‘An MBA at SSE was the only choice for me’

Sweden is one of the best countries in the world for gender equality – yet it still has a ways to go when it comes to board members and top positions. That’s why the Executive MBA at Stockholm School of Economics can be a game-changer.

'An MBA at SSE was the only choice for me'
Photo: The Stockholm School of Economics

When it comes to running a company, there’s no substitute for hard work. That’s something Sofia Bertills learned at a young age.

Bertills is CEO of Rapunzel of Sweden, one of Scandinavia's leading hair extension companies. But that's just her latest role – she's had a remarkable career spanning recent positions such as CEO at Bokus, one of Sweden's largest online book stores, and manager at Bonnier's Book Club – Sweden's largest book club.

Sofia Bertills. Photo: Sara Nygren

Meanwhile, Lena Flykt-Rosén was winding down her own consulting business in London – after years working as a manager at companies like Accenture and AstraZeneca – and was looking for a change of scene.

“My family relocated back to Stockholm, and I felt I had reached a point in my career where I needed refilling,” she recalls. “I needed new input.”

For six years in a row, Sweden has ranked fourth in the world for gender equality. In fact, in 2014 the country ranked number one for women in ministerial positions, enrolment in tertiary education and women in technical and professional roles.

But Sweden sits outside the top five on measures including wage equality for similar work and for the proportion of women in senior managerial and legal roles.

Of course, there are ways of smashing the glass ceiling – and ways for successful climbers to avoid stepping on the shards beneath their feet.

Both Bertills and Flykt-Rosén actively sought out a change – and both applied for  the Executive MBA programme at the Stockholm School of Economics, a decision which they agree has changed their lives.

“I started looking into doing an Executive MBA when my husband moved back to Stockholm, I realized it was something I really wanted to do,” Bertills recalls. “And I chose the Stockholm School of Economics because of the school’s reputation.”

“I was keen to study, as it’s something I’ve always loved,” says Flykt-Rosén. “And SSE was the obvious choice – the only choice for me, really. I didn’t even look at other schools.”

Lena Flykt-Rosén. Photo: Private

That’s not to say she wasn’t selective, however.

“I called the admissions office for a chat, and basically ticked all the boxes during that conversation,” she explains. “Having come straight from London, I was looking for a place where I wouldn’t lose the international touch, for one thing.”

The SSE MBA is an intensive 18-month programme conducted in English, based in Stockholm but including international field trips. About one third of participants are women, and many nationalities are represented.

For Bertills and Flykt-Rosén it was perfect.

“It was a bit like going back to university, only this time around you could relate everything you picked up in class to real work situations that you had actually experienced. Just being in an environment where everyone is there to learn and build new relationships was great,” says Flykt-Rosén.

Read more about the Executive MBA at SSE

“It’s incredibly inspirational to focus on yourself and your learning,” Bertills agrees. “That’s something you rarely get to do.”

The programme includes modules such as Accounting and Finance, Value Creation, Financial Management, and Global Context, preparing participants to handle international business no matter what their field of expertise is.

“There were a lot of engineers in my programme, and I was used to working with creative women but had to deal with male IT people,” Bertills laughs.

“It was very useful to see all the different approaches and learn how to work with different people.”

The participants get to know each other well over the course of 18 months, not just in class  but during group projects outside of class. For Flykt-Rosén who had lived abroad for many years, building that new network was one of the highlights.

“I built some amazing friendships,” she exclaims. “It was probably the single best take-away, the most rewarding part of the programme.”

Of course, there are many challenges as well. Participants in the programme have to have full support from their jobs and be able to take time off during the rigorous course weeks – as there’s no way to juggle the two.

“That was the most challenging part for me, learning to let go of work during program weeks,” Bertills confesses.

She says that for the first few weeks she was trying to handle work during lunch breaks and running to the office in the evenings – but she realized quickly that it was not only impossible, but detrimental to both work and the programme.

“You have to be dedicated,” she says. “If you are constantly checking your emails and phone calls at every break, you aren’t getting as much out of the programme. But that was hard to learn.”

Flykt-Rosén stresses the importance of support – from both bosses and family – to making the experience a success.

“It’s not like you have a generous amount of time to yourself when you’re juggling work and family life. I think most parents struggle with it,” she says.

Read more about the Executive MBA at SSE

“But I also think that you shouldn’t be scared about challenging yourself to grow. It’s a real ego boost, to do this for yourself.”

Today Flykt-Rosén is Head of Partnerships at FundedbyMe, and Bertills is thriving in her position at Rapunzel.

And while their time as MBA students ended a few years ago, they both agree they continue to reap the benefits today.

“The MBA is like a toolkit,” Bertills says. “I learned to delegate, to adapt, to structure innovation, and to embrace different leadership styles. It’s a checklist. And to this day, it pops up in my head and helps me out when I least expect it.”

“The MBA has given me a great network,” adds Flykt-Rosen.

“It has also equipped me with a solid framework that makes me a pretty well rounded decision maker, I feel confident tackling the most complex challenges. The programme suits anyone who is ready to explore something new in their career.”

This article was produced by The Local in partnership with the Stockholm School of Economics. 


‘It’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

READ ALSO: Eight things you should know if you’re planning to study in Italy

Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.