3 quick questions forLinda Lundberg-Nilsson, CEO of theNorrbottens Handelskammare, Sweden’s northernmost and second oldest, founded in 1904. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs and has extensive experience in export trade but also in working at multinationals. Six years ago, Linda became CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, which is highly involved in the green reindustrialization that is transforming Swedish business and society. In this role, she has also hosted trade delegations from Sri Lanka.
1. What are the main tasks of the Norrbotten Chamber of Commerce?
Given our geographical location, infrastructure issues are top priority. We work intensively on advocacy to shorten distances to our members’ main markets on the continent. A concrete example is the extension of the Scanmed corridor from Sicily and Stockholm to Luleå and the ice-free harbor in Narvik, Norway. This issue has become even more important in recent years for geopolitical reasons. The next area is skills development. We will receive 100,000 global talents in northern Sweden the coming years. Facilitating migration from third countries is crucial to our success. The third area is international trade. Through our global network of 12,000 international chambers of commerce, we help companies expand their business by internationalizing and reaching new markets.
2. What are the region of Norrbotten’s main assets?
We are very well positioned for the radical transformation of Swedish society and industry that we are about to undertake. We have great resources of ore and minerals, raw materials that are necessary for the electrification of society’s transport system but also in constructions such as wind turbines. Norrbotten is an export intense region with a resource-based economy and a large primary industry sector such as timber, mining and minerals. Norrbotten has also been the backbone of Swedish hydropower for more than 100 years. We further have world-leading research and companies in wood construction, green steel, IT and tourism.
3. How can trade with Sri Lanka increase?
We have already received the first trade delegations from Sri Lanka and we welcome more, not least from the Sri Lankan IT sector. We want to contribute to concrete business but there is work to be done before we meet. Business leaders must have done their homework and understand that there are many opportunities in Norrbotten, but that the competition is global. This requires clear decisions to invest strategically – it is costly to make mistakes. The requirements specification also needs to be clear. Do you want to establish a subsidiary, an agent, or a retailer? This systematic approach applies regardless of whether it is about importing to Norrbotten or exporting to Sri Lanka. And finally, we would like to see many of the global talents that we will welcome in the coming years come from Sri Lanka.
3 quick questions for Mattias Martinsson, Chief Investment Officer of Stockholm-basedTundra Fonder AB, a company he co-founded in 2011. The company now offers trading via a global fund which specialize in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. Since the mid-1990s, Mattias has worked with investments in emerging markets, first focusing on Russia and then on Asian emerging countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam.
How do you work in practice with analysis of each market?
We have an investor team with six members. Three are based in Stockholm and three are based in Asia. We invest exclusively in listed companies and we implement a very long-term perspective when we go in. We have three key pillars that need to be in place for us to invest:reliable and trustworthy owners with high-quality management, that the company is involved in a sector subject to structural growth (will grow its share of the local economy), and we want there to be clear societal benefits of the company growing (to reduce risk of state interference). The final pillar is also at the core of our sustainability philosophy . A typical sector we like is healthcare, where private alternatives reduce the burden on the public healthcare system.
What makes Sri Lanka stand out from an investment perspective?
Sri Lanka has great potential in the service sector such as tourism, trade, IT and logistics. The literacy rate is very high and the education system is of good quality. The quality/price ratio is favorable and it is probably the one of our markets where quality of life is high enough also for spoiled foreign investors. We try to find the best listed Sri Lankan companies and enter with decades long investment horizon. Despite the crisis, these companies have remained strong. The stock market in Sri Lanka is still underdeveloped, which means there are many companies few foreigners have invested in. This creates an opportunity for us and means it is worth the effort to do in-depth analysis on each portfolio company.
How has the development in recent years affected Tundra Funds?
These have been challenging years for everyone living in or working with Sri Lanka. The pandemic hit several industrial sectors hard, not the least tourism. The capital controls introduced in mid-2021 were devastating and then the political and economic turmoil in 2022 followed. Our perspective is howeverlong-term and we concluded that the total market capitalization in Colombo fell by 50 percent while our portfolio companies’ profits fell by only 10 percent. Now the trend has reversed and we took the opportunity to marginally increase our investments in Sri Lanka. It is encouraging to see that the performance over the past year has been very positive. I am very happy for Sri Lanka’s turnaround. For me personally, it is particularly gratifying as it is my favorite destination to which me and my family return repeatedly.
3 quick questions for State Secretary Håkan Jevrell at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. His responsibility is foreign trade and promotion. He has previously been Ambassador to Singapore and Brunei and Sweden’s representative in Taiwan. Håkan Jevrell believes that Sri Lanka's strategic location and skilled workforce are strong assets for the country. His personal favorite in Sri Lanka is Mirissa on the south coast of the island.
How can Swedish companies benefit from Sri Lanka’s strategic location?
Sri Lanka has proven itself over time and is today an important part of strategic, global value chains, not least the country's growing IT sector with a highly skilled workforce. The country is a hub in many ways. There are several opportunities here for Swedish companies. First, the obvious, to let Sri Lanka be a bridgehead for further establishment in other, nearby markets. Becoming part of the country's extensive logistics expansion is another way, not least for sea-borne goods. A third way is by moving physical production to Sri Lanka, where the country has a high standard in several industrial sectors.
