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On one level Lars Strannegård is a predictable choice for president of the Stockholm School of Economics, a role he took on in June. On another level his appointment is impressively creative.

Though a thoroughbred Swedish academic, Prof Strannegård has an international teaching pedigree and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University in the US and the University of St Gallen in Switzerland. And although he is a professor of business administration, he is a bit of an artist at heart.

Not only is he vice-chairman of the board of the Swedish Arts Council, he is on the board of the Bergman Estate on Fårö island, where Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman lived. He even co-founded the Röda Sten (Red Rock) art gallery, which is located on the cliffs of Gothenburg.

What is perhaps most striking about Prof Strannegård, however, is that despite leading one of the most august business institutions in Europe – SSE was established in 1909, just a year after Harvard Business School – he is one of the most youthful deans in Europe. At just 45 years old, he is certainly the youngest president in recent memory at SSE.

What is more, at first glance he could just as easily be a designer or advertising executive as an academic. While most business professors tend towards the stuffy or the corporate, Prof Strannegård is most decidedly cool.

This combination of the traditional and the mercurial looks set to be the hallmark of his tenure as dean. His mantra is that SSE must build on its heritage but needs to be up-to-date and more international in its outlook.

“We have to change lots of things,” he says. “We have to be a contemporary business school. The new generation want to bring change to the world – we have to teach them in a slightly different way.”

Prof Strannegård’s appointment is a clear indicator that change is afoot, following nearly a decade of difficulties at the school. Most recently SSE was without a full-time president for a year after Prof Strannegård’s predecessor left after a year in the job. Prior to that, the school briefly saw its five-year accreditation from Equis, the European accreditation body, reduced to three years because of lack of clarity in the school’s strategy, although SSE’s five-year status has been returned.

Most controversial of all was when the school decided in 2007 to terminate its full-time MBA programme, which it had launched just three years previously.

The new president’s first task will be to heal the wounds and even though he has been in the position for just six months, Prof Strannegård has a clear strategy in place. The school will build on its exclusive reputation in Sweden and work closely with Swedish business to educate an elite cadre of graduates, he says. Mergers with other business schools and overseas campuses are definitely not on the agenda.

“I want the school to be a place where people feel it is small but great,” he says, pointing out that the school is extremely selective. “On our bachelor programme we are as selective as an Ivy League school. I want SSE to be a real shining star.”

The school has just 300 students on the three-year bachelor degree and an additional 300 on the two-year masters programme, and there are no plans to expand. One reason is the funding.

Because undergraduate and masters-level degrees are free to European students, increasing numbers brings no financial fillip for the school. SSE can charge fees only for the executive MBA programme and executive education, which are unregulated. What is more, because SSE is a private business school, it gets less than 20 per cent of its funds from government.

The complexity of the funding situation continues, with 35 per cent of revenue derived from an endowment established 100 years ago, along with research grants and income from some 100 corporate partners. Even Prof Strannegård concedes: “It is a very strange funding model.”

But he clearly intends for it to work to his advantage. He has started his tenure as president of the school with a SKr110m ($14.9m) gift from two Swedish foundations to promote and teach sustainable business. It is a topic close to his heart and that of the school. “Sustainability is something Scandinavia is well known for,” he says, arguing these are topics that should not be isolated into specific courses but should permeate business teaching overall. Courses will be redesigned around big global challenges. “The way to go about education is to let the students dig into these global challenges.”

Hand in hand with this will be a more international curriculum, but Prof Strannegård has very strong views on the identity of the school: “You have to have a global outlook with local roots.” Living and working in Sweden is substantively different from working in London, Paris or New York, he says, adding: “It’s not for everyone, of course.”


Biography

With a PhD from Gothenburg University, Lars Strannegård taught at Stockholm School of Economics, Uppsala University and Gothenburg University before returning to SSE in 2009 as dean of the MBA programme.

With visiting scholar positions at Stanford University in the US and the University of St Gallen in Switzerland also under his belt, Prof Strannegård became vice-president of SSE in 2012, and in 2013 he was additionally appointed as acting chief executive of SSE’s executive education arm, IFL. Prof Strannegård became president of SSE on June 1 2014.

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