The Swedish MBA where they 'throw you in at the deep end'
Over the last decade, women have made vast strides, becoming leaders in many industries. Reaching your full potential often requires a mid-career springboard to give you new skills and greater confidence.
One of the countries that has really distinguished itself as a powerhouse for female leadership is Sweden. Here, The Local speaks with three women from companies including Ericsson and H&M Group, scaling new heights after taking the 18-month part-time Executive MBA at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE). The program ranks 60th globally in the Financial Times rankings of Executive MBAs and is in the top 15 in the world for gender balance, with 40 percent of students being women.
‘They throw you in at the deep end’
Ina Laura Perkins became CEO of Scandinavian Real Heart, which is developing artificial hearts for patients who cannot get a transplant, in March this year.
With her new level of responsibility, the hard skills she learned on the Executive MBA have been of great value in three distinct areas. Firstly, in finance and accounting: “Had I not taken the MBA, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate efficiently with my CFO and think through different solutions.”
Secondly, the Corporate Strategy module gave her a toolset for business planning and seeking out competitive advantage. “They throw you in at the deep end,” says Swedish-born Ina Laura, who has also lived in the Netherlands, Singapore, the US, Switzerland, and the UK. “The scenarios other businesses have faced are really useful; to remember ‘this seems like what Honda or Dell experienced’, consider how they approached it, and see what tools we can use to analyse the situation.”
Finally, her MBALive® project, where students must apply theories to real world managerial challenges, has had huge benefits for Scandinavian Real Heart. The company established a blood testing lab in Stockholm, allowing it to stop outsourcing to a lab in Germany.
“The savings amount to a few million Swedish kronor per year,” says Ina Laura. “And in a small company, this was one of the factors that helped us to employ five new full-time engineers and researchers.”
‘It changed my leadership perspective’
For Joséphine Pelle-Tchetagni, the Executive MBA has proved its worth in her personal life, just as much as in her professional world. “I had one view of life: you get an assignment, you have goals and you perform,” says Joséphine, a strategic product manager at Ericsson, working on 5G and 6G networks. But she was “shocked” when she fell short in one stage of her studies.
“It was my first failure ever,” she says. “I’ve had some problems before in putting expectations on other people according to the requirements of the job with little consideration of their capabilities. These studies have changed my leadership perspective on failure and empathy.”
Not only did the experience make her more empathetic with employees reporting to her, it also improved her relationship with her son who was struggling to learn the violin. After she started “a dialogue about what really interests and inspires him”, he began playing basketball and has taken up the saxophone.
In her working life, Joséphine, who has dual Canadian and Swedish nationality, moved from being an R&D manager when she started at SSE to her current strategy role. Frameworks she learned on the Executive MBA have helped her in both roles.
“The strategy and international management module was my favourite because you see the big picture; it gave us a model for securing your competitive advantage in a lasting way,” she says.
‘Frameworks for planning were immediately applicable’
“I’m fresh out of the program but I feel incredibly well-rounded in a huge array of topics,” says Catharina Frankander. “It has been a huge confidence booster.”
Catharina, who is Swedish but has also lived in the US and the UK, says she was impressed at how directly relevant much of what she learned was to her daily work at H&M Group, where she’s Head of Strategic Design for Brand Services.
Of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship concentration, she says: “Some of the frameworks for planning projects with high uncertainty were immediately applicable to my situation.”
Working at the heart of a large corporation with ten brands, Catharina faces complex challenges to deliver “innovative transformation projects”. But the Executive MBA has given her crucial new insights to help her achieve key strategic goals.
“I ran my ChangeLive project as a prototype of what it takes to make a leap within this complex organisational structure,” she explains. “I did extensive research into what’s holding us back in terms of culture, organisational values, and how we finance things.”
The delivery model developed through the project has now been used to set up four further projects “in vastly different fields” such as supply chain management and innovative store experiences.
The value of inclusion
None of the women considered gender balance when applying to SSE. But they all say studying in a diverse environment with many women, people of many nationalities, and professionals from many industries, gave them additional value.
“An MBA class is like a bootcamp for a corporate board,” says Joséphine. “The more visible we are, the more normal it becomes to see an equal number of women in high-level decision-making.”
“You’re learning from other people’s backgrounds, so without that diversity you would learn much less,” adds Ina Laura. Having been pregnant with her second child during her studies, she adds that her classmates provided a “very supportive network”.
Catharina says diversity helps generate “disruptive ideas”. “Having as many different perspectives as possible is key in this complex world we live in,” she says.
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