As I have just graduated and I am about to start my first full-time job, it seems like a good time to take a look back and reflect on my experience as a Wallenberg Fellow.
Upon arriving in Washington last summer, I had a tough nut to crack. Specifically, I hoped that my time in the district would help me find an answer to the elusive question of which job would best suit my wide array of diverging interests. As a Wallenberg Fellow, I received the best aid possible: an amazing internship at an environmental think-tank, dozens of events and seminars at top-notch institutions, lunches and meetings with knowledgeable people in leadership positions, and superb classes at the School of Foreign Service. They all helped me to discover my passion and excitement for the energy sector. It brings the economic, political, social, commercial, and environmental together, not to mention its growing relevance as we go forward, offering an incredible combination to be working on.
Finding my focus ensured that I was full of excitement throughout the fall semester and inspired me to continue working hard to understand the energy sector as well as I could. Together with Hannes Tordengren, also a member of the First Wallenberg Cohort, we started a research project on the Ukrainian gas sector and prepared to move to Ukraine in the spring to pull it off. I attended Paul Sullivan’s class on energy and security, began co-operating with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, and was meeting various experts asking them to share their experience with me. Another crucial question, however, was looming from behind the corner. Upon graduation, should I go into the public or private sector? Some of my friends already had a strong preference from early on—I on the other hand found myself deliberating between the pros and cons of each. Would I go for a higher sense of urgency, a chance to fulfill my civil obligation to give back to society, a better work-life balance, and, most importantly, an ability to take part in the policy-making process—which the public sector seemed to be offering, or opt for a higher career pace, wider responsibilities, a more dynamic work environment, better remuneration, and finally an excellent occasion to get market and industry expertise—all promised by private sector companies.
Stuck with this dilemma, I decided to take the opportunity which the Wallenberg Program offered and reached out to people I respected for their expertise. I made an effort and managed to personally meet with a former US ambassador and an energy expert, a former foreign minister of one of the EU countries, managers from the energy private sector, executives from the EBRD and the World Bank, and think-tank energy experts from the Brookings Institution and the Atlantic Council. While I expected the private sector managers to praise their sector, I must admit that I was taken aback by some of the other experts telling me that although they advise me to go public, I should not do it upon graduation. Their argument was rather simple in its nature: the transition to a public or non-governmental job is always possible once I have acquired the market expertise, but the transition from public to private could prove much harder. As I began to appreciate, a proper exposure to the private sector could only add to a better understanding and more effective execution of policy-making or non-governmental work.
In other words, I realized that my choice was not as dichotomous as I may have initially assumed. After some years in the private sector I may revisit my ambitions and—should I one day decide to switch—my experience on both sides will likely make me a better policy-maker than if I had gone directly to a think-tank or a public institution.
Alarm turned off. Gaze blearily out the window. The Washington monument appears shrouded in early morning humidity.
I was not awake, after all.
Words pass through my mind – humidity, hot, backpack, humidity. Do I need to buy a new deodorant? Yes. Not quite acclimatized to the transition from Stockholm to Washington D.C.
6:00am. Stumbling out of the bedroom I learn that 8 people retweeted something about Donald Trump and a news anchor. Some habitual buzz gets going. What sort of nonsense is he up to now? Read. Read. Jeez. There will be plenty of chatter around the coffee machine at the office today.
Time to get on with the routine. Banana milkshake, to-do lists, rowing machine at the gym on the third floor, fried egg and peanut butter sandwiches, iron shirt. If there were a Guide to metropolitan, city-jumping life it would probably say something like – ‘A cumbersome yet practical morning routine can do much to make up for the loss of familiarity when moving from one place to the other. That is, of course, if you want to shake the feelings of unfamiliarity in the first place. Since most people spend a considerable amount of time mulling over how they can get away from stuff, it is in fact a little strange that you would. But that is beside the point’.
