Mr Håkan Jevrell, Sweden’s new ambassador to Singapore presented on October 30th 2013 his credentials to the President of the Republic of Singapore Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam. But at that time he had already been busy for a month, basically, as he describes it, jumping on board the train and then fast forward.
His intense first few months peaked in December with the finalisation of the budget proposal for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Sweden for the activities planned for the year 2014.
Navigating their focus
Håkan Jevrell feels it is too soon to outline more precisely what will be most in focus but he is still able to share some ideas with ScandAsia. And he has already been able to find his feet in his new home Singapore, the first position as Ambassador for him.
“There are good reasons to continue with the same activities from previous years, we’re looking forward to that. And we’ll see where we land in the planning, if we should find new angles,” he begins.
“We are here to support Sweden, and help Swedish companies, and we want to see Singapore investing in Sweden. But with the fairly limited resources we have the question is how to best use our resources, where to place our emphasis.”
He says the embassy is navigating how to focus on companies – those established since many years back as well as newly arrived and smaller companies.
“Spontaneously I can say that the dialogue with the companies is decisive for how we should use our resources.“
“We look at all things of interest but we have the fundamental priorities. The work to find various ways to place Sweden on the map here will continue,” he states.
Håkan Jevrell gives the impression of being comfortable in his new role and an ambassador who is easily approachable for anyone with needs and ideas. It shines through that he is clearly more than satisfied to be in Singapore and in this capacity.
In fact he learned about it on the last day one could apply to the Ambassador position. So he did, after consulting his wife who is well versed in the world of Sweden’s foreign missions, having grown up abroad as the daughter of one the country’s former ambassadors. She encouraged her husband to apply, being of the opinion that if one gets the chance one should definitely take it.
“She also thinks that this is a fantastic. We’re a team having come here, regardless of official roles, and that is what will create the preconditions,” says the Ambassador.
“I applied – and here I am,” he smiles, having been awarded this top ambassador position most certainly applying in competition with many who have been on previous ambassador positions.
Different than the traditional diplomat background his career up until the appointment include Secretary of State at Ministry of Defence during fives years (as his most recent position), working at the Moderate party’s parliamentary secretariat developing their rights policies ahead of the 2006 election, political expert at the Cabinet Office and several periods as prosecutor at a district court in Stockholm – which he did until coincidence led him into politics.
“I come from a navy family, so I love the marine life, and being here in Singapore in that perspective. I was the black sheep in the family who is reserve and not professional officer.”
As Secretary of State he gained large international experience and also visited Singapore.
“That was an eye-opener when I was here in 2009 – it’s a fantastic place to be in. So when I saw that this job was on the market I reacted with excitement.”
Many events and annual traditions
During the autumn the Ambassador and the embassy have hosted and attended a variety of events and functions, including meeting invited Singaporeans who has studied in Sweden, host a Santa Lucia Christmas celebration, receiving the Swedish Minister for Financial Markets on a visit, hosting a Nobel reception (in recognition of the close research collaboration between Sweden and Singapore celebrate the spirit of research, in memory of Alfred Nobel), and also a business delegation to Vietnam.
The annual tradition to invited former Singaporean students to Sweden to the Ambassador’s Residence is done with intention.
The more than 400 Singaporeans going to different universities in Sweden (most popular destination in the EU, after the UK for exchange students) every year bring back positive views on the business climate in Sweden, Swedish entrepreneurship and leadership style.
“Those invited are the most recent returns from Sweden so it’s about catching them and making them remembering Sweden and staying in touch and making sure we also remember them. What is so fantastic is the very positive image of Sweden from these students,” thinks the Ambassador.
“Our message is that of course they should start working within Swedish companies, and I think many would want that. So we are looking at ways of expression to meet Swedish companies, some form of networking onwards. It’s a matter of continuing to catch them into the network.”
It is a focus area for the embassy. Singaporean students’ knowledge and relationship to Sweden contributes to strengthening the close ties between the two countries.
The Ambassador sees them as valuable for Swedish companies also when it comes to going about their business and adapting products and services so they can work well over here.
The transformation of Swedish Trade Council that lead to Business Sweden being created is soon also bearing fruit, as the new organisation is posting a representative in Singapore in 2014, which the Ambassador welcomes with enthusiasm.
“It’s great, from several points of view: you now have something like 250 Swedish companies here and that means there are many things to do and not only within Singapore but the perspective of outlook towards the region. But I think we are increasingly seeing smaller companies coming here and, of course, if we can together – Business Sweden, SBAS and the Embassy – help newly arrived companies to navigate in the landscape in such a way that they can avoid making the same mistakes as others did before – then we can ease the process and contribute to further growth back home too.”
“I see it as precondition that resources from the Swedish state must work well together, so we will make sure to do that,” is his message. “Of course we have different tasks and interests, but the overall interest is that Swedish companies should do better here.”
SBAS is equally a significant local stakeholder.
As for smaller and new companies entering the market it is still early days for the new Ambassador to assess.
“Now, with a layman’s evaluation of the development, but my feeling is that Sweden have been present here for a long time with the Swedish multinationals. Then the development in society has been the one that now you cannot deliver a product but it has to come with a service package around it, so the larger companies have also developed into offering service around their products.”
This, he believes, will increasingly lead to that these companies must also bring a professional service sector along with them and that understands the markets here and that are able to join with them, their clients, closely.
“Now they are seeing this need so I believe strongly in the service sector – which in itself is very broad; you have all types of services that can be delivered.”
“I have seen from back home service companies with customers having operations here and realising that they must join here. And since the companies have their regional hub here the services, even if they are to result in business in the surrounding countries, will have the point of departure from supporting the companies here.“
Singapore is a winner on this, because things are fast and efficient in terms of starting up a company and with transparency, whereas surrounding countries still have challenges, thinks the Ambassador.
The Swedish Embassy can only do so much within their resources, so collaborating with the business community and applying for project funding are key.
“Of course, with more resources we would be able to participate more and be a driver in creating own Swedish or Nordic events. Two dilemmas here where are: first, making your voice heard here is not easy by any means – so many things are constantly happening here. Secondly, it is extremely expensive, to rent event space etc., so I think it’s a matter for us to be smart, together with SBAS and Business Sweden to be seen and heard in ways and places that are unexpected so we get the attention we need.”