Member Interviews

Kevin Boland
Director of Corporate Affairs at Saab Inc.

We met Kevin Boland, Director of Corporate Affairs at SAAB Inc, a Swedish-owned company with a unique presence in the U.S., to discuss their perspective on Sweden getting closer to potential NATO membership. From emphasizing collaborative strengths to discussing their diverse contributions in the defense sector, SAAB shares its role and aspirations. The interview delves into shared values, ongoing expansion, and the company's appeal for exploring opportunities, providing insight into SAAB's presence in the landscape of global defense. 

Sweden is one step closer to getting their NATO membership. How does a potential membership affect you as a Swedish company in the defense industry? 
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this with you. SAAB is a unique company in the U.S. as it is Swedish-owned but also fully American. SAAB Inc., which operates under a special security agreement, is a separate entity. It has American personnel working on defense products tailored to U.S. needs, and Sweden's recent NATO membership enhances U.S. security. Sweden has many capabilities that contribute positively to the alliance, which aligns with SAAB Inc.'s growing business in the States. For instance, SAAB radars made in Gothenburg are similar to those produced in Syracuse for the U.S. Navy, including the USS Eisenhower carrier's new radar. The collaboration between our countries showcases the strong ties between our nations. Our shared values such as individual freedom, democracy, and a commitment to genuine defense make working with Sweden seamless. The natural and longstanding friendship is evident in the collaboration between Swedish and American engineers creating high-quality equipment for deployment globally. The strong connection between our nations provides a solid basis for Sweden's NATO membership, reinforcing our bilateral relationship. This step is expected to enhance the defense industry in both countries, building upon recent positive advancements like defense security agreements and high-level visits. 

What are SAAB's strengths in the defense sector? 
Working at SAAB is an exciting experience as we are involved in multiple aspects of the defense sector. For example, we specialize in the production of submarines designed for the Swedish Navy, which are ideally suited for operations in the Baltic region, providing a significant asset to the NATO alliance. Our Gripen fighters train together with allies such as F16 and Typhoons, demonstrating our collaborative efforts in defense. SAAB-made products have demonstrated their reliability and effectiveness in various global defense scenarios, highlighting their contribution to international security. The strong demand for various ammunition types from the U.S. positions us to contribute, benefiting both American workers and Swedish companies while enhancing overall security. This collaboration illustrates the mutually beneficial nature of our relationship. 

How does the U.S. view Sweden's progress toward NATO membership and its impact on perceptions of Sweden's defense capabilities? 
From a U.S. perspective, the prolonged process of Sweden nearing NATO membership has provided ample opportunities to deeply explore the country's capabilities and strengths. Sweden's progress has allowed frequent analysis by news outlets, drawing attention to the nation's strengths and potential as a great partner. Such constant attention highlights Sweden as an excellent and evolving partner, showcasing its capabilities and potential contributions. The label "made in Sweden" carries a reputation for quality and robust engineering, which is a valuable asset. 

Are there lesser-known aspects of SAAB's growth strategy or unique product qualities that you'd like to highlight in discussions about the company's expansion in the U.S. defense industry? 
We have set our sights on becoming a significant player in the U.S. defense industry, despite not being on par with the top U.S. primes at present. Our objective is to be as vital as any other company in the country, contributing fully to the industrial defense base. Although our exceptional products may not be widely known, they are highly valued by our customers. We are actively hiring and expanding across our nine U.S. locations to meet growing demands. I would like to invite you to explore opportunities with us and be a part of our exciting journey. 

Dorothy Hildebrandt

Senior Director of Corporate Procurement at Hilton

Dorothy Hildebrandt is the global Senior Director of Corporate Procurement at Hilton. She has a career spanning management consulting and legal and business transformation within procurement and supply chain. Dorothy has been an individual member of SACC-DC for over 11 years, is currently a Member of the Board, and is now also stepping into the role of Chair of the Program Committee. She is looking forward to the opportunity to provide more broad support through this role.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your position at Hilton.
I grew up on Long Island, NY, moved to Washington D.C. for university, and have been based there since. I aspired to become a lawyer originally. I became a paralegal and learned that I enjoy business and contract negotiation. That led to a career in technology management consulting, specializing in procurement and supply chain. I worked at TechCaliber Consulting and Accenture before I was fortunate to land at Hilton Corporate in 2019.

