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Published

14 October 2016

Birdwatching industrial leader new Mistra Chair

In Johan Söderström, Country Manager Sweden for ABB, Mistra has found a Board Chairman with a wide-ranging background in Swedish industry. He is also a birdwatcher and a team player lauded for his contributions to enhancing collaboration between academia and industry.

After six years as Chair, Lena Treschow Torell left Mistra’s Board last summer. The Government appointed Johan Söderström, Country Manager Sweden for ABB, as a new Board member and following an inaugural meeting in July he also became Board Chair.

‘It felt terrific to be asked. I have great respect for all the good work Mistra does. Mistra’s activities are important not only for Swedish research and industry, but also for our planet,’ he says.

Söderström has an extensive personal network. He not only heads ABB’s Swedish operations but also chairs the Swedish Association of Engineering Industries, is a board member at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and also belongs to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. These roles were key reasons for his Government appointment, according to Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog, who expressed her view that his close ties with industry would be ‘especially important in the Board’s work’.

‘For the Board, it’s very much about being open to trends in various sectors and not getting stuck in old attitudes. The members, with our various backgrounds, collectively support Mistra’s Executive Director and secretariat in their management of the research programmes,’ Söderström says.

Long career in ABB

His career has been almost exclusively bound up with ABB. After getting his MSc in Engineering at Linköping University, at the age of 25 he started working as a trainee at ABB. After that he held senior positions at various levels in this joint Swedish and Swiss industrial conglomerate. In 2011 he becane Country Manager Sweden and then, in spring 2016, took over ABB’s operations in Denmark as well.

In his nature-loving family, an interest in the environment was established at a young age. Growing up in Västerås, he was attracted to field biology and birdwatching. These interests contributed to a professional commitment to environmental and sustainability issues — one so successful that in 2015 Söderström was named ‘Sustainable Leader of the Year’ by the business weekly Veckans Affärer.

ABB has not been directly involved in any Mistra-supported research programmes under his leadership. However, the company has a history more than a century long of successful R&D work of its own, but also of cooperation and long-term partnerships with academics and other enterprises alike. Today, ABB is working with some 70 universities around the world.

‘Personally, I believe strongly in collaboration between academia and industry. I very much favour basic research, but applied research is important too. Irrespective of company or organisation size, it’s vital not to exclude stakeholders capable of contributing new viewpoints to the research.’

Aiming at UN Sustainability Development Goals

During his years at ABB, Johan Söderström has worked purposefully to promote relations between universities and industry. For this work, he has been rewarded with a gold medal for industrial collaboration by both KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Mälardalen University.

On the question of which environmental challenges should be prioritised in Mistra’s upcoming work, Söderström prefers not to pick out any particular area. Instead, he emphasises the UN Sustainability Development Goals as a key starting point.

‘The 17 Goals summarise extremely well the great challenges facing Sweden and the world, which Mistra will work on in various combinations from now on.’

Whether, and if so how, Mistra’s work will be affected by having Johan Söderström as Board Chair remains to be seen. Mistra’s ambition of trying to tackle important environmental and sustainability challenges and stay in the vanguard in terms of research will remain, he assures us.

‘Mistra’s asset management is doing a brilliant job. Mistra has plenty of money, so we’re going to have the scope to keep up our vigorous initiatives.’

facts

Johan Söderström, Mistra’s new Board Chair

Age: 54

Family: married, two children

Qualifications: ABB Country Manager Sweden and Denmark; Chair of the Swedish Association of Engineering Industries; board member of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise; member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.

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