Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Anna Schauman
This week the spotlight is on Anna Schauman, senior partner and co-owner of the Novare Group/ AltoPartners Sweden and head of their financial services practice. We caught up with her on a public holiday, not on the ski slopes but at her (exceedingly neat!) desk in Stockholm.
Where did you grow up?
I was born here in Stockholm, as were my parents, and my husband and his parents. We are lucky enough to be surrounded by generations of family on both sides, so it feels like being part of an old farming family, but just in the city.
What was your childhood career dream?
I was very sure I was going to be a judge or a journalist, right up until when I finished high school. But before I set out to study law, I took on a summer job at SEB, one of the big Swedish banks, and got introduced to finance. It was new and unfamiliar and completely fascinating. As a result, I enrolled for a political science degree (with economics as one of my majors) instead. Goodbye law school, although, I did marry a lawyer [laughs]. At heart, I am a social justice warrior, so it was a perfect vehicle to help me understand how systems interact and the impact they have on society. I grew up in a household very focused on cultural experiences and social responsibility, so the world of finance was an eye-opener.
What was your first job?
SEB was my first formal job, although from about age 13, I had worked part-time in amusement parks and at hamburger joints and later at the post office. I spent 19 very happy years at SEB. They were also an incredible employer: super, super supportive both in terms of mentoring and motivation and ensuring that I had the books, resources, and time to study, as I continued to work with them while studying part-time. They really gave me the courage and confidence to pursue what was then an alien environment, and I am very grateful for that. I learned the full spectrum of corporate finance, from back-office admin to IPOs and trading in the capital markets, which became my speciality. This was all pre-digital, so it was a real physical immersion into how the markets work.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
I owe my success to many people, but two really stick out, not only because they were a benign influence on my career, but they also became lifelong friends. The first was much older than me – she had actually been called out of retirement to assist with a project, and at 18, she persuaded me to stick with banking, and in so doing, she opened up my world. Ten years later, when I was in the trading department, I asked my manager for a female mentor as I needed to see that it was possible for a woman to succeed in that environment. One of the things about working in a male-dominated environment is that, as a female, you risk being put on a pedestal, and you don’t get a chance to show what you can do, but Mireille Andersson was having none of that! She helped me take some of the most important decisions in my career and remains a source of huge inspiration. She also has some of the best one-liners in the business. Whenever we can, we still start every week off with a long, brisk walk.
How did you get into executive search?
I reached a point in my career, in life - as many do - where I wanted to take the wheel. I was in my late 30s, my kids were growing up, and I felt the urge to reconnect with my own dreams. It was a very tough decision, as I loved working at SEB. I spent the summer vacation systematically going through my interests and exploring everything from journalism to teaching. I presented this very methodical list to my mentor, who threw her hands up and promptly referred me to Fredrik Hillelson, the founder of Novare Executive Search, saying: “He is very knowledgeable about the labour market, and a very straightforward guy; he will tell you the truth if this is best kept as a dream, or if you could pursue it.”
I was lucky enough to get a meeting at super-short notice, and after 10 minutes, he offered me a job. It came completely out of left field: I was like, um, what do you even do?
Was it a big decision?
Once Fredrik unpacked it, I realised that it was probably the perfect job for me. It ticked all my boxes: people, news, current affairs, social and economic trends, and the chance to make a difference. Even so, it was a huge decision, including having to take a salary cut, which was tricky as both my daughters liked horses! Once again, Mireille came to the rescue: “Anna, the bank will still be here. See this as your MBA. If it doesn’t pay off in two years, it wasn’t your thing from the beginning.” It’s one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, and something I often tell candidates who come to me in the same situation.
So, would you say you got into executive search by accident?
By chance, more than by accident. I was open to new possibilities, and very clear about what I wanted out of those possibilities. That helped me to decide.
What do you love most about this job?
The conversations – with clients and candidates. Always wide-ranging and fascinating. And you have to be present in each one of them; sometimes, as many as seven a day. And as a result, you are always learning something new. Every day. In what other profession can you say that after 16 years? We have eight businesses within Novare, and each of them has a distinct social upliftment element, such as our collaboration with our Royal School of Technology and our teaching hospitals to help newcomers from conflict zones integrate into the Swedish economy. We set it up in 2015 when the crisis in Syria broke out. Many people who fled were academics, and so we decided to partner with institutions in Sweden to help them become accredited so they could get jobs to match their expertise. We also currently run a Ukrainian job centre in our facility that is funded by the European Commission, and every summer, we run a youth academy for young entrepreneurs.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be brave. And never stop asking questions - I think that’s the worst thing about getting old. One of the things I had to learn was that it’s not about being right but getting it right. I would also remind my younger self that things almost always tend to work out.
How do you relax and unwind and recharge?
I’m a keen walker, and I love all the cultural opportunities you have in a big city. And music – music is a big part of our family, whether it’s pop, R&B or opera. I also enjoy travelling. It doesn’t have to be luxurious, but it must have ambience. I am also a great believer in rituals – I find them very soothing; they help me to cope with what is a very intense job. But perhaps the thing I love most is having my family all around me. We have a standing Sunday dinner to which my daughters (aged 21 and 26) and their boyfriends and cousins and second cousins and close friends are all invited. So, most Sundays, my husband and I host around 15 young adults, which is tremendously energising, and we cover every topic you can think of.
Do you have a superpower?
I am a champion sleeper. I have never had trouble sleeping, and I firmly believe it’s down to my bedtime ritual and the fact that my bedroom is an electronic-free zone. It doesn’t matter how much I work, or how stressed I am, I have the ability to shut things out and rest.
**What book are you reading? **
I’m reading two: an old Swedish classic called Gösta Berling’s Saga by Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win a Nobel prize for literature. It’s completely fantastic, as is a book by the Gambian-Swedish journalist, Amat Levin entitled Svart Historia (Black History). I can recommend both!