She sees diversity as the way forward

Perhaps it was a coincidence that Sweco moved in when Svenska Dagbladet moved out of its high-rise in Marieberg, Stockholm. But the building was designed by well-known architect Anders Tengbom, and although Sweco’s origins can be traced back to the end of the 1800s, the company started as an architecture firm. The consulting group’s activities have been both broader and much, much larger for a long time now.
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The 14-storey building is fairly empty. Most people are working virtually. Visitors will notice that the company is taking the infection risk seriously – if nothing else, by the signs on the floors in the lifts. Clear markings show where and how people should stand, facing away from each other, and keeping as safe a distance as possible while riding the lift together. No more than three are allowed.

Åsa Bergman has been Sweco’s President and CEO for two and a half years. When the pandemic broke out her life and the lives of the company’s 17,500 employees changed.

“Our organisation is decentralised and local. In a short space of time we became very centralised, as did our decisions. Group management met daily to discuss how best to transition to a virtual workplace”, she said.

The number of IT licences issued increased rapidly to allow people to work virtually. Everyone was trained in IT security to work outside the office and managers were trained in managing from a distance.

“Personal contact is even more important. We need to have team meetings more often than usual. Managers are spending more time checking in with people. They need to call or stay in contact in various ways, e.g. through Microsoft Teams. Managing virtually is different and requires specific tools”.

It does not make the job any easier when you are established in markets in 14 European countries and run projects in more than 70 countries, all with different directives and ways of handing the pandemic.

At some point 14,000 Sweco employees were working virtually. Many of the employees are continuing to do so. Keeping it all together naturally requires managers with significant leadership skills. This is no problem for the company’s President.

“When I was a little girl I loved to be in charge; to be the class representative or form groups to get things done. Standing at the front comes naturally to me”, she says.

Bergman believes that most people can be leaders, but their personality and the way they are brought up also play a role. It is equally important to have an interest in learning about leadership.

“I have strengths and weaknesses, as do my colleagues. But if we understand our weaknesses we can work on them. We can also improve our leadership style by surrounding ourselves with talented colleagues”.

Bergman sees a difference between the terms “manager” and “leader”. The role of manager is associated with formal tasks and responsibilities.

“Leadership is about how you move your organisation forward and achieve the goals you’ve set”.

At Sweco they take a targeted approach to find people with suitable leadership skills.

“We have a succession plan for all leadership positions. We use a variety of metrics to find the right people. Satisfied customers, quality of work and financial results are some of the variables”.

Having employees fill out surveys in which they rate their immediate superiors is another.

“On one level a good leader needs to show that he or she can take on more responsibility and be a curious person who can change. They also need to be able to stop doing certain things and instead start leading in other ways”.

Bergman’s own career began after she earned her engineering degree in the 1990s and got a job as a project manager at the architecture firm that would become Sweco. Various leadership positions led her to the top job in the company.

“I started working on customer projects from the very first day. It was the best education. No doubt about it. I’ve been able to develop in my professional life all the time. My personal development has gone hand in hand with Sweco’s. And now, as President, I’m still learning new things”.

Bergman maintains that Sweco is now Europe’s largest architecture, environmental and engineering consulting company. Engineers in all fields, architects, environmental scientists, behavioural scientists and lawyers are among the skilled professionals whose services the company can offer its clients. Over the past 20 years the Group has acquired around 130 companies. All of them have been fully integrated into Sweco. In order for that to be possible the company needs to have a strong corporate culture.

“Our corporate culture is based on strong values and openness. It’s important to have the right climate and an environment people want to work in. Our employees need to feel that they have meaningful goals”.

Bergman considers diversity in all its forms to be a significant aspect of the corporate culture.

“I realised early on that diversified workplaces where equality reigns are the best places to create success and profitability. Another benefit is that diversity leads to better and more creative solutions”.

But to unite a diversified group of companies requires a lot of thought and effort to ensure that individuals can thrive in their work and in their team.

“If we focus on all of this, we end up with a corporate culture where everyone can help to move us in the right direction”.

Bergman that believes it is important to be relevant in the world we live in.

“And we are relevant to society; our focus areas are sustainability, transportation, sustainable cities and energy transformation. I’m proud of being able to lead a company that works with all of these critical and important issues”, she says. 

ÅSA BERGMAN

Age: 52

Education: MSc in Civil Engineering, KTH 1991

Career: Project Manager FFNS in Östersund, 1999 Regional Manager Sweco in northern Sweden, 2006 CEO Sweco Management, 2012 CEO Sweco Sweden, 2018 President and CEO Sweco

Distinctions: Årets Ledarutvecklare 2012 (leadership development award) named by Ledarna (a Swedish organisation for managers), Leading Women Award 2017 from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Honorary Doctorate from Mid Sweden University 2018 and named Most Powerful Woman in Industry 2019 by Veckans Affärer magazine.

GOLD MEDAL

Åsa Bergman MSc Eng for her significant capacity to lead the specialists she works with in the areas of architecture and technology, and for developing a consulting company that is a leader in Europe in the built environment. With her strong drive she has built an inclusive corporate culture distinguished by equality and diversity at all levels, based on the conviction that this is how to create sustainable societal development.

 

PHOTO: TOBIAS REGELL

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