At Hilton, I have the honor of leading the teams that support Hilton centralized business functions in their purchasing and supplier contracting, supplier payments, and sourcing execution. We collectively help to connect over 7,200 Hilton properties in 123+ countries with the systems and services that drive their operations, solve challenges, and create efficiencies to achieve our mutual goals around sustainability and responsible sourcing.

I also work on initiatives that seek to expand Hilton Supply Management’s reach and scope within our global group purchasing organization. For those not familiar with Hilton Supply Management (HSM), HSM is the world’s leading hospitality procurement, logistics, and end-to-end supply chain provider, servicing Hilton’s properties globally plus thousands of global independently-managed hospitality properties and businesses that translate into better deals for us and our suppliers. We have a strong scale that continues to grow our negotiating power.

With less business, as well as leisure travel, how does your industry, and Hilton, adapt to future challenges?
By contrast, we’ve seen travel and development pick up considerably in 2023. I would say in general Hilton has incredible teams who monitor the hospitality market closely to adapt to future changes. We have a lot of exciting things coming up in 2024 after launching two new brands in 2023, so I encourage you to watch this space.

Could you share a specific challenge you encountered in your role, and what were the key lessons you learned from overcoming it?
I would say that our team’s primary challenge in any season, however, is keeping pace with the rapid speed of business while always operating with integrity and offering our stakeholders a personalized touch. Hospitality and procurement are both incredibly complex, fast-moving industries, and our team has a sizable remit and responsibility, managing over $1B in corporate spending and increasing. In an effort to keep Hilton competitive while scaling responsibly, we focus on seeking the greatest areas of opportunity to support our strategic initiatives while continuing to safeguard our partnering properties and the Hilton enterprise in every contracting process.

I understand you have connections to Sweden. Could you tell us about your experiences or relationships with Sweden?
Yes, my grandparents came over from Sweden on my father’s side, while my mother’s side of the family is Italian. They came to the United States from Örebro and brought with them many books, – some dating back to the 1700s – photographs, and letters that we’ve kept and that my children now love to look at. I speak some Swedish and took 2 years of Swedish classes, yet I am still shy to practice. SACC-DC encourages me to keep it up! A proud connection back to Sweden is that my grandfather’s cousin, Philip, started Nederman AB, which is my maiden name and now part of my middle name. My aunt has a few mementos from when it started.

Jasmin Utter

General Manager Region Americas SAS

Could you please share your journey in United States with SAS? 
I have been working for SAS for more than 30 years in many different functions, such as Corporate Finance, Operational Management, Marketing and Sales to name a few. Besides working at our head office in Stockholm, Sweden, I have also had positions in Brussels, Belgium and London, UK. I have been the General Manager for SAS in the Americas since December 2020.
SAS is a new member of SACC-DC. Could you share the story of how you initially got involved with our network?   
SAS has a strong presence in North America, and we have been established in this market since 1946. We fly to seven cities across the United States: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Washington D.C and Boston. In New York we fly both to Newark and JFK. In addition to this, we also fly to Toronto in Canada. It is important for us to have a close relationship and partnership with Scandinavian and Finnish companies that are established in the US and Canada, as well as US companies that have a link to Scandinavia, Finland, or Northern Europe. Being members of the Chamber is a natural extension of our presence in this market, and we are very happy to have joined a partnership with SACC (Swedish American Chamber of Commerce), with the purpose of better communicating our products and services as well as offers to the various chambers and to their members.
What opportunities lie ahead for SAS in the United States, and what do you look forward to? 
The US has bounced back quickly post-covid, and the economy is overall developing very well. A combination of reduced inflation and a strong dollar means Americas are again interested in traveling abroad, and Europe is high on their list of destinations they want to travel to. In addition to that, with the introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act and the investments in new technology and sustainable aviation fuel among other things, the US will become even more important to us in the future. The increased access to SAF will result in us fueling more in the US. This is a step in the direction towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Could you share any personal or professional insights gained from your journey with SAS in the United States that you believe would be valuable for aspiring business professionals? 
 The US is a vast country, and each state is different. I would recommend anyone who wants to come here to do your homework properly to understand your market. This is not Sweden. And it is not the US you encountered during your vacation either. In addition, each state has its own set of rules and regulations and the cultural differences between the states can be quite significant. In order to be successful personally and professionally, you need to be aware of what is applicable in the market you want to do business in.

