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.

The Swedish MBA where they 'throw you in at the deep end'
Photo: Getty Images

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.

Ready for a new career challenge? Learn how to progress as a leader with the SSE Executive MBA 

‘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.”

Find out about eligibility and admissions to the SSE Executive MBA (applications are open until September 15th) 

Ina Laura Perkins

‘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.” 

Catharina Frankander

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.

The SSE Executive MBA ranks 60th globally and is in the top 15 for gender balance – apply by September 15th to get your place

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Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said.