Vice president, quality
Volvo Car Corp.
When Ulla-Britt Frajdin-Hellqvist started out in 1979 as a young computer systems engineer with Volvo, she felt like a trailblazer. She was a lone woman in an all-male industry, she knew, and her career path would have to be carved through the barriers of tradition, if not bias.
She needn't have worried. More than two decades later, that path has taken her to the top ranks of the European auto industry. At 46, after moving through a succession of more responsible jobs at Volvo Car Corp., Frajdin-Hellqvist has become the automaker's first, and only, female vice president.
She won the distinction last January, when she was named Volvo's top quality-control officer. In that post, she supervised a department of 50 responsible for safeguarding Volvo quality from the purchase of parts from suppliers, through assembly, to the level of customer service at the dealership.
Early this month, Frajdin-Hellqvist was replaced by Wolff Huber, one of the company's most senior executives, as part of a reorganization and expansion of the quality office.
Huber was brought back to Sweden after Volvo shut its European sales headquarters in Brussels, which he ran.
Frajdin-Hellqvist remains a vice president reporting directly to Huber. She says her days of blazing trails are not finished.
'I think the car industry is an old industry. It's an old industry with an old culture and a male culture. Therefore women in the industry have to be pioneers. After 21 years I still feel like a pioneer,' she says.
Frajdin-Hellqvist says she tried to bring a new dimension to the job of quality-control boss.
'I would like to bring the customer experience more into the whole company - to make everybody aware that whatever they're doing is important for the end customer,' she says.
Colleagues describe the mother of two as warm, caring and extremely hard working. She filled several key executive assignments on her way to the vice presidency.
Immediately prior, she headed Volvo Car's strategic think tank, the Monitoring and Concept Center in Camarillo, California, USA.
The center, which creates new product concepts and business ideas, takes a long view of Volvo's future.
She also has served as Volvo's top environment official and as the head of new engine development.
She says the difficult task of balancing family and career over the years has been made easier by Volvo's core policy of encouraging a work-family balance.
'We like to create a culture that encourages you to have a total life,' she says. 'We strongly believe that by doing that you get better quality, a better life and a better business.'