Michael Andersson

CEO & President of Saab Inc North America

Could you please share your journey with Saab Inc, including key milestones and experiences, and also tell us about your path to the USA and how it eventually led you to your role at Saab Inc? 
It's all interconnected. Actually, this year marks my 40th anniversary at Saab. It was my first job after military service. I was a newly graduated engineer and joined Saab in Linköping on the Aerospace side, and I've remained with the company ever since. Then, 12 years ago, I found myself in the U.S., starting a growth journey for Saab in the US. Over these years, I've held various roles at Saab. The initial decade was closely tied to engineering, particularly flight-test engineering. Later, I transitioned to customer support within the engineering domain. However, a significant milestone occurred around 1994. Just before that, I was selected as a candidate for a long-term management program, even though I never saw myself as a manager. I completed the fifteen-month training program while also being offered a completely different management role compared to my earlier, smaller management position. I believe this was a turning point because it set my career on a different path. I subsequently led an intriguing organization focused on commercial airplanes, overseeing all the disciplines associated with Avionic systems. This included development engineering, flight-test engineering, purchasing, quality assurance, support, production engineering, and more. Managing such a diverse range of disciplines was quite unusual, but I embraced the challenge and enjoyed the powerful role that allowed me to make important decisions. This was a major milestone. 

The second milestone came a couple of years later when I was appointed President of the company. It was a very different kind of organization compared to when I first joined in 1983, especially by 2003. It was undoubtedly another significant milestone for me. It was during this time that I realized that things weren't always as straightforward as they seemed; they were often much more complicated. Afterward, I moved through various management positions within Saab at higher executive levels. I served as deputy head of Saab’s Support and Services Business Area, which had about 2000 employees and a turnover of four billion Swedish kronor. 
Around this time, I was asked if I would consider relocating to the U.S. to contribute to the business's growth there. I believe one reason for this inquiry was the success of our commercial aircraft in the U.S. Many people may not be aware, but we had a substantial presence in the U.S. with the Saab 340 aircraft, all operated by major airlines. I had been closely involved with this operation, serving as the President of the U.S. organization remotely from Sweden. I frequently traveled to the U.S., becoming accustomed to the U.S. business climate and how organizations and employees functioned. However, my knowledge of the defense market, which is our primary focus now, was limited. Nevertheless, I received the offer, and initially, we planned to be in the U.S. for two years. However, those two years extended and extended, and I eventually became the head of what was then known as SAAB North America, covering both Canada and the U.S. I held this position for several years, but eventually, I reached the limit of my work visa, which had a seven-year duration. So, I engaged in discussions with the company, and my family and I decided that we wanted to continue living in the U.S. Our lives had become deeply rooted here, so we applied for green cards and eventually obtained them. 

I had always wanted to live abroad for a few years to immerse myself in a different culture. At the top of my list was the U.S. because I had thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I find the business climate in the U.S. to be fantastic—open and conducive to forming partnerships and exploring opportunities. It's a much more dynamic and open environment compared to Europe. 

You are currently engaged with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Could you share the story of how you initially got involved with SACC-DC?  
So, initially, we had a small organization here and began to grow. I was essentially told that now, in your role in Washington D.C., you should engage with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. So, I started attending their meetings. I believe it was my predecessors who had actively worked with the chamber and recommended that we continue doing so. Consequently, I began attending meetings and became increasingly involved. A couple of years later, I assumed the role of chairman for SACC-USA. 

