“I want to see more female managers given the space to be themselves and blossom. We are in the minority and of course, we adapt to fit in. However, I believe we should feel able to be daring, creative and allowed to fail without being judged too harshly. We have so much to give, it just needs liberating.”
This quote sums up Viveka Söderlund, the quietly determined Director of Credit and Operations at VFS Nordic. She may have adopted the Swedish reserve and modesty of her homeland, but in matters of principle she is not afraid to speak up.
Clear social contract
It was principle that brought the 55-year-old mother of two boys to VFS in the first place. “Working for VFS it’s easy to think that all companies abide by a strong code of conduct, but that’s not the case,” Viveka says. “I went to VFS because it has a clear strategic direction and a social contract about how you do business and how people are treated. What I need from my managers is direction, trust and hope. Maybe not every day, but in general I feel we get this at VFS.”
Viveka was born in Stockholm to a headmaster father and pre-school teacher mother. They instilled a work ethic and love of learning, especially languages. Fluent in English and French, and pretty good at German, Viveka studied Business Administration at Gothenburg’s School of Economics. A ‘curious adventurer’, Viveka worked as an au pair in France and did a student exchange that took her to French-speaking Quebec City in Canada. “They didn’t speak any French I could understand,” she laughs. “It took me a while to get my head around the accent.”
A career as an interpreter was abandoned and Viveka spent a decade working for the financial arm of Swedish furniture giant IKEA. Here she came into contact with its charismatic founder Ingvar Kamprad, who she adopted as a role model.
“He was humble, determined, low key and yet intense,” Viveka says. “He was a visionary but rarely directive – rather he left enough space for people to decide on the best way to achieve what was needed. This released a lot of energy in the whole organization, which triggered an outburst of creativity and collaboration. I try to follow that example now with my team, and even my children, in that I point out the direction and the purpose, and leave enough room for creativity – even the odd mistake.”
New tech, new cultures
Having worked in Denmark, Canada, Norway, France and Germany, Viveka thrives on diverse cultures. “I’m not here for the numbers or the reporting,” she says. “I’m here for the people. It’s important to be happy in what we do. That works both ways, so whenever I have a touchpoint with a team member my first question is always: ‘How are you?’.”
Viveka is getting her fix of different cultures being a member of VFS’ Captivate leadership development program. It is designed to make better leaders in a fast changing world of new technologies, new business models, digitalization and disruptive trends. “We need to lead into a future that is unknown, embrace change and dare to try new things,” says Viveka. “The program has been a unique learning experience, combining individual coaching, team dynamics, community awareness and, not least, meeting fantastic people!”
A love of the arts and a keen reader of the classics, Viveka is, however, no gardener. “I’m diligent at work and as a mother – but something has to give,” she laughs. In all other respects Viveka is brimming with energy. “I’m enthusiastic and resilient,” she says. “I’m also a realist-optimist. This combination means that I can pull through when the going gets tough and take a leap. I have a ‘We can do this!’ type mentality.
“I’ve never had a game plan for my career,” she says. “Climbing the corporate ladder isn’t important to me. I want to be a part of purposeful development, meet new people and learn new things. I also want to work with people who are inspired to do their best – and together we can do wonderful things.
“You can’t pretend to lead,” Viveka concludes. “You have to be a conscious, present leader and grounded in your values.
“I’m proud to be a woman of VFS.”