The walk to the bus is about 500 meters. After 2 meters it is time to adjust the backpack so it does not stay in one place for too long. After 10 meters one usually considers holding the backpack like a briefcase instead. Given the extra exertion it is usually best to abandon this alternative rather quickly. After 20 meters there is a brief and somewhat subdued moment of panic. After 30 meters it is time to put your hands to the straps and give your shoulders a breather. Finally, after 50 meters and a drenched lower back all ambitions are gone and you think quietly to yourself – ‘Whoever showed up dry to work in 100° F (36° C) and 80% humidity anyway?’.
The A/C at the office provides a welcome sense of relief. And the short elevator ride gives just enough time to shake out the worst droplets from what is left of your shirt. But you are inside. You are safe. And a whole day of interesting work awaits. Coffee with the other research analysts, a roundtable discussion about the prospects of banking union in the EU, and plenty of bond prospectuses to read. Another entry in that Guide for metropolitans would have been – ‘There is no such thing as a universal concept of “lunch”. Whoever thought so has clearly never spent too much time outside of France. The normal thing to do in the U.S. is to have a sandwich by your computer, trying to master the art of looking simultaneously at an Excel spreadsheet and the aforementioned sandwich’.
Returning home around dinner time, planes passing overhead through the cinematic sky, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be here. I am one of those young people who have benefitted from globalization significantly, and who Bensam so aptly describes in his thoughtful post below. With the generous support from people at the Stockholm School of Economics, Georgetown University and financial support from the Dr. Tech. Marcus Wallenberg foundation, I will get to spend 6 months of my life in Washington D.C. A global melting pot of politics and business 4097 miles from my hometown of Malmö, Sweden. My work is at the Peterson Institute of International Economics in the fields of financial regulation and international law. Hence, throughout my 6 months in D.C., I get to work with people in the absolute edge of their fields, on pressing policy issues that will shape the world of tomorrow. I will also get to study full time at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Presently in Sweden to renew my visa, I look forward to returning to D.C. to start my new courses in e.g. business and investment negotiation and meet new colleagues and friends. And many more mornings of staring blearily at the Washington monument.
During my first (and only) visit to DC in 2013, I immediately fell in love with the city. The artworks in the Hirshhorn Museum, the music at the Kennedy Center and the monumental reminders of history lit up against the night sky – everything mesmerized me. Studying at Georgetown University has been a dream of mine ever since, deferred by the high costs of studying in the US. Therefore, when I heard about the Wallenberg International Fellowship Program, I did not question whether to apply for one second. It somehow manages to combine most of the rather scattered items from my CV and thus also the driving interests behind those. It is exactly what I have been looking for.
Now two months into my summer internship I realize, that three years ago, walking through the nation’s capital as a tourist only gave me a hint of the unrivalled amount of power concentrated in DC and for entirely different reasons, I am again amazed by the city. The Wallenberg Fellowship provides me with the opportunity to embark into this sphere of experts, influence and networking.
As part of my internship I had the privilege of hearing Christine Lagarde speak about the central challenges posed on global development, participating in a meeting where the directors for Mexico, Canada and the US of the Inter-American Development Bank discussed the priorities for the 2016 North American Leaders’ Summit and meeting senior economists from the World Bank and the IMF. Sebastian and I were also part of the lucky small group of J1-interns picked to attend a Q&A with Ben Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, at the State Department. Listening to these experts, I am time after time impressed by their ability to develop high-level insights on complex issues and back them up with just the right amount of detail. At various embassy events, I have had the opportunity to practice my networking skills – an area in which as a German I can definitely learn a lot from Americans.
Besides getting to attend a bunch of cool meetings, I also really enjoy the actual work of my internship. In June I joined the enterprise wide international relations department at Medtronic, a medical technology company. The small team covers an immense variety of topics from market access issues like trade barriers and price controls to research about the correlation of health and economic growth. With no background in health, it took me a while to get accustomed. At the end of the first weeks I had a list of about 50 acronyms, and those were only the most important ones. Besides soaking in all the information about healthcare related policies and medical technology, I am also fortunate to get incredible insights into the dynamics of public – private sector interactions. The focus of my internship is on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). My major project for the summer was to collect internal and external best practices and come up with ideas about how to share these throughout the corporation to empower Medtronic employees around the world to drive PPPs in their countries. To top it all off, the team at Medtronic gave me one of the warmest welcomes I have experienced throughout my studies and previous internships. With a lot of interesting things to be learned and done, I am glad to return to the team in the fall.