SACC-DC is recognized for helping create business connections and chances between Sweden and the United States. It would be interesting to know how your involvement with the chamber adds value to Saab? 
As I mentioned earlier, Saab Inc. is relatively well established here in the U.S., so by now, we are well-acquainted with Washington D.C. However, in the early years, it was invaluable to learn from other Swedish companies that had established themselves in the U.S. through the SACC network. It allowed us to understand the DC network and how it operates, which I believe was the most significant benefit. Another aspect that has always been essential for Saab Inc. is working closely with the embassy, which we do. Nevertheless, the chamber often hosts events that have proven highly valuable for us during important gatherings and meetings. 

Eight fast questions 
  1. Thanksgiving or Midsummer - Midsummer 
  2. Soccer or American Football – American Football 
  3. Swedish Fika or American Brunch – Swedish Fika 
  4. Summer Holiday or Winter Holiday – Summer holiday
  5. Morning person or Night Owl – Night owl 
  6. Wings or Meatballs – Meatballs
  7. Pecan Pie or Jordgubbstårta (Strawberry cake) - Jordgubbstårta (Strawberry cake)
  8. Sweden or U.S - The best of both. 

Robert Thomas

SVP of Corporate and Government Affairs, Elekta

Robert Thomas HeadshotRobert Thomas Headshot
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path?
Professionally, I started out in technology sales with an IBM affiliate. I quickly moved to medical device sales, and then moved up the ranks into leadership in the medical device sales community. From there, I transitioned to government affairs. Half of my career has been medical device sales, the other half in government affairs and advocacy, about 15 years in each bucket. Here in the U.S. we have a fast-food chain called Denny’s. I always say my career in public affairs is like a meal at Denny’s: nobody plans to go to Denny’s, but we all end up there at some point. I didn’t plan to be a government affairs professional, I just ended up here.

Many view public affairs as an abstract concept. How would you define public affairs? What is the difference between public affairs, public relations, and lobbying?
Anytime you advocate for something, you’re lobbying. No matter what side of an issue you’re on, you believe you’re doing the right thing for the country by advocating and lobbying for your point of view on the issue. In terms of public affairs vs public relations, public relations is a more media-centered field, whereas public affairs deals more with elected officials and policy influencers – not necessarily people who work in a legislative capacity, which is lobbying, but instead a wider body of influential people at agencies or policymaking shops that you work to get support from to try and change an issue holistically.

What impact can you see the new government having on business and trade? What changes do you expect to see? Are there any new opportunities?
Here in the U.S., with every new Administration there are new opportunities and new challenges. I think that the Biden Administration will be receptive and appreciative of collaboration on trade issues. I think there are going to be some opportunities in the trade arena, as well as on climate issues. This Administration will re-invest in climate-based business, which is always of interest to SACC members. But just like with any Administration, there were opportunities and then there were challenges. The Trump Administration took a firm “America first” type of approach, which created some wins for rural communities but caused collateral damage to our international trading partners.. But when it came to the regulatory and tax issue areas, for the most part the Trump Administration’s actions were appreciated by companies. Under President Biden companies are bracing for higher fees and regulatory environments, as well as higher costs of doing business, while continuing to fight our way through the unbelievable challenges of the global pandemic. History will be the judge of what was effective and what wasn’t, and it could be different depending on the issue.

Could you tell us a little bit about Elekta PAC? How does it work?
A PAC is a Political Action Committee. Here in the U.S., a PAC is the only legal and fully transparent way for a company’s business interests to be represented politically, and also allow a company’s employees to be involved. A PAC is made up of funds from voluntary contributions by employees who understand what we do and choose to participate by making a contribution that goes into the Elekta PAC account. That money is used to support candidates for elected office. For Elekta PAC, that means people running for the U.S. Congress. We decide who to contribute to based on their committee assignments in Congress, primary issue areas, and alignment with Elekta values. Our PAC manager proposes candidates for support to the Elekta PAC Board, who then votes to decide which candidates can be supported using Elekta PAC funds. What we’re trying to do, and what the PAC helps us to do, is build relationships with candidates for federal office on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans.

