Working in Stockholm: The opportunities for CAs

Panoramic view of Stockholm
By Greg Hopkinson CA

13 August 2015

The chance to live and work in Stockholm for three months proved too good an opportunity to miss for Greg Hopkinson CA.

The opportunity to travel with work for an extended period of time and develop an in depth knowledge of another culture does not arise every day. However, at EY a secondment program called New Horizons is offered, allowing individuals to relocate for three months to any office across the expanding global network.

The purpose of the secondment is to encourage a global mind-set, transfer knowledge between employees and develop high performing teams.

For myself, a newly qualified CA, the opportunity of a short change in lifestyle and to continue to develop my understanding of different cultures was too good to turn down. In addition, it also provided me with a unique opportunity to leverage the commercially focused CA qualification in a new market with new clients.

Work life balance

Renowned for its style, H&M and, most importantly, meatballs, Stockholm offers an excellent work life balance.

There are few cities that can compete with Stockholm's ability to offer a taste of modern urban life, historical culture and wonderful countryside all in one day. Built on fourteen islands, it's a city of contrasts, with each island comprising a different culture and experience. Although the city may not hold landmark tourist attractions, it offers a range of unique cultural experiences from the low key and casual coffee scene in Sodermalm to the high end fine dining restaurants in Östermalm.

Like my home city of Edinburgh, Stockholm is heavily impacted by the weather. In the summer the city benefits from approximately twenty hours of sun light a day and temperatures comparable to a London summer. During this time a host of parks throughout the city become an excellent venue for outdoor sports, restaurants and socialising. Djurgården, an island in the south west of Stockholm is the largest and provides a popular outdoor space for tourist and locals. This is also a great place to find some of the best views of the city. The close proximity of a number of parks to the city centre produces an outdoor and active life style which overall contributes to its work life balance.

Swedish innovation

My role as a corporate finance executive at EY has allowed me to integrate and develop business relationships with a range of Swedish board level management. The most noticeable observation from discussions with these individuals and their respective organisations is their global mentality, appetite for value adding acquisitions and entrepreneurial nature.

Sweden is well known for a number of large, innovative, multinational brands however, my exposure to the mid-market environment has highlighted that this mentality runs through the economy and is heavily integrated into the wider corporate culture. In addition, their appetite for international expansion over the past three months has focused on the UK, Germany and other Nordic countries with an emphasis on good corporate governance and operational control, international potential and strong leadership.

Understanding the additional focus on these factors and identifying the relevant risks has been an important commercial and operational learning curve during my secondment.

A number of internationalisation theories have commented on the similarities between the British and Swedish business environment. Based on my brief exposure to the Swedish business environment, the emphasis of conducting business and developing integrated relationships is highly similar. The nature in which meetings are typically commenced and introductions made is open and mutually beneficial. In addition, the importance of mid-market innovation and international expansion is paramount to the success of the economy, a view which is widely accepted across the two countries.

One noticeable difference between the Swedish and UK working environments relates to the office spaces, whereby Swedish companies have typically generated an improved working environment compared to the UK.

In Stockholm there is significant focus and investment from the majority of corporations to provide an open and efficient environment; combining the latest communication technology and innovative space solutions. A simple solution available in all offices was a height adjusting desk which allowed the option to continue working whilst standing. I personally found the combination of these typically increased internal communications and contributed to a highly productive working environment.

Stockholm Panoramic 

International competition

Similar to the UK, the Nordics have a number of highly active private equity companies that target a range of sectors and scale primarily across the Nordic region and Europe.

A number of these private equity companies compete directly for the best transactions with comparable firms in the UK and US. This has developed a highly competitive transaction market with the demands on all parties during a deal as intense as the thrust of London or New York.

EY has an excellent relationship with the majority of the local private equity firms and this provided me with the opportunity to travel to Helsinki for six weeks. What surprised me was the difference in culture and environment between Stockholm and Helsinki. Although only an hour flight, the most noticeable difference is the communication styles between the two countries.

Based on my experience it is common for meetings in Finland to pause for up to ten minutes whilst individuals consider the various topics being discussed. I have learnt that understanding the local differences between the Nordic countries is vital in conducting business across the region and generating effective relationships.  

The benefit of the CA qualification

The CA training ensured I had an excellent accounting and commercial mind-set which allowed me to add significant value to EY and external clients during my secondment. Based on my first experience of working abroad, the CA brand has an excellent reputation across markets and industries. The commercial knowledge gained during the CA training provides you with an understanding on methods to approach new markets and new challengers in a highly effective manner. During my secondment I have regularly relied on this knowledge to provide value adding advice to clients.

Overall, this international secondment in Stockholm has reiterated my belief that increasing an awareness of different cultures can accelerate your career and encourage global networks. EY has introduced a fantastic global mobility program which allows individuals to develop a global mind-set and an awareness of cultural differences from an early stage.

A global secondment is a highly rewarding and challenging experience, and an exciting opportunity to develop new skills and networks. I would thoroughly recommend CA's at various stages of their career to leverage the prestigious and commercially focused CA training and challenge themselves in a new business and cultural environment.

Greg Hopkinson CA is a transaction support executive with EY. This article first appeared in the August 2015 edition of The CA magazine.

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