Finally I would like to pick up a point Marta, one of the fellows in the first cohort, wrote about in an earlier blog post as it coincides with my main take away from the summer. She wrote that one of the three ways in which the Wallenberg Fellowship broadened her mindset is through the realization that changing the world is possible. Through my internship in the healthcare sector I can observe daily how NGOs, governmental agencies, corporations and individuals keep joining their forces and working towards the improvement of people’s lives. Inspired by numerous passionate people and their achievements, I am re-considering a career path in foreign policy or development work – an option previously shut down by the resignation about bureaucracy and the seemingly Sisyphean nature of the work.
For now I have returned to Germany to apply for my student visa. My two weeks in Germany are filled with joy as I get to see my friends and family and excitement to start my classes at Georgetown, play field hockey and hopefully enjoy some of the nature around DC once the weather has cooled down to Swedish summer temperatures.
As I write this at my desk, I look down at people strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue in the sweltering DC heat, a stone’s throw away from the White House. I feel lucky to be in the political capital of the world. I am here as a Wallenberg International Fellow, an exchange program between the Stockholm School of Economics and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Dr. Tech. Marcus Wallenberg Foundation. The aim of the program is to broaden participants’ horizons, intellectually, culturally and in practical business situations through an interdisciplinary program at the intersection of business and international relations.
During the summer, I am working at Limiar Capital, a newly started hedge fund investing in emerging markets. I believe that private investment, especially social impact investment, can play a pivotal role in the development of emerging economies, something that I am passionate about. At Limiar, I’ve had the opportunity to work with people with diverse backgrounds, who have worked all over the world with finance and development – from the IFC and MIGA (World Bank Group organizations) to development banks, NGOs and hedge funds in Argentina, India, Singapore and the United Kingdom. I’ve learned a lot from them and from the work that we do.
Now, half-way through the summer, half-way through my internship, I have a chance to reflect on my experiences. As I do, my mind keeps being drawn back to the events of June 23 – the day the UK voted to leave the European Union. Brexit, as it is widely known, came as a shock to me, and to my friends, especially the ones from the UK. Even at work, having been a hot topic of discussion, we were taken aback by the unexpected outcome. Incredulity gave way to recriminations (people who voted to leave were “misinformed”), incredulity to anger, and finally reluctant acceptance. Nowhere was this volatility clearer than in the markets – stock markets tumbled, as did currencies from all over the world. Emerging markets took a hit as investors fled to the safe havens of US and Japanese treasuries. It was a moment that reflected the juxtaposition of an interconnected world, and how fraught and fragile it is.
I grew up in Eritrea, a small country in the North-east of Africa, one of the few countries left in the world where citizens need visas to leave the country, and they are rare to come by. For the first 15 years of my life, I had never been outside the boundary delimited by the national border. The first time I was ever on an airplane was when I was 15 on my way to Europe. Sweden would become my new home, and I am always thankful for that. Although not by any means perfect, it’s been an open and welcoming society, and I’ve felt at home there since the first day. In the nine years since, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to many different places around the world, to live and study in Singapore and now in the US. I have come to take for granted the privilege of being able to travel all over the world with ease, often with no need for a visa, as if traveling from Stockholm to Malmö (translation: from Washington, D.C. to New York). I have come to take for granted an unbounded, borderless, connected world.
As the dust settles, I keep thinking about the schism the referendum revealed between the winners and losers of an increasingly globalized world. My friends, British and non-British alike, were in disbelief as the results were announced. I didn’t know anyone who voted for Brexit, nor, apparently, did my friends. In many ways this is a consequence of globalization, the detachment from the physically proximate reality as we are more connected and aware of the realities that lie closer to our interests. In fact, looking at my friends and their friends, it’s striking how much we have come to surround ourselves with people who are like us, in educational background, in career aspirations, in visions for the future. With most physical limitations gone, the pool of friends is not limited to the city or country we live in but to the whole world. My friends and I who have been able to pursue higher education, travel the world and have reaped the benefits that a globalized world has to offer. In doing so, we have come to lose touch with those who are physically closer to us, but very far in the opportunities they have had in life.