When I started in government affairs at Elekta, I was tasked with building their Washington office. Before I joined Elekta, there wasn’t a Washington office to do what my team and I do. But a situation occurred that really showed the importance of having a dedicated team in D.C. Elekta’s signature product line is the Gamma Knife. It has saved hundreds of thousands of lives; it’s an unbelievable technology. I have met so many patients who are here today, including Members of Congress, because they were treated with the Gamma Knife. But our competitors used legislative affairs and lobbying to cut our legs out from under us, and almost put us out of business here in the U.S. Elekta didn’t have a D.C. office to stop it, and as they say, if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu. And when I started, I was the only head of a Washington office that didn’t have a PAC. A PAC is a standard tool for Washington offices, and the only legal and transparent way to engage politically. The reality is, you need lawmakers to know why you care about something and how it affects the patients. A PAC helps us do that. And like I said, the money that employees contribute is completely voluntary. My team and I have the only jobs in the company where we have to ask other employees to pitch in to help pay for it. But Elekta PAC is very strong because our employees understand the need, and as an organization we’ve done very well.

How has the pandemic affected your business?
Well, on the business side, Elekta is doing very well, globally and specifically here in North America. The success that we’re having is, in part, because of all the work that was done throughout recent years. We’re appreciative of our success right now – our customers, hospitals, and clinics, and eventually the patient. As to the specific question of what has changed on the public affairs side – I used to spend my day at events, a normal day involved representing Elekta at all kinds of different things like speaking at public events, being on panels, going to meet with or visit some Members of Congress, and having business lunches. All of that has stopped. It just isn’t happening right now. Of course, the work that we do goes on. But public affairs and lobbying is really about trust, and trust comes from relationships. You can only go so far in a virtual environment when it comes to developing those relationships.

You’ve been a Board Member at SACC-DC for several years. What value do you see in SACC?
As a company founded in Stockholm, Elekta has long been a supporter of SACC. Elekta has a good story to tell, and we try to be very involved to tell it. Our technology and innovation originates in Stockholm, but since Sweden is a majority-export economy, they rely upon the rest of the world to buy their products. We have almost 1000 employees in the U.S., and the products that we’re selling can save lives. When it comes to treating brain cancer, our products are the gold standard. We are able to treat tumors of the brain like a chronic condition. For example, I’ve met dozens of people where we’ve treated them 10-20 times, all with the Leksell Gamma Knife, improving their quality of life. So, it feels good to do what we do, and it really is a story that SACC likes to tell about Sweden’s relationships with the U.S. We fit very well within the SACC community.

Björn Arvidsson

Minister Counselor, Head of Trade and Economic Affairs Embassy of Sweden, Washington DC​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Bjorn Arvidsson HeadshotBjorn Arvidsson Headshot
Tell us how you decided to pursue a career in foreign affairs, and what you did before coming to Washington, D.C?
I’ve always been interested in international issues. But I did not initially have any thoughts of pursuing a career in the Foreign Service. Instead, it was my interest in the intersection of economics and politics that laid the foundation for this career path. I started off with a traineeship working for the European Commission on trade issues in Brussels, before moving to Stockholm and the National Board of Trade (Kommerskollegium). Then, during the Swedish EU Presidency back in 2009, I was recruited to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to offer my expertise on these issues. After a few years with the Ministry, I took over as Head of Trade issues at the Swedish Permanent Representation to the European Union. I spent five great years in Brussels but was excited when I was offered my next diplomatic posting here in Washington DC. It was a natural transition having already devoted a lot of time to strengthening the transatlantic economic relationship.

What is it like to represent your home country and the government’s agenda?
It is an intense job, but very satisfying since Sweden’s positions are generally easy to defend and promote. My team at the Embassy covers many important topics including trade, business promotion, energy, climate, transportation and health. In all these areas Sweden is a global actor and a respected partner to the U.S., meaning our views and interests are taken seriously.