Sri Lanka is now transforming its energy system in a sustainable direction. What does this mean for Swedish export companies?
The transition of Sri Lanka's energy system is being carried out with high ambitions, not least in wind power. Sweden and Sri Lanka also have historical ties through previous joint hydropower projects on the island. Then Swedish companies could approach a similar situation as "teachers". Now a different approach is needed, one of humility and partnership. Swedish companies can offer competitive solutions, but Sweden is of course not alone. Running fast enough is therefore of crucial importance.
Sweden currently has no Embassy in Colombo. What does this mean for trade relations and how does the Ministry for Foreign Affairs work in this situation?
First, Sweden has an Embassy in Delhi. The work there is led by an Ambassador with extensive experience and knowledge of Sri Lanka. That said, an Embassy is important, but Sweden and Swedish interests are working at many levels to develop and strengthen relations between our two countries. Team Sweden has an important role here. It is a network of authorities and companies that work together to promote Swedish exports and investments in Sweden. We also see that there are good opportunities for Sri Lankan companies to develop relationships in Sweden and for Swedish companies to contribute to the development and make a difference in Sri Lanka.
3 quick questions for Jan Thesleff, Sweden's ambassador to India, the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He has worked as a diplomat for 36 years and has previously served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt among other countries. Jan Thesleff describes Sri Lanka as innovative and green. The pace of innovation is high in the country's IT sector and the country's energy system is now being converted to renewable energy.
What are Sri Lanka's main assets as a trading partner?
The biggest asset is human capital, a highly educated workforce, especially in the IT sector where many global IT companies have strategic establishments in the country. Another way to describe the role of human capital is Sri Lanka's third place behind China and India in terms of the number of student visas to Swedish universities. Sri Lanka is also geographically very well placed with proximity to larger neighboring countries and can therefore serve as a springboard for establishments in the Asian market.
How can trade between Sri Lanka and Sweden be developed?
Next year, Sri Lanka and Sweden will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. We look forward to further strengthening the relationship over the next 25 years and beyond. Based on the manufacturing industry, the assessment is that Sri Lanka's IT sector will play an increasingly important role in trade in the future. The sector has experienced rapid growth in a short period of time and it is therefore reasonable to speak of a Sri Lankan IT wonder. The tourism sector also has great potential as part of trade in services. Sri Lanka has gone through a steel bath and can now offer a very high quality and updated tourism product to discerning Swedish visitors.
The SSLBC member survey identified business visas to Sweden as a problem area. How does the Embassy work with this?
The ability to travel is fundamental to doing business across national borders and for maintaining existing business relationships. The Embassy is aware of the current situation and is working to facilitate business travel to Sweden. In this context, it is also important to point out that the issue is not specific to Sri Lanka. At the same time, it is valuable for the Embassy to receive feedback from the SSLBC members through the member survey. It is also important to mention that there is a new honorary consul in Colombo who has an important role in promoting our bilateral exchange in trade and visits.
3 quick questions to Tailor Store's CEO Magnus Loodberg about tailor-made garments developed and sewn in Sri Lanka. Magnus founded Tailor Store when he was 23 years old after an IT internship in Sri Lanka. He had no background in clothing but understood the potential of offering made-to-measure garments online. The biggest markets today are the US, Switzerland, Germany, France, UK, Australia and the Nordics.
Why Sri Lanka?
During my internship, I had made friends on the island that I trusted. They introduced me to more people. I was always treated very well. Everyone was engaged and wanted to learn. 20 years later, we have 500 employees in Sri Lanka and two factories in a subsidiary.
How do you work on the management of the business?
We have an all-Lankan management team. Loyalty and the desire to contribute to a better country permeate the management culture. We have weekly meetings and travel regularly to Sri Lanka. The production process has evolved a lot since the beginning but always based on the basic idea of offering a perfect individual fit at a reasonable price. Today, the production process is highly automated. Every member of the production team has a tablet at their working station with information about the individual garment to be sewn.
What advice would you give to anyone planning a manufacturing operation in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lankans are friendly and accommodating. Therefore, initially find a reliable person who speaks the language. This person can act as your sounding board. At the same time, establishment takes time. Therefore, be patient but make demands and work with deadlines. We did everything from scratch. First, we bought land and then we built the two factories. It proved to work very well mainly due to that we found the right person from the start.
3 quick ones to Kerstin Thulin new board member of SSLBC. She has a long international career in leading positions within IT, telecom and shipping. Kerstin has worked in Sri Lanka, Oman, India and several African countries.
What is your relationship with Sri Lanka?
I first came to Sri Lanka in 1983 when I had the opportunity to adopt one of my daughters. It was an overwhelming experience during the burning civil war. In 1996, I was asked to help set up the telecom company Suntel in Sri Lanka with responsibility for HR, organization and culture. It was an intense two years where I got to meet a competent and language-savvy workforce. Many years later, I was asked to sit