A country located in the north of Europe, famous for its beautiful nature, iron and many lakes. That was all Yvonne Chen knew about Sweden when she decided to study the Swedish language instead of the traditional German or English, like many of her student friends.
”We called ourselves pandas. Very few students studied the Swedish language back then so we felt very special. My classmates and I became very close,” she said.
She could have ended up working in a Chinese company with Swedish ties or for the Chinese government in the diplomatic sector after graduating from Beijing Foreign Studies University. That would have been the most usual case. But not for Yvonne Chen.
“The government used to find jobs for the graduated students. But the year that I graduated there had been a reform and we had to find our own jobs. That came as a surprise, what could we do,” Chen said.
Impressed by efficiency
Beijing Scandinavian Furniture Company, a manufacturer of modern Scandinavian office furniture became her first employer and her main task was to set up the company in Beijing. Three years later she started to work with tourism, another branch within the same company.
Chen had the opportunity to live in Sweden for a couple of months and besides that she found it to be a beautiful country, she was most impressed by the new technology that was used in Sweden.
“In China we use a lot of people to do one thing, in Sweden one person can do so many things. It’s so much more efficient. At the same time, the Chinese government need to give everyone something to do in China, everyone has to work,” Chen said.
After that she started working for the trading company Elof Hansson. But after nearly one year she had to search for another job due to changes in that company.
Started at the Chamber
Then she joined the Swedish Chamber of Commerce.
”The Chamber had not really been founded yet, but my boss gave me a good recommendation and by the time the Chamber was established, I started working there,” Yvonne Chen said.
The Chamber had 60 companies that were members when it was founded in 1998. Most of them were representative offices and some were manufacturing companies. Today there are around 240 member companies in both Beijing and Shanghai.
”When we first started, Ikea had one office in Beijing. Today they have around 7-8 stores around China,” Chen said.
Advice on start-up
According to Chen, one of the Chamber’s main tasks has been to support companies in China and give them advice of how to run their business in the country but also helping companies to network with other Swedish companies, both bigger and smaller by arranging member events.
“We notice that these events have been very well appreciated, especially when we invited different Chinese or Swedish ministers to be guest speakers. We give our members a platform to network on,” she said.
Yvonne Chen mentions that the Chamber during latest year has been working with informing Chinese clients and staff how to understand Swedish management style and in 2011 will promote more Swedish culture issues.
She mentions one commonplace thing about the way Chinese people think about their Swedish clients or staff when the Swedish manager goes for one month leave during summer time.
“We explain that in Sweden during winter time, there is barely any light. That’s why when the summer arrives, Swedish people take their holidays, so instead of seeing their client or boss as strange, they will understand the reason why,” Yvonne said.
A stronger Chamber
The Swedish Chamber of Commerce in China tries to frequently have breakfast meetings, workshops, seminars and social events both in Beijing and in Shanghai, have a good contact with their members and keeping them updated with what’s going on, they are also trying to develop a Chapter in the South and has a good cooperation with the Swedish Young professionals (SYP).
“The SYP is good for students and not just business, I think we have a great relation. This is good for both,” Chen said.
Since 2005 Yvonne has been the General Manager at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in China and has no plans to quit. Instead she is looking forward to be able to develop new ways to support their members of the Chamber and uphold a higher profile.
“We want the Chamber to become stronger and stronger and see Swedish companies make it in China,” Chen said.