25 April 2016

Emma Rydell

It is rare that you meet someone who can introduce themselves as a 'Fighter Pilot'. However, when you meet with Magnus Lewis Olsson, President of Saab Technologies EMEA, that's exactly what happens.

Lewis Olsson started flying fast jets after having graduated as an Engineering and Physics student from Chalmers University and hasn’t really stopped since. The LINK caught up with him to find out more about his thrilling career, his transition from cockpit to boardroom and his thoughts on leadership.

“I still try to fly every now and then, but it’s becoming a rare pleasure these days”, Lewis Olsson told The LINK.

After having spent ten years flying Viggen and Gripen fighters for the Swedish Air Force, Lewis Olsson finally hung up his uniform in 1999 to pursue a career as a test pilot at Saab in Linköping. Since then he has been working in Sweden and South Africa, managed a project surrounding the Gripen introduction and held the position as CEO of Saab’s local entity in South Africa before taking up his current position in London. Here, he and his team run the marketing of Saab’s entire portfolio throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Becoming a fighter pilot was a childhood dream. However, it was one specific meeting during a summer holiday in Israel that made him take the step to realise his ambitions. While on leave from national service, he decided to take an impulse trip to Israel with a friend from the unit. They had both been selected as Attack Divers in the military.

“With the crewcut and all I guess we stood out a bit among the other Swedish tourists and two other young Swedes started talking to us on the beach. They were both in pilot training and I thought, well if they can fly, so can I!”

This summer was to become important for Lewis Olsson not only because of this portentous meeting, but also because he met his wife Anne only a few days later. Today, being married with two kids, who partly have followed their father’s footsteps (his daughter studying at Chalmers University and his son is a fighter pilot flying Gripen) he is very happy with how his life has turned out.

Having taken the step from cockpit to boardroom, Lewis Olsson thinks that his background as a fighter pilot has been very useful to him over the course of his career. One of the most important things he has brought with him into his new roles is the ability to make decisions fast, without digging a hole searching for the solution to a problem.

“The underlying criteria in all flying is to make sure you fly the airplane first and sort out all other problems second. As a test pilot this was underlined even further as the machines you fly in while testing are not the finely tuned machines you find on the line of the fighter squadrons. During flight tests you will see lights on the warning panel more often than not and that does tune your instincts a bit. You can’t just pull over at a parking slot and check what’s wrong… These lessons are valuable in everyday business decisions as well, although the drama is often a bit less by the desk than in supersonic speeds”.

According to Lewis Olsson, good leadership is all about trying to lead by example and support his colleagues, allowing them to shine.

“If my colleagues are successful, I am successful and it also lessens my burden a bit. Good leadership is to have the courage to actually lead and not leave everything to be solved by a committee. Being Swedish, that´s a tough threshold to pass”.

Operating in some of the world’s most dangerous places, Lewis Olsson and his team are often faced with security issues as well as the realisation that there are threats out there, where Saab can present a solution.

“Without becoming political I think societies need to be able to protect their citizens against possible outside threats”, he says.

Among many other projects, Saab is currently busy building the latest generation of Gripen Fighter, as well as new submarines with amazing tech and a newly developed family of radars. Saab is also building a new aircraft together with Boeing in the US and are entering the civil security market throughout the world with smart software and hardware that makes it easier to connect and control police and blue-light organizations and enable airports to operate more efficiently. They also have some really inspiring CSR projects in Africa.

“Altogether, we have many thousands of state-of-the-art products and systems from the bottom of the sea to up where the sky turns a bit bluer and darker”, Lewis Olsson tells The LINK.

What about your job motivates you the most on a Monday morning?
My friends and colleagues at work and the will to make a difference for our company and for our customers who are relying on our products to protect them if the worst should happen.

What does the future hold? Plans, dreams?
My view is, and has always been, to dig where you stand. What I mean by that is to do the best ever job you can where you are today and in 9 cases out of ten it will pay dividends. However, I do still have a small dream regarding flying; it would be wonderful to fly a two-ship sortie with my son where we both fly a Gripen each. I don’t think that’s ever been done before.

How would you describe your professional self in three words?
Inclusive, inventive and straight-forward.

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