The victors of the referendum claimed that June 23 would be marked as Britain’s Independence Day. This assertion was met with ridicule by most, due to the irony of it coming from one of history’s most prolific colonizers, having colonized over two thirds of the earth at its peak. This resonated with me as July 4th came around, celebrating the independence day of one of Great Britain’s former colonies. I was impressed by the lavish celebration of the fourth in the United States. Not only in the fireworks displays or the flags draped over the many high rise buildings, or planted at the base of trees that line Main Street, but in what it meant to people.
Sitting on the West Lawn of the capitol building, a historic site where hundreds of thousands of Americans gather every four years to watch the inaugurations of presidents, I watched a concert celebrating the nation’s independence. In a drizzling, humid and grey DC summer evening, I sat there with my fellow Wallenberg Fellows, packed in between the thousands who had come out despite the rain to celebrate this day. As I looked out at the sea of people, standing to sing the national anthem, hands on their chest, facing the flag, the sense of belonging that national identity brings was palpable. Young families with children running around, retired couples, a group of young urbanites, white, black, Hispanic and wherever they were from, they were American.
But not even America, the great melting pot, the pluralist home of the brave, has been spared from the wave of disenchantment that has swept Europe. My coworkers and all the people I have met this summer worry about the election in the fall. Similar to my friends from the UK, no one knows or seems to know anyone who supports Donald Trump. Brexit was a wakeup call for many, the tendency to lump all supporters and view them as either ignorant or racist is dangerous. It’s hard for people to put themselves in their shoes, to understand what is the source of their dissatisfaction, in other words, to empathize.
Proximity is a prerequisite for empathy. The US is as polarized as it has been in recent times, and those who have gained from globalization are in every way but physically remote from those that have lost out from it. Trump promises to build a Wall, the centerpiece of his campaign, to keep everything that is unwanted out, to protect those who have lost much in the past from losing even more. Seldom remarked upon is what the wall will keep in. Disentangling it from the rest of the world will make “America great again”, the rhetoric harkens back to a time that may or may not have existed. It is appealing in its simplicity. It’s not dissimilar from the rhetoric heard all around the world, from those who offer simple solutions to complex problems.
Lifting the focus from the developed world, recent developments also have implications for developing countries. There is a worry that the era of secular liberalization is over, that recent events herald a return to the protectionist and short-sighted policies of the past. This is a grave threat to developing nations, trade has brought millions of people out of poverty in China and the rest of East and South-east Asia. Though far from perfect, trade and globalization have been the harbingers of growth, development and peace in the world. A return to isolationism and antagonism between nations would have disastrous consequences, erasing the many positive developments that have taken place during my lifetime.
Yet, as I think of the time I have ahead of me here in DC, I am filled with anticipation. As decisions are made that will shape the world we live in for years to come, the feeling that what happens next will be historic is overwhelming. In the face of the palpable pessimism that permeates every newscast, political conversation and prediction of a world divided, I find comfort in these words from Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Walls:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
When I found out back in February that I had been selected as one of three Wallenberg Fellows from Georgetown University, I jumped up and down for joy. Ever since I had heard about this amazing fellowship, I had dreamed of becoming a fellow. After the first few moments of complete euphoria and sheer happiness, I started wondering and asking questions. What will the summer be like? Where will I intern and what will I do there? What places will I visit during those three months? What will my first Midsummer celebration look like? I had so many questions, and later on as I packed my suitcase and left DC for Stockholm, so much planning and so many expectations.
Now, after more than half of my summer in Stockholm is over, I have to say that this experience has surpassed even my wildest expectations. It has been full of fun, adventure and above all, learning. I could have not imagined a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Wallenberg family, and everyone else involved, for this unique opportunity.
