British businesswoman and extraordinary expat Lucy Robertshaw shares with YLC readers her experiences from the Swedish business sector – this month she met with expat entrepreneur Nick Chipperfield.
I recently met Nick Chipperfield – a UK-expat of 14 years – for lunch on the beautiful island of Gamla Stan (the Old Town) in central Stockholm. Over a typically English portion of fish and chips, we chatted about everything from the weapons trade to Swedish social policy.
Nick came to Sweden to work at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on a twelve-month contract. SIPRI provides data and analysis on international security. While there, Nick researched the trade in major conventional weapons.
So, how did twelve months become 14 years and counting? One important reason was love: he fell in love with his neighbour, a lovely Swede. And crucially, Nick also found that the burgeoning Stockholm job market had plenty to offer.
“There is so much to do here – if you’re willing to take the first step and be flexible,” says Nick.
After SIPRI, he turned his hand to retail, working with leading (formally Swedish) clothing brand Gant. Then there was also a stint at French news agency AFP, and a year at Swedish Radio’s English Service where he was a reporter and producer.
Setting up single-handed
Following a further five years at international marketing agency Open Communications, Nick now runs his own company, Chips with Everything, that supplies a wide variety of clients with English content – text and voiceovers – as well as PR, editing and translation services.
Nick says that he feels the Swedish labour market is flexible, and while he says Sweden is a country where you “don’t have to worry about speaking the language at first, it’s extremely useful to learn.”
“Learning the language also helps your integration into daily life – and therefore your happiness – enormously. Also, if you’ve decided to set up shop in a country, it’s a bit rude not to!” he adds.
This is a particularly interesting point. Many of the expats I meet in Stockholm have trouble finding work because they haven’t learnt Swedish.
“I reckon you have a two-to-three-year grace period to learn the language,” Nick says.
This immediately makes me really hope that I am on the road to getting there with the lingo. Nick goes on to say that in a business situation you tend to need to speak Swedish convincingly to build trust and form a bond with clients – especially in sensitive discussions such as those related to budgeting and contracts. I find that after living here for more than six to 12 months, you need to make a decision on whether to stay and make a life here or not, and I think this is really important to growing roots.
But why is Sweden so popular with expats, and why is it often cited as an example of how to do things by other countries? A number of high profile figures have visited the country in recent weeks: Vince Cable MP and President Obama for example. I asked Nick why he thought that these people and others are heading to the “Capital of Scandinavia” and Sweden as a whole.
Nick says that while flaws remain, and inequality has grown in recent years, Sweden has managed to incorporate elements of the free market and the welfare state.
“And yes, taxes are harsh, but I think you see where the money goes here more than is perhaps the case elsewhere.”
The economy remains buoyant, and there is, in his view, a healthy work-life balance with, for example, generous benefit payments to encourage parents, and specifically fathers, to spend more time with their children.
Sweden also scores highly on sustainability and reducing environmental impact. According to recent reports, Sweden is so effective at recycling waste, that it is now importing some 80,000 tonnes of rubbish from neighbouring Norway annually. And this is important to many, Nick included.
“I like living in a country where genuine emphasis is placed on the environment,” he says.
Originally from Manchester UK, Lucy has over 15 years experience working in the business sector. After moving to Sweden two years ago she started her own company offering clients International Business Development. Although a self-professed and successful socialite when it comes to business networking, Lucy lives in the middle of the forest in Hölö, loves the tranquillity and finds this a very inspirational place to work.