Chamber Women - Two Decades of Female MDs, Pia Helena Ormerod
9 February 2016
Pia Helena Ormerod MD 1994-1999: “I always said being the director of the Chamber would suit a woman”
Since its inception in 1906, the Swedish Chamber of Commerce has grown into one of the largest and most active foreign Chambers in the UK. This year, the Chamber is celebrating its 110th anniversary and this will be acknowledged during the year through articles highlighting the Chamber’s history. In this issue, we feature some of the amazing women of the Chamber’s past and present.
The Chamber’s first female director Pia Helena Ormerod, was also the first woman to sit on the council. Her background is in financial journalism and after having studied Economics at Stockholm University she worked as a staff writer on the Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer since its inception. When she moved to the UK, she became the London correspondent and as such she met with and interviewed many of the heads of UK subsidiaries of Swedish companies.
“When the Council decided that they needed a token woman in 1989 they asked me. I was soon involved in writing for the LINK and also asked to form a sub-committee together with Bertil Bernadotte, which aimed to making the Chamber profitable,” Ormerod tells The LINK.
From her position as the first female council member and a staunch advocate for making the Chamber financially independent, Ormerod’s road to the directorship was a short one.
“Having said in the Council that I thought the Chamber ought to be profitable I was asked to prove it, “she says.
Looking back, Ormerod remembers the Chamber as a wonderful place to work.
“I was lucky to work with a fantastic team from 1994 till 1999. My happiest moment was when, during my first year, we managed to turn the Chamber’s losses into profits. And it was all due to the very hard work from the team. We were all determined to make it happen. And we stayed in profit,” she tells The LINK.
Setting out to make the Chamber profitable, she was certain it could be achieved. Having made this statement she had a lot to prove.
“I also needed to assure the old guard that it was OK to have a woman director, as I was the first one, and to make sure that everyone on the Council contributed to the success of the Chamber. Another challenge was increasing the membership and making it less London-centric,”Ormerod says.
During her time at the Chamber the Junior Chamber (today the Young Professionals) was established and it was then, just as today, run by the scholars. The Chamber also opened chapters in Birmingham, Immingham and Manchester. The today so popular bi-annual event The Industrial Forum also hails from Ormerod’s time at the helm and the team had a series of successful conferences under the banner Industry Day. Ormerod has always been convinced that the directorship of the Chamber is a role really suited for a woman.
“You had to be a good host at all the events and make sure that you got Members to talk to each other, you had to look after scholars and trainees, some of them on their first job."
"You had to be willing to step in and do whatever work was needed and not worry about status - women are better at that - and, last but not least, you had to be a mother confessor to some of the Members who needed advice and help as they entered a new market. Women are good at this and I do not think it is a coincidence that every director following me has been a woman,” she tells the LINK.
Since leaving the Chamber just before the Millennium, she has worked as London correspondent for the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet’s business section. She also set up a company together with Stina Johannesson, (SCC Head of Communications at the time) to help Swedish companies in the UK with their communications strategies. After retiring, Ormerod penned the fictional novel Junk Male and has translated several books. She was also the co-author of A Century of Excellence, published in conjunction with the Chamber’s 100th anniversary and which deals with the first hundred years of the Chamber’s history.
In the future, Ormerod plans to continue to write. She has just finished the first draft of her second novel, The Farringdon Faultline, about a woman in a take-over battle. She is also translating a book on success stories in business, which will be published next year.
“And as a business journalist I was taught a very good lesson during my five years at the Chamber. It is very easy to write about how to run a company but a different thing to succeed in actually doing it. Still, I have nothing but happy memories from my Chamber years,” Ormerod tells the LINK.