Becoming a Wallenberg Fellow has helped to influence my career goals. Just one year ago, I was certain that I would serve as a Croatian or a Bosnian-Herzegovinian diplomat upon completing graduate school. Since then, I have learned so much more about myself and realized that I really do not want to be a diplomat, but that I would much rather have a career in international business. The problem was that for the past few years, everything I have done in my life, including all my internships and work experience, has been done with the goal of having a career in diplomacy in mind. In the past, I have gained experience at think tanks, government organizations and in academia. I did not have much experience in the private sector. This fellowship offered me an opportunity to gain experience in the private sector and allowed me to expand my horizons and decide what I want to do in life.
In May, I started working at Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products unit in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm often called “Sweden’s Silicon Valley.” Most of Ericsson’s R&D facilities are in Kista, and it has been exciting to work with the brilliant people who are developing 5G technology. When I began my work, I had some a trouble communicating with my co-workers, to be completely honest. I have no background in engineering, and almost everyone around me has an engineering degree and speaks mostly in technical abbreviations and industry-specific lingo. Every second or third word I heard was an industry-specific acronym. During some meetings, I wondered if the person presenting was indeed speaking English. Still, step by step, and with great help from my gracious co-workers (who gave me a crash course in radios, hardware development, lean engineering and agile development) I learned so much. In what seemed like no time at all, I was able to speak the secret language of the ITC engineers.
After getting acquainted with PDU Radio Products, I began to work on projects. My first big task was to provide outsider feedback and help the unit transition to Ericcson’s new business model which is based on lean engineering. Another project I was tasked with was to find a better way to measure the efficiency of hardware development and the overall productivity of the R&D unit. Both projects, together with day-to-day operations, made me realize that I really enjoy operations consulting and thanks to this experience I may pursue a career in this field.
What I have enjoyed most about the experience, apart from it being an immense learning opportunity, is how open and accommodating the company is and how kind and interesting my co-workers are. I have not been treated like an intern, but rather, as an equal. In the US, it is unlikely that an intern would end up in a meeting with senior management to discuss strategy and trajectory. This is exactly what happened to me here in Sweden. Another great thing about working at Ericsson are my co-workers. They were not only a source of information about the technical side of the job, but also great guides to Swedish culture.
When we were not taking about UEFA European Championship, they were telling me all about their favorite museums, the must-see places in Stockholm, about Swedish cuisine and culture, and about the best places to celebrate Midsummer. I took their advice and explored much more of Stockholm than I would have by just following guidebooks. For Midsummer, I took the advice of one of my colleagues to be adventurous and see how Danes celebrate the holiday (even though, he reassured me, Swedish Midsummer festivities are the best ones in all of Scandinavia). I spent my Midsummer in the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, somewhat sad about Croatia being eliminated from the Euro Cup by Portugal, but nonetheless enjoying my first Midsummer festivities.
In July, it seems like all of Sweden migrates to the sunny beaches of Southern Europe. Most of my coworkers took a month-long vacation, so I also had some time off. I managed to visit some of my closest friends from my high school in Italy. I visited Turkey, Macedonia and Romania and caught up with my friends in their home countries. It feels good to be back in Europe. Rested from this trip, I returned to (a still mostly empty) office to wrap up my projects and get ready to leave for home in middle of August. I know that I will miss Stockholm once I am back in DC. It has truly been a fulfilling experience. I hope to make the most out of the few weeks I have left here. It has been an incredible summer filled with learning, fun and both personal and professional growth. All that happiness and excitement I felt back in February has been more than justified by my experience thus far.
In the past, I’ve studied and traveled in multiple cities for three months – Hyderabad, Toronto, Cambridge, Tokyo, just to name a few. This experience allows me to become familiar with a wide variety of working and learning environments, and grow as a truly international person.
When I was selected as one of the Wallenberg International Fellows this year, I started wondering – what will three months in Stockholm bring to my professional life? The answer is – it opens up a broader world in front of me and allows me to have a better understanding of myself and what I’m good at.
Over the course of this summer, I am working on a dual internship in Stockholm thanks to the Wallenberg International Fellows Program. The first part of my internship is with Permobil, a leader in power wheelchair industry in the Nordics and one of the largest suppliers in the world. I joined the Business Development Unit in the Chief Finance Office in Kista, the “Nordic Silicon Valley.” The second part will be with Investor AB, which wholly owns Permobil, so that I’ll have chance to gain a broader picture from the perspective of the parent company.
