Carl-Henric Svanberg, IVA’s new Chairman

Friday 15 December 2017

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Industry leader Carl-Henric Svanberg will be the new Chairman of IVA from the beginning of the new year. He succeeds Leif Johansson who will leave the position upon completion of his two-year term.

The changeover at the top of IVA is also a switch between two of Sweden’s most experienced corporate executives. Both men have international experience and have worked for some of Sweden’s most R&D-focused export companies: Ericsson, AB Volvo and Astra Zeneca – never at the same time, but often succeeding each other.

“I was not really prepared to be offered this. But I feel honoured and I didn’t need to spend much time thinking about it before I accepted. It will be extremely interesting to start at IVA,” says Carl-Henric Svanberg.

He currently has two major private sector assignments – as Chairman of both AB Volvo and energy giant BP. He will be leaving the latter this autumn after nine years, the longest a chairman can remain in the position according to the British company’s articles of association. Carl-Henric Svanberg will stay on until his successor is appointed.

You could say that Svanberg is leaving BP for IVA. He smiles when asked:

“Right...?

Then he says:

“In six months I’ll have been working for stock exchange listed companies for 100 quarters. I’m starting to think that the one hundred and first quarter will not be as gratifying. It’s more exciting to take on an assignment for IVA.”

What do you think you can bring to IVA?

“I come from a private sector background and IVA has recruited a fantastic President in Tuula Teeri who is from the academic sphere. We come from two different places. I have experience from research and technology intensive organisations; Ericsson and AB Volvo are big players in Sweden’s R&D community. Hopefully I can also bring with me my broad network of contacts.”

There have been some unsettling reports about a decline in R&D activity in Sweden. What are your thoughts on that?

“Statistics are difficult. There are probably a lot of reasons for it going one way or the other. I find it hard to believe that Sweden is slowing down. The question is whether the rest of the world is speeding up. Things are moving very fast in Asia and China. USA is doing well too. I’m not sure if we’re holding our position or losing ground relative to the others,” says Carl-Henric Svanberg.

Svanberg has an MSc in Engineering Physics from Linköping University and has added an MSc in Business and Economics to his qualifications. But becoming an engineer was far from a foregone conclusion. He started out studying maths in Linköping.

“I wanted to be a maths and physics teacher at the upper secondary level. At that time you got your Bachelor’s degree first and then you applied to teachers training college. It was such a popular programme that you had to ace your exams. Then there was still a lottery to determine who got in. I thought to myself that my career should not be determined by a lottery.”

A career advisor suggested that he should go to engineering school instead after one year of maths. There were some spaces for young students with a strong interest in maths and physics.

“I had good grades and liked that it was hard. A stupid reason perhaps, but after taking a few physics courses I asked my teacher, Gerhard Raunio, what good all of this physics would do me. His answer was: It doesn’t matter what you study, as long as it’s difficult.”

Svanberg doesn’t regret becoming an engineer for a second.

“Never. It’s a fantastic job regardless of whether you work as a traditional development engineer or in marketing, leadership, logistics or production,” he says.

To attract young people to the profession Svanberg believes we need to be better at showing them what different career paths and opportunities look like in the workplace. He makes a comparison with consulting firms, banks and advertising agencies.

“That type of company starts early recruiting and offering career plans for the first ten years. Career paths in industry are often more complex, comprehensive and take longer to establish. But that makes it even more exciting when your career takes off.”

So what about taking over from Johansson:

“Apart from being excited about our work, both of us have a general interest in society as well. I’ve always wanted to be in a place where I can have a positive impact on society. IVA is that place because it’s an exciting and interesting organisation that works across the private sector, academia and the public sphere,” he says.

Author: Lars Nilsson