Swedish Business Footprint in the North West
12 January 2024
As one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and the strongest economy in the UK outside London, Manchester, the regional capital of the North West of England, has taken huge steps in transforming its industrial roots into a diverse and dynamic market for businesses to thrive. We spoke to Annette Borén, the SCC’s North West Chapter Chair about the region’s recent development and how she came to call Manchester home.
“The marketplace is very big, and it is growing. And the City of Manchester is growing, it's a very dynamic place,” says Annette Borén, SCC North West Chapter Chair and newly appointed CFO and board member of radiator manufacturer Stelrad.
Reflecting on the development of the North West, Annette says that the region and its main cities have gone through a massive transformation in the past ten years. “The fact that construction has been thriving, has clearly transformed the Manchester city centre. It looks very different today, compared to ten years ago, and I've been able to see it with my own eyes. The same has happened in Liverpool, and Leeds is another city that has gone through a complete transformation as well.”
Fastest growing economy outside London
Traditionally strong in manufacturing, the economy in the North West is today dominated by the service sector. Sectors on the rise include science and healthcare, advanced materials, digital, and financial services, not least in Manchester, which is the economic centre of the region. The city is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, and the UK’s largest and fastest growing economy outside London. “A lot of companies in London relocate some areas of their business or their complete businesses to Manchester because the business rates are better. And because we have one of Europe’s biggest student populations in Manchester, it is quite easy to recruit really great talents.”
A diverse and dynamic city
An estimated 200 languages are spoken in Manchester, making it a diverse and multicultural city, something that, according to Annette, is only adding to the city’s dynamics. “I think these dynamics are very interesting. A lot of people with different nationalities, from different countries, cultures, and religions, they all meet in Manchester. And it just creates a very interesting vibe.”
How Manchester became home
Before putting down her roots in Manchester, Annette started her career with Atlas Copco, where she held several positions throughout the years. “I started in the company’s Unirock division in Fagersta, in the mining districts of Sweden, before moving on to Ockelbo,” she recalls.
Later, her career would take her to one of Atlas Copco’s sales units in Paris, to a position at the head office in Stockholm, and then to the Cash Pool in London. “I had a very good start to my finance career with Atlas Copco. I learned at lot about the importance of policies and processes, and quite early on, I learned to interact with very senior people, which has helped me in my decision making going forward.”
When Annette started building her family and got children, they decided to move to Helsingborg, in the south of Sweden, to be close to family and friends. “I started a career in banking and insurance, first with Skandia. Then I followed my manager to Länsförsäkringar, which then opened up an opportunity for me to become the CFO at Doro, a Swedish company listed at NASDAQ OMX.”
It wasn’t before long a new international opportunity knocked on the door, when Annette was headhunted by Hilti, a multi-national business serving the construction industry, with its Northern Europe hub located in Manchester. “At the time, it wasn't on my radar to move. And it was definitely not on my radar to move to another country or to Manchester. But I was very attracted with the core values, the people agenda, and how successful they are in the market.”
Nonetheless, Anette started to commute and then, her family joined her in Manchester. “We integrated the children in the English schooling system and realised the education for them here is very solid.” And soon enough, they felt settled down. “This is where we have our children and family. That's why we've started to call Manchester home and it's a lovely place to live in.”
Connecting Swedish businesses in the North West
Having been working with Hilti for a couple of years, Annette wanted to re-connect with, in her words, “something Swedish” and contacted the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK to discuss a membership. The discussions took a quick turn when she was offered the position as the Chamber’s North West Chapter Chair, as the previous holder of the role was stepping down. “And then I decided, why not? It sounded like a fantastic opportunity to get even more connected with the Swedish businesses in the area and support the Chamber with the work that they are doing. I think it is amazing to connect Swedish businesses with opportunities in UK, but also British businesses looking to connect with Sweden.”
A growing community
Looking back at some of the highlights from her nine years as North West Chapter Chair, Annette remembers when Manchester United became members. “I think that was a fantastic milestone for the area and for the Chamber in the North West.” A more recent milestone was the Swedish Business Footprint in the North West event organised in Manchester in September. “What we did at that event, was involving the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Andy Burnham's office, but also connecting with universities, to make sure that we work together to contribute to more quality and more output from the region.”
According to Annette, the Chamber is growing as a community and gaining momentum in the North West. She mentions Anticimex’s recent investment in North West-based Pestokill, Essity’s four paper mills, and IKEA’s expansion of several collect and order points in the region, as examples of the positive development. “The event we held in September was part of this, really connecting and establishing the Swedish community even more firmly in the area.”
Putting Manchester at the front
While perhaps still overshadowed by London, Manchester and the North West have come a long way in boosting the region’s economy and productivity. “I think there's so much more we can do to put Manchester a bit more at the front and next to London, as a really good alternative. There are, for example, more than a handful of big private equity companies with a base in Manchester for a reason. I think Manchester is an excellent entry point into the UK market.”