What do you find most rewarding with your work, and what is the most difficult?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my current job is to travel across the United States to represent the Swedish government, meeting stakeholders and directly experiencing the Swedish economic footprint. Swedish-affiliated companies create a lot of jobs in all U.S. states, and many are leaders when it comes to sustainable and innovative product solutions. Another rewarding, but also challenging, task is to put together programs for incoming ministers and delegations from Sweden. We always manage to deliver, but there is often competition with other countries and actors for the attention of the U.S. leadership.

Some of our readers are young professionals, perhaps considering a career in foreign affairs. What traits do you think are important?
I think you must show passion for what you do as a diplomat, whether it is security policy, development issues or international trade. At the same time, you need to understand that you represent your government and the decisions made by the political leadership. You also must be open to experiencing new cultures and being flexible in addressing a wide variety of tasks and challenges.

From your perspective, how do Americans view Sweden and what Sweden stands for?
Americans generally view Sweden through a positive lens. The Swedish national brand is strong, and our values are well-perceived. Our two countries have deep and long-standing cultural and commercial connections. Having said that, at times people read or hear things about Sweden that they react to in negative ways. Our job as diplomats includes putting these perceptions in context and correcting any misunderstandings.

Finally, would you share some thoughts on what have you have learned from your time here in the US, professionally and/or personally, or both?
I’ve had a fantastic time both professionally and personally. I’ve been fortunate to work with terrific colleagues at the Embassy and in the Team Sweden network, including SACC of course! Personally, I’ve enjoyed my daily life in DC, but also traveling and exploring the country. The United States is a country with a lot of diversity, and many fantastic cities and places to visit. Meeting people across the country has widened my understanding of what America is and looks like.

Tomas Hagströ

Senior Vice President Head of Division Nederman

Tomas Hagstro HeadshotTomas Hagstro Headshot
Tell us a little bit about Nederman
More than 75 years ago, Nederman was a pioneer within working environment and clean air. Our mission to address the environmental challenges of industry through innovative solutions and cost-effective production has led to a world-leading position in industrial air filtration. We have a broad range of air filter solutions, from smaller units used for workers’ safety, e.g. to capture welding fumes or wood dust, to large air pollution control systems for e.g. metal recycling and foundries. Today, value creation is enhanced through digitalization and service while we are still at the forefront of product development. Nederman has a strong global presence in both sales and manufacturing globally. Sales are conducted through our own sales companies and distributors in over fifty countries and we have 2,200 employees. The largest share of sales is in Europe and North America, but we also have significant presence in Asia. Orders received in 2021 amounted to SEK 4.6 billion.

Nederman has over 75 years of working in the industry; what will the company focus on in the future?
We are currently focusing on digitalization and service within our target industries. For example; In a factory that uses many different filters, we have an app that the customer can use to ensure everything works instead of manually inspecting each filter. Digitalization can also be used to simplify collection of emissions data to make sure customers meet environmental permit requirements. We can also help customers to monitor filters remotely to ensure they work as they should; and perform service needed to maintain performance of the equipment. We create a solution that works for each of our customer’s specific air filtration need, so that they can instead focus on their primary operations and processes.

What is your role at the company, and what did you do before working at Nederman?
I oversee our global Process Technology division which sells larger filter systems for e.g., the steel, foundry, and chemical industries on all continents of the world. I am also the regional manager for Nederman in the Americas region. Here we are 500+ colleagues in USA, Canada and Mexico. Our regional headquarters is in Charlotte, North Carolina. I received my diploma from Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and then I started working as a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company in 2001. After that, I worked for the chemical company Perstorp. In 2011, I moved to the US when Perstorp bought a business in America and offered me the opportunity to take on the President role for that business. As my family and I enjoyed living in the US, I eventually left Perstorp and started working at Honeywell in New Jersey and thereafter for Nederman. Half my career has been in Sweden and half in the USA.

SACC-DC is proud to have Nederman as our newest member; what made you decide to join?
Being part of the SACC-DC network seems like an excellent opportunity to meet other US based companies and people and to take part in events like this spring's Nordic Innovation and Sustainability Forum. Of course, I also look forward to take part in events like the crayfish party and other Swedish style events.