Mike Christopherson: A Swede among Scots
26 October 2023
Having spent his career in various countries and states, including Hong Kong, Singapore and France, it was Scotland that finally captured the heart of Mike Christopherson. Now, more than 20 years later, Mike is known by the locals as “Swedish Mike”, serving as both SCC Scotland Chapter Chair, and Honorary Consul of Sweden in Edinburgh. The Link met up with him in his new hometown to learn more about the Swedish-Scottish relationship.
“The Scots really like Sweden, so it’s very easy to represent it. Many Scots want to belong to the Nordics in one way or another.”
According to Mike, there are about 4,000 Swedes living in Scotland today, despite a visible drop in numbers after Brexit. And as both Honorary Consul of Sweden in Edinburgh and SCC Scotland Chapter Chair since 2019, Mike Christopherson knows the community better than most.
“I think Swedes living here find value in having another Swede representing them. I meet a lot of Swedes who are married to Scots, as well as Swedish elderly people, who appreciate having a representative with whom they can speak Swedish.”
A crooked road from Sweden to Scotland
Originally from Stockholm, Mike has spent most of his life abroad. Starting out working for a UK insurance company, he spent the first years of his career in London, Singapore and Hong Kong. Some years later, Mike returned to Sweden to study economics, then found himself being part of the Stockholm startup scene.
“At that point, I was studying economics and thought I’d end up working for the World Bank or something like that. But I have quite an entrepreneurial spirit and ended up doing management consulting in the Stockholm startup scene instead.”
It wasn’t long before Mike felt another urge to live abroad. This time, he had his partner with him and his eyes on continental Europe. “Me and my partner at the time both felt a desire to go abroad before settling down, so we decided to try life in Paris for a year. But soon we realised that it was difficult to do business there and we had a few cultural crashes that made us feel like it wasn’t the place for us.”
Instead, the couple decided to go back to the UK, and with Mike having been to London already, they decided to try a new city – Edinburgh. It wasn't long before they knew they had picked the right place. “London wasn’t an option since we wanted to try something new, so we picked Edinburgh. We came here to try it out for a few weekends and immediately loved it – wherever you go, people are so friendly – in the streets, in the shops and the vibe is very relaxed. So, we decided to stay.”
Mike set up wine trading business, buying and trading fine wine from the Nordic countries, before going into the pub and culinary scene. “One of the few things I didn’t love about Edinburgh, was that the pub scene was quite traditional, monotonous and sometimes even rough. There weren’t any places that would appeal to a different clientele, looking for something a bit more clean or contemporary.“
One day, a small pub came up on the market and the couple decided to give it a go. “Our vision was to set up a new type of pub with a Scandi-styled interior, with open spaces, candles and flowers. But I had never run a pub before and didn’t know how it works or what you need. But we were quite bold back then and decided to try it.”
Mike dove wholeheartedly into the new business, and slowly but steadily the restaurant started growing. 15 years later, it included nine restaurants and about 200 employees and an advisory business when COVID suddenly hit the UK. “Ever since we opened the first place in 2004, I’ve been saying that I’d do it for one more year only. And I ended up saying that for 15 years. By 2019, we had grown to include nine places and 200 employees, when we were struck quite severely by the pandemic.”
Writing a new Chapter
The timing seemed right to partly exit the restaurant scene when Mike was asked by the Embassy of Sweden in London if he’d be interested in taking on the role as Honorary Consul in Edinburgh, as well as SCC Scotland Chapter Chair. Although he’d never thought about it before, he found the idea tempting and well suited with his advisory business and decided to accept the offer.
“It’s an interesting job with a lot of variation – my role has both a legal and a promotional side to it. Part of my mission is to promote and represent Sweden and Swedish interests here in Scotland, while the second part is focusing more on legal and admin tasks.”
For example, Mike supports Swedish citizens with everything from passport renewal to registration of newborns. The promotional side, on the other hand, is more about building relationships and staying up to date with important issues.
“The relationship side is key. Today, I know most of the important people here, such as Scottish politicians and ministers, business leaders and other important stakeholders. I'm also secretary of the consular courts in Scotland, which includes 52 countries meeting once a month, where we can discuss current local and international issues. “
A Swedish-Scottish bright future
Looking at the presence of Swedish businesses in Scotland, Mike is optimistic about the future. A study by the SCC showed that Swedish businesses currently employ more than 5,100 people in Scotland, and that they plan to continue to invest in new jobs in the region. Mike says he has noticed both increased activity and interest in the last few years.
“More and more Swedish businesses are looking towards Scotland as they understand that the UK has way more opportunities to offer outside of cities like London and Manchester. Scotland makes up one third of the UK geographical area, with industries such as renewable energy and medtech growing massively.”
When it comes to his own role, Mike wants to serve as a bridge, helping Nordic businesses into Scotland. “Personally, I am especially looking forward to supporting not only Swedish, but all Nordic SMEs into the country. I think the ones who get over here soon will have a massive potential to grow.”