Chamber Women - Two Decades of Female MDs, Ulla O'Barius

22 February 2016

Emma Rydell

Ulla O’Barius MD 1999 – 2004: “Leadership is a question of personality”


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.

Ulla O’Barius, who succeeded Pia Helena Ormerod as the next MD of the Chamber, also has a background in journalism. Prior to moving to London, she was the Head of the Department of Journalism (JMG) at Gothenburg University and then the Managing Editor of Sweden’s second largest newspaper, Göteborgs-Posten. However, as a new London-based journalist, she was seeking networking opportunities at Chamber events and after a few years in the SCC Network she decided to get more involved.

“I was recommended to send in my application to the Council as they were looking for a new Director - and I got the job,” O’Barius tells The LINK.

During her five years as MD, O’Barius continued to work on the SCC. Her ambition was to develop a Chamber that would be of benefit to Member companies of all sizes – from start-ups that would gain most from networking and so developing their businesses – right through to international corporates.

“We had around 70 events a year and I wanted to establish a ‘club feeling’ in which every single Member felt as welcome and important as the others – at least to me. I also wanted to meet and inspire trainees, interns and scholars – this was one of my favourite challenges.”

Her best and most significant memory from the Chamber years was when they reached a total of 500 Member companies.

“It was a big goal and we all worked hard to achieve it.”

O’Barius says she only have good memories from her time at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and that she forged important relationships that are still going strong today.

“I am happy to say I count quite a few former colleagues and Members as my personal friends to this day and we still meet up now and then to enjoy our reminiscences and maintain our friendships”

Having been a leader most of her professional life, O’Barius says that she have never reflected about herself as a female leader.

“I think leadership is a question of personality and the ability to show interest in the people around you, to be loyal to your organisation or company - and to take enormous joy and energy from watching and helping your organisation and the people in it to grow. My belief is that the most important challenge to all leaders is always to put their employees and their organisation before their own careers.”

Since leaving the Chamber, O’Barius has returned to her core profession – journalism. She has since written numerous articles for Swedish magazines on English and Swedish interior design in both countries. She also works with not-for profit organisations and chairs the Båstad Chamber Music Society. As part of this role she organises the Society’s annual Chamber Music Festival, which will have its 25th anniversary in 2017.

Future plans include creating a new website and podcasts, as well as writing articles about the importance of integrating culture - music, art and film into the Båstad society, otherwise mostly known for its tennis.

“And yes, I have a dream - of getting leading representatives within the business and political sphere as happy as I am to understand the meaning, relevance and importance of good culture in modern society”, O’Barius tells The LINK.


 Photo credit: Niklas Gustavsson

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