With most of my professional experience in the public and nonprofit sector in Asia, I had limited knowledge about European markets or the power wheelchair industry, and thus the learning curve has been steep. The two projects I’m working on – the Market Intelligence Project, focusing on the North American and European markets and Go Directly to China Project – provide a great balance for me and allow me to utilize what I’ve already learned to solve unknowns. They also provide me with a precious opportunity to observe and engage in “international business” in the real world. When I apply my knowledge and networks to come up with creative ways to search and analyze data about the Chinese market, and when I continuously refine the models in the Market Intelligence Project so that it can be used for further strategic planning, I can see my internship having a real impact.
Learning on the fly can hardly be achieved without my incredibly helpful colleagues. Most of my colleagues have years of experience in consulting, finance, and business operations, so I also learn their stories about working in different firms and settings. With a relatively small (but rapidly growing) team, I always have lunch with my colleagues in lovely restaurants in Kista. They are also my primary sources to know more about Sweden – we have discussed a wide range of topics during our lunch breaks, from Swedish dating culture to mid-summer traditions, from childbirth in Sweden to the European Championship.
A highlight of my internship so far is that I got a chance to visit the headquarters of Permobil in Timrå, a small town in Northern Sweden. Seeing the whole process from assembling parts of various power wheelchairs to customizing the products according to individual users’ needs, I’ve gained a better understanding of how my work on business development is linked to other units and departments in the corporation.
In early July, I will switch to Patricia Industries at Investor AB. It’s an interesting time as Investor has just celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. I’ll have more stories to tell about my professional growth and adventures in Stockholm by then.
As a Palo Alto native, I’ve been spoiled by consistently good weather. Before moving from California to Washington, D.C. in 2011, I had little appreciation for how much of my energy and mood could be influenced by the presence of sunshine and blue skies. While D.C. has its good days, there are more days I miss the mild, temperate climate back home.
Stockholm is another story. It’s the beginning of my third week in the capital of Sweden (or, as it’s marketed here, “the capital of Scandinavia”), and I have never felt more at home. If it weren’t for the 10 p.m. sunsets and 3 a.m. sunrises, I would genuinely find the climate indistinguishable from northern California’s.
Any positive comment about the weather, however, and many Swedes are quick to stress that it isn’t like this all the time. Swedes say winters are terrible and summers are unpredictable: it could be sunny and beautiful, or it could be gray, windy, cold, and rainy — and last year it was constantly the latter. We’ll have to see by the end of the summer whether these warnings were prescient or overly pessimistic. Let the record show I’ve experienced 14 gorgeous days and 2 gray days thus far.
I’m fortunate enough to be in Stockholm as a Wallenberg International Fellow, a position funded by a generous grant from the Wallenberg Foundation for Education in International Industrial Entrepreneurship. As a fellow, I’m working as a venture analyst on the EQT Ventures team, part of the renowned global private equity group EQT Partners. Half a week before my first day in the office, EQT announced the successful closing of the EQT Ventures Fund with €566 million euro in commitments, making it one of the largest funds in Europe.
Apart from screening startups that are looking for funding, meeting founding teams, and analyzing potential deals, I’m fully immersed in the Stockholm startup scene. EQT Ventures sponsored the inauguralTechCrunch Stockholm event, which was also the first-ever TechCrunch event organized outside of the U.S. Next week, we’ll be hosting the STHLM Tech Meetup, a monthly gathering for tech and entrepreneurship enthusiasts in Stockholm.**
So far, I’m impressed with what I’ve seen of the Stockholm tech world. There are quite a few co-working spaces, startup hubs, incubators, accelerators,meet-ups, and other opportunities for people to gather, collaborate, and exchange ideas. In these communities, people are engaged in a wide range of activities — everything from creating webapps and freelancing coding projects to bootstrapping their own companies and consulting on digital platforms. I’ve loved meeting people here. Everyone I’ve talked to is passionate about what they create and excited to discuss their projects.
