Pia Haak had to prove she wasn't just there to make coffee - now, she is CIO at Sweden's biggest fund manager

CAREER PATH: Pia Haak mentions two teachers who inspired her, and led her away from the school gym into a career in finance, which has taken her to New York and to two of the largest players in Sweden.

Pia Haak, CIO, Swedbank Robur | Photo: PR

What career path did you imagine for yourself when you were younger?

"When I was around 15 and going to high school, I imagined myself as a gymnastics teacher. I didn't start out like many others in finance, who say they bought their first share at five years old. But I had two very interesting teachers, my economics and my mathematics teacher. They got me very much interested in these subjects, and that is why I chose to study economics at Stockholm University."

When did your career in finance take off?

"It was when I started working for Gotabanken. Afterwards I moved on to work for Handelsbanken where I was for eleven years. During this time I went to New York to work as a sales person and a trader of Nordic equity. Nordic equity was very popular and exotic in America at the time."

How come Nordic equity was so popular in New York at that time?

"A lot of entrepreneurship was happening in the Nordic countries in the middle of the 90's. We had Elekta, Ericsson and Nokia in the forefront, and I think we had a lot of interest from American institutional investors because we were very innovative and entrepreneurial in building new business models."

When did you decide on the career path you have today?

"I think it was when I met those two teachers from high school. A funny story related to this, I was listening to a CEO the other day, who was talking about her mathematics teacher being the trigger to her career, and I actually went to the same high school and had the same mathematics teacher and I had the same experience.

He made it so interesting and so did the economics teacher, so that's where I picked up on the subject and wanted to learn more."

Was the inspiration from these two teachers the part of your education that you used most in your career?

"I think it was definitely the trigger. Because you learn the theoretical part at school, but when you get real life experience from working with companies you see that what the theory is saying is not always applicable. For example with portfolio management; yes, you can learn the skills on how to value a company and so on, but it's still an art how to find the really good companies to invest in. You can't just read a manual for that."

Which point on your resumé represents the biggest change in your career?

"A major change was when I switched after eleven years at Handelsbanken to Swedbank in 2005. I became a team manager, and this new role taught me how to cooperate to succeed together.

What is the best part of the professional position you have today?

"The combination of asset management and leadership. As a person, I'm very curious, I have a lot energy and I like to work in teams. You have to dare to succeed and it gives me a lot of energy to try new things."

I’ m sure you inspire a lot of young people in the field, maybe especially women, but who inspires you?

"There are a lot of people who inspire me - both women and men. I would really like to see more women in finance and I think the women working in finance today in many ways are all role models. It helps if you have a mentor that pushes you to find the answers instead of giving them to you. I think we have a way to go in terms of women in finance, and if I can help I would love to do that."

Is there a name that comes to mind?

"Yes, Cecilia Qvist, who worked at Swedbank and Spotify and now works in New York for Lego. She's a great source of inspiration for inclusion and her way of handling tough questions."

What is your experience working as a woman in a field that is very male dominated?

"There's been times when it wasn't an advantage to be a woman or where people have thought I was there to serve coffee. I've had to prove myself. Most of the time it’s been fine but of course I'fe run into people that might have looked at me differently just because I was a woman so I've had to prove myself a bit more."

You have stated before that achieving the climate goals for Swedbank Robur is at the top of your agenda, how are you going to go about that?

"I think that if you want to walk fast you walk alone, but if you want to walk far, you have to walk together. This saying is true for our team as well.

Together we've set some good targets, for example that we want to be aligned with the Paris agenda by 2025 and by 2040 we want to be carbon dioxide neutral. I think we can do a lot as a company and I also think we have a big responsibility since we're managing almost SEK 2000bn (EUR 197bn).

I think  our clients and owners expect us to be at the forefront, and this is also our overall vision. It's not about winning a competition but more about working together with a common goal, which is incidentally also the goal of society.

We want to be part of the transformation to a low fossil fuel society and we can do a lot internally but we also need to work together with other organisations. It's a road we're building as we go along, but it will get better and better and I think we will discover new solutions that include natural resources and not only technology. I'm sure we as a whole will do things wrong too, but we'll learn from it and carry on, and I think the media can help us with that as well."

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