Christina Liljeström MD 2004- 2009: “Being the right person for the job is more important than being male or female, younger or older.”
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.
Christina Liljeström first came to London to study as an exchange student at the London School of Economics. Following the completion of her studies she started working for the official publication of the World Economic Forum and later for banking and finance magazine Euromoney. When she saw that the Swedish Chamber of Commerce was looking for a Communications Manager, she felt that this would be the ideal role for her, applied and subsequently got the job. She spent three years working alongside the MD Ulla O’Barius, and was encouraged to apply for the role as Managing Director when O’Barius was leaving.
“I remember wondering how I would be able to do what my boss and mentor had been doing? But, the Board believed in me and I recruited a great team of very competent, hard-working, highly dedicated people, who were a joy to work with: Peter Sandberg, Communication Manager, Sofie Zetterlund, Membership Manager and all Scholars and Interns during my years with the Chamber. And of course Elisabet Baldwin, the office manager, who was already there”, Liljeström tells The LINK.
While at the Chamber, Liljeström concentrated on recruiting new and retaining older Members, while continuing to develop Chamber events and IT infrastructure, planning a new website and visual profile and establishing a new scholarship. However, she was also lucky to be at the Chamber for its 100th Anniversary and this was of course the main focus during her time as MD.
“I especially remember the six months leading up to the centenary celebrations, with the significant amount of hours put in by everyone and the great result we achieved with three big events in two days, bringing together over 1,000 people, royal guests, important politicians and the Anglo-Swedish business community in Sweden and in the UK. I am very proud and happy to have been part of this important celebration.”
However, despite the importance of the occasion, Liljeström’s best memory of the celebrations is not the gala dinner, welcoming the 700 guests at the Dorchester together with Chairman Sir Roger Gifford, or even getting to dance with HRH The Duke of Kent, or formally greeting HRH Crown Princess Victoria, or the fantastic conference with the very distinguished speakers.
“What I will always fondly remember is IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad; from his personal phone call to me about accepting the Chamber’s Centenary “Life-time Achievement Award”, to when he received the price from the Crown Princess, kissed her hand, starting his speech in Swedish until his late wife made him switch to English with a loud ‘Men Ingvar!’”, she says.
Liljeström believes that it is important for leaders to surround themselves with people that encourage and support them, in order to achieve goals. She is confident that anyone, working with something that they are passionate about, will probably also be good at it. For her, being able to focus on what one believes in when it comes to business and leadership, is more important than gender, age, the glass ceiling or any other challenges.
“From work and life experience, I have acquired a more pragmatic way of looking at the glass ceiling. From my experience, and I was both young and a woman, you have to rely on your strengths in business, and whether you are a man or a woman – you need to perform well and exceed expectations to do a great job”.
After leaving the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK, Liljeström worked at Erik Penser Bank in Stockholm and is now Secretary General of the British-Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Sweden. She has managed to combine both of these positions with having a family.
“Despite the fact that I started working for the bank three months before the due date of my second baby, the then CEO of Erik Penser Bank, Peter Melbi, welcomed me with open arms and made it possible for me – and other female and male colleges – to combine a career and a family. Now, I am at the BSCC – a position that the then Chairman of the BSCC Board and then CEO of Handelsbanken Pär Boman, recruited me to during my maternity leave with my third child,” she says.
Working for the BSCC in Stockholm is great, according to Liljeström who describes it as smaller but almost as fun Chamber. However, she is still very keen to keep in contact with the SCC network. Liljeström remembers the Chamber with great warmth, a lot of happiness, hard work and positive energy.
“Most of the people within the network were greatly inspirational people. From my almost eight years with the Chamber I bring with me a fantastic network of good friends and business contacts. I truly learnt a lot from my years with the Chamber – especially about people, by also about a vast variety of businesses and politics”.