain that everything I’m doing across the Executive MBA at SSE is benefiting my organisation. One of our values is collaboration. The key to that is connecting with people, so I’m in a great position to leverage my growing network.”
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