With all the innovation and creativity going on here, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard more about Swedish startups in the U.S., or that there’s not yet a “Silicon ______” metonym for an area of Stockholm. And I suspect I’m not the only American who feels this way.
I’ll be sharing more of my reflections and experiences throughout the summer, so stay tuned.
**Gotta say, I love the Swedish commitment to creating shorthands by striking out vowels. It took me a few days before I realized that STHLM stood for Stockholm, and I admit I couldn’t figure out what BRDS was without looking it up. (It’s “best regards.”)
All views expressed are entirely the author’s, and do not reflect the views of EQT, The Wallenberg Foundation, Georgetown University, or any other institutions affiliated with the author or mentioned in this post.
As a Wallenberg Fellow I had a chance to spend last summer working for Ericsson and gaining hands-on experience in strategy, intrapreneurship, and Smart City solutions while learning about the Nordic innovation system. In this post I want to share with you some of my observations on Sweden’s Silicon Valley and challenges of being an intrapreneur.
Ericsson is headquartered in Kista Science City, also known as the Nordic Silicon Valley, – the largest Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) cluster in Europe and the birthplace of many wireless communication technologies.
The development of an ICT cluster in Kista was largely influenced by a substantial supporting infrastructure for innovation in the region: universities (internationally recognized KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University have departments there), local and international technology providers (Ericsson, IBM, Tele2, Tieto, Cisco, and Intel to name a few), and Ericsson’s major R&D facilities quickly put Kista on the map.
In the early 90s the cluster was known for its ‘rebellious’ spirit – soon after re-location to Kista talented engineers had become ‘cowboy’ researchers – they followed a hunch and proceeded with their research rarely waiting for an official request from the headquarters. Those researchers were the moving force behind Kista’s breakthrough innovations in wireless ICT. As the sector matured, Kista has developed into a space of considerable R&D activities with a focus on business services, passing its “rebel” title to Stockholm City Center with its vibrant startup scene.
Ericsson played a central role in shaping the cluster and it keeps setting the tone for its development now as 17,000 of the company’s employees and much of its R&D facilities are based in Kista. Ericsson of today is reinventing itself as a system integratorin order to not simply survive but thrive in the new open communications ecosystem.
I joined Chief Technology Officer’s Office as a Business Analyst and was assigned to a small team that worked on creating new revenue streams for the company by monetizing existing network assets. ‘New’ in this context means that the team should be innovative while ‘existing’ served as a reminder to align with the corporate agenda. In other words, my team was tasked to act as intrapreneurs – innovate from within. Owing to the Wallenberg Program, I leapfrogged several career stages for that summer and was given the responsibility to pioneer innovation in corporate settings – a role that is usually reserved for company’s senior management.
Starting with ‘cowboy researchers’, Ericsson truly embraces the culture of intrapreneurship – its highly-ranked internal innovation program is worth a separate post – and I want to add to this by sharing the lessons I learned while pioneering an innovation solution within a multinational corporation that, I believe, are applicable to any intrapreneur.
Expertise does not lead the way.When advocating for an innovative solution, an ability to give a precise acronym-free pitch is as important as an ability to ask for one. While expertise is an asset, it is not a determinative of success in pioneering an innovation in corporate settings. Your competency is what lets you get your foot in the door, but your communication skills are what let you be heard and eventually supported by others.
Persistence does not open more doors.Innovation within a corporate system is rarely about being persistent. Persistence, while essential for entrepreneurs, might lead an intrapreneur to a dead end. Benchmark – often and rigorously – and then adjust the proposed solution accordingly.
Bring the product to the market. Bring the product to the market, do not bring your product to the market. While ego can serve as a motivation for some of entrepreneurs, it will surely sabotage the career of any intrapreneur. It is likely that innovation, as implemented, will be tested and modified in line with your original proposal later on, but to have this probability this innovation needs to first reach the market.
Returning to Stockholm for New Years provided a chance to explore the snow covered city and reconnect with my summer as a Wallenberg Fellow. Six months prior, I was just starting as an intern in the mergers and acquisitions department of Electrolux. The position was a professional pivot from academic into the business arena, therefore the learning curve was steep. However, a dedicated supervisor and refresher on my undergraduate business courses helped to ease the transition. By the end of the internship, corporate valuations were an almost comforting concept.While the end result was rewarding, it was the journey that was truly remarkable.
