Susanne Hagglund, 41
Vice president and head of car service business, Volvo Cars
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
I started as head of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars. What appeals to me is the multidimensional disruption that the automotive industry is undergoing. This rapid transformation creates so many opportunities.
Family: Husband, Fredrik; twin sons, Simon and Anton, 6
Born: Malmo, Sweden
Languages: Swedish, English, Spanish
Education: Master’s degree in business administration and international trade and bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting, Gothenburg School of Economics and Law, Gothenburg, Sweden
Your greatest achievement?
During the Great Recession I had to lay off 10 percent of my staff. That was very challenging. However, we quickly recovered. By the end of the crisis we were proud to show 8 percent growth in year-on-year revenue. We also scored much higher in our work climate analysis compared with before the global financial crisis. It shows that sometimes good things can come from painful times.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
There was a time when I didn’t confront a team of high performing co-workers. They built an unhealthy subculture within my organization. They saw themselves as superior and cooler than everyone else. As a result, others felt excluded and less valuable. I learned then that I should have trusted my instincts. I should have had a conversation with their leader along with the entire group to stop this unhealthy behavior. By having an open dialogue early, it would have been easier to avoid the judgmental and confrontational feedback that resulted.
What is your current challenge at work?
Just like everyone, I have been trying to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by bringing structure, calmness and hope to my team. We have made decisions despite a lot of uncertainty. Through it all, we put our people, customers and business first. This industry has a long history and strong legacy. I want to encourage people to try new things, test, fail with controlled risk, learn and reach higher. Part of that is bringing confidence and support to my colleagues during times of disruption and uncertainty. My goal is also to be a strong, trusted and respected female leader in this still very male-dominated industry. I want to stay loyal to my values, stay true to my style, lead by example and avoid letting rules made by men take over.
July 2019-present: Vice president and head of service business, Volvo Cars, Gothenburg, Sweden
2018-2019: Director of corporate strategy, head of corporate strategy and head of commercial transformation, Volvo Cars, Gothenburg
2008-2018: Managing director in business development, SKF Group, Gothenburg and Singapore
2006-2008: Management consultant, Capgemini Consulting, Stockholm, Sweden
2006-2008: Management consultant Balance Scorecard Collaborative, Gothenburg
What is the best advice you have ever received?
To engage and make a difference as a leader, you have to be transparent, approachable and show vulnerability. That way you will bring out the best in your people so that you can make change happen as a team.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Be true to who you are. Have the courage to challenge the status quo regardless of legacies and past results. It’s also very important to respect and care about others and build strong, positive relationships with them. Treat people the same, regardless of organizational hierarchies, because everyone has value.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
I would like to lead, transform and grow an independent business as a managing director or CEO either inside or outside the automotive industry.
What do you do to relax?
I like to go for a run in an out-of-the-way natural space. Ideally, my run is followed by a Thai massage.
What is your dream location to live?
I love the culture, climate and nature of Southeast Asia. I got to live in Singapore at one point. It’s a fantastic country and I would move back there tomorrow if given the opportunity.
What is your favorite driving song?
That’s a difficult question because I love music and listen to so many different genres. Right now, I enjoy listening to “Canopee” by Polo & Pan. It always puts me in a great mood.
What was your favorite road trip and why?
My brother and I toured New Zealand for six weeks. We traveled from the southern part of the country to the north. We had no reservations and just followed the advice of locals on where to stay and what to see. It was very liberating to simply take the days as they came.
What was your first car?
A black Volvo 740.
What is your current car?
An XC40 plug-in hybrid.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
Our V90 T8 plug-in hybrid – since it is fast and lean. It cares about the environment just like I do. It is spacious and invites you to take adventures with family and friends. However, if I briefly allow myself to be disloyal to my brand, I would be a Porsche Panamera.