He has worked in over 50 different countries, doing transactions, and his career has spanned 40 years in the banking business. Now, after five years as the head of the largest Nordic Bank branch in Asia, Jan Stjernström retires from SEB Singapore.
As a young banker in 1984, Swedish Jan Stjernström travelled to Southeast Asia and Singapore covering corporate clients for Citibank. The goal was to establish relationships for Citibank with Nordic clients in the region. 34 years later after covering almost the entire world within his field, he came back as the Managing Director of the SEB Singapore Branch and he is now closing the circle. ScandAsia sat down with a passionate traveller, who might be the most international banker in the Nordics covering all continents with an extensive career.
Stjernström describes it as an amazing journey and he does leave a lot behind when he is retiring in December – from setting up the first foreign bank in Sweden with a small team from Citibank in the 80s to being a member on a number of business boards including as President of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (SwedCham) – and of course the career as Managing Director of SEB Singapore.
The mild-mannered banker is overall positive about the accomplishments of his team and the state of the prosperous region:
“Yes, we have managed well but the environment has been very volatile over the last five years,” Jan Stjernström says, as he points out how he especially sees a positive shift in Malaysia given the political changes which might give room for more long term investments. One country he is especially focused on is Vietnam, which he has seen develop faster in these five years than any other country in the region.
“It’s a magnet for foreign direct investment right now and there’s a lot of manufacturing opportunities,” he says.
The key troubling aspect about South East Asia, that comes to Stjernström’s mind, is the level of corruption which hasn’t improved as much as he had expected with Singapore being the absolute exception. This is also one of the competitive challenges for Scandinavian companies due to the high standards and zero tolerance for corruption when doing business, Stjernström points out.
Even though Stjernström will be a missed talent in this region, the timing is right, he believes, and soon he and his wife will start a new life in Southern Europe. “Ingrid and I have enjoyed it in Singapore. It has been a fantastic opportunity to experience the different environments in the region and we’ve certainly made use of this,” he says.
Working around the whole world in over 50 different countries over the last 40 years, Stjernström and his wife Ingrid Stjernström Roos, are not so keen on going back full time to cold Sweden. The choice fell on sunny Portugal which the couple will use as a base over the next many years for more travelling. They both share a profound love for travelling and with 75 countries visited during a busy career, they will now be travelling at their own pace. Though Sweden is still in their hearts and the summers will be spent sailing in the “Stockholm Skärgård” (a unique archipelago in the world) and meeting with their five sons, family and friends.