Report from Swedish-American Executive Women Conference 2017

Last week VQ attended the exclusive Swedish-American Executive Women’s Conference arranged by The Swedish American Chamber of Commerce in New York. The theme of the event was “The Brave New World of Zeros and Ones – how to succeed when everything is going digital?”

This transatlantic event has always, since the first one in 2003, looked at the future with leading business women from USA and Sweden sharing their insights. Among the prominent speakers this year, was inter alia Helena Stjernholm, CEO of Industrivärden and named Sweden’s most powerful businesswoman 2017, Hélène Barnekow, CEO Telia Sweden and a well-known change maker, Sofie Lindblom, innovation expert and former Global Head of Innovation at Spotify, and Pia Gideon, Chairperson for several companies, with a special focus on change management.

Foto publiken

Photo by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce New York.

During the day, the speakers talked about how a digital presence and strategy is vital in any business today, as technology is no longer a separate industry, but part of everything we do. They all shared their views on how to succeed in a digital world – both from an entrepreneurial perspective on how to make your mark, and from a more traditional perspective with established companies wishing to stay competitive.

Among the latter were Helena Stjernholm, CEO Industrivärden, who explained the changes she’s made in leadership and how Industrivärden and its group companies all work to face the challenge to find the balance between spending time on forward-facing issues and actually focus on the current operations and deliver return of investment to the shareholders. It is so easy to get swamped by the day-to-day business, but to succeed in the long term Industrivärden tries to increase flexibility for its companies and look at things like, for example, self-driving Volvo trucks not to miss out on the development.

Foto Helena Stjernholm

Photo by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce New York.

Volvo and its future adaptation to the customers’ demands was also among the topics of the panel discussion “Fast-footed Giants and Nimble Titans” with Bodil Eriksson, Chief Executive of Volvo Cars Mobility, Anna Felländer, Digital Economist, Deidrea Miller, Digital Communications Manager at National Grid, and Listelotte Duthu, Digital Transformation Officer, Atlas Copco. In the separate company, it has been possible to look at how to develop a business model adjusted to customers who do not wish to own a car, but to share cars with others in car pools or other sharing economy solutions, which would not be possible within the existing business of the car manufacturing company.

Foto paneldiskussion Fast-footed Giants

Photo by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce New York.

The panel also discussed how digitalization is not really a technological issue, but rather a cultural change issue. Deidrea Miller of National Grid explained how the company, having a monopoly, previously had not really needed to worry about its customers and their expectations, but now the employees must learn to communicate with customers, as well as with each other. Some employees were however still nostalgic about the days when they could just do their job without having to communicate about it. Hélène Barnekow also talked about change management and how it is no longer possible to drive change solely from the top (for example by the management sending out a memo explaining a new strategy). With digitalization and its transparency, new strategies and change need to come from within, by actually doing things differently on all levels. In the era of instant gratification, companies today get immediate consumer feedback. Anna Felländer explained how consumers’ expectations get raised all the time, as they expect the same user experience throughout all industries. Since they have experience how easy Swish is, they now expect that kind of easy user interface in any and all transactions. Anna Felländer also explained how the new platform era, where demand and supply is matched in a transparent way, is causing inventory management to become of most importance and that several companies have started to use Artifical Intelligence for this.

In her presentation “Is Digital Bringing You Closer to Your Consumers or Further Away?”, Anna Malmhake, CEO of The Absolute Company, talked about her insights on digital marketing. The lesson learned was to talk, not shout to your consumers and to treat them like family and community. And to stand by your message at all time. The role model was Mackmyra Whiskey and how its consumers bring a bottle of the whiskey on trips, sharing photos on Instagram etc.

Foto Anna Malmhake Bild Absolute

Photos by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce New York and Anette Rogers.

Another panel discussion then focused on “The Lure of the Start-Up”, with leading entrepreneurs Stina Bergfors, Co-Founder of United Screens, Hannah Widell, Founder and CEO of Perfect Day Media, Anna Omstedt Lindgren, Co-Founder and CEO of MedUniverse, Sofie Lindblom, Co-Founder and CEO of Ideation360, and Caroline Walerud, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Volumental.

Foto paneldiskussionen Startups

Photo by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce New York.

The entrepreneurs shared their inspiring stories of success and failures. “Fail fast and move on” was one of the lessons learned, as well as the importance to get feedback early from the consumers; “Always use a beta mindset, and launch your idea quickly to see if it flies or not, before investing too much time and money”. The current megatrends were also discussed, where Sofie Lindblom made some interesting observations on some of the less talked about trends. Of the largest trends most people seem to focus on digitalisation and globalisation, but two just as important trends are the spread of knowledge and money and the increasing democratisation. “Knowledge is free” and almost anyone can get access to online education of the highest standard, like a Harvard MBA. People around the world is getting more educated. The economy is also going global toady with more money spread around the world, to invest in new companies and to distribute with more diversity.

In a very enthusiastic and optimistic presentation, Dr. Maria Strømme shared her insights on advanced material science or nanotech and how it is driving the industrial revolution. For the first time in history we can now create new material, not just devastating the earth’s resources. With nanotechnology cellulose can be used to replace plastic packages with biodegradable material, stopping the ongoing pollutions of the world seas.

Foto Maria Stromme

Photo by Liselotte Engstam.

We face some grand challenges onward with not only the resource scarcity and how to handle the global energy supply in a sustainable manner, but also how to handle the accelerating urbanization and the demographic shift from a societal and individual point of view. We need to find materials that can make the body repair itself, otherwise the society cannot afford the increasingly older population. But luckily, nanotechnology can do just that. It can also provide cures to cancer and much more efficient treatments. With gold nano particles you can to find cancer tumors and use laser to beam them. There are also currently major advances with neuro-restoration for paralysed persons. But, as Maria Strømme pointed out, we need a strategy. Nanotechnology is the answer – but what is the question?

Finally, Petra Stenqvist, Co-Founder of Pond, talked about the importance of market analysis and actually listening to the consumers, as 72 % of all customer products or innovations fail – because there is no need for them, no one wanted them, or because they did not give the consumer an engaging experience. “People may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Following this advice, there was musical performance by Lill Lindfors in the afternoon and a very pleasant cocktail reception at the American Embassy in the evening to remember.

Foto mingel

Ann Björk and Helena Hallgarn, founders of VQ.