Spending late nights in Shanghai and early mornings meeting with prospective acquisitions were definitely highlights of the experience. Each experience taught me more about the company as a whole and the resiliency necessary to grow and maintain such an expansive enterprise. The first weeks of my internship were populated with meetings aimed at saving a dying acquisition. Each day, it seemed as if the synergies and financial benefits were disappearing until the deal itself disappeared as well. The internship ended with me as a junior project manager on a burgeoning acquisition. As odd as it may sound, it was far more educational to see a project fail and how the business regroups than to ignorantly observe success.
However, the most gratifying opportunity I had was making various portfolios. Each portfolio was focused on a region or industry, identifying market leaders of strategic importance to the company. While the mechanics of the process were mundane, the skills learned will be eminently useful in my next endeavors after graduate school. Learning to identify market trends and assess synergies of possible acquisitions will help me as I look to enter the field of strategic consulting. But what made this internship so rewarding wasn’t just the lessons or travel opportunities, it was that I know my work was used during and after my internship. During my New Years visit, my former supervisor and I met for lunch and recounted the summer and provided updates personally and professionally. In the midst of the conversation, he informed me that one of my portfolios was followed up on with the support of the VP. Though he told me I couldn’t get a finders fee for my work, the simple fact that a summer intern could provide work of strategic value to am established multinational company was payment enough.
Before that lunch, I already knew that I had had a great internship and that the Wallenberg Program was a phenomenal opportunity. The visit and the lunch simply solidified my previous conclusion and provided a beautiful backdrop.
Around a year ago, I received a long awaited e-mail: I was invited for the Wallenberg Program interview. Looking through the Georgetown University course offerings, I could hardly contain my excitement: negotiating foreign direct investments, navigating emerging markets in cross-border deals, structuring financial aid packages for poor countries – Georgetown School of Foreign Service courses fit perfectly with what I wanted to study.
One year since the day of the interview, I have to admit the program influenced me in more ways than I could ever imagine. I did take my dream courses, and I also made friends from all over the world, went through a continuous networking exercise, and met opinion leaders in international development and public policy. Here are the three ways the Wallenberg Program broadened my mindset:
1. Embracing the networking culture of Washington DC
To say I used to feel uncomfortable about the notion of networking would be an understatement. But when in Washington DC, do as the Washingtonians do… Well, you got it: network! During my internship at the World Bank last summer, I made it a rule never to eat lunch at my desk (which, btw, is a terrible American habit). Rule number two – to never eat alone – was almost self-enforcing: if you go to the World Bank cafeteria, you can hardly find anyone eating alone. Hence my lunches became social.
DC culture surely nudges you towards more networking, but that is not sufficient. I was also lucky enough to have great role models. Learning from my peers showed me the way forward every time I got frustrated. When you keep stepping out of your comfort zone, there has to be some place safe, where you can look back and reflect. I am incredibly grateful for all the personal development conversations I had with other Wallenberg fellows, and with our Georgetown advisor – I really learnt a lot from them.
2. Realizing that changing the world is possible
Throughout the summer, my encounters with fellow interns made me believe the world can actually become a better place with all the young energy devoted to doing good. Washington DC probably has the largest concentration of international development professionals in the world, and in fact, meeting those people always infected me with optimism and the will to act.
3. Learning from experts
With major international organizations and most influential think-tanks all collected in one place, Washington DC amazed me with the abundance of strong views on everything – from US environmental policy to the EU refugee crisis. Even more amazing was the opportunity to discuss these topics with opinion leaders. For example, as Wallenberg fellows we visited the US Department of State to talk about US foreign policy in Ukraine, we also met with the President of Freedom House Mark P. Lagon to discuss the impact of democracy on development. And both of these occasions were great opportunities to learn through discussion and to think critically.
It’s still hard to believe that six months of the Fellowship are coming to an end. One thing is certain, however: I’m emerging from this experience with a broader mindset and greater leadership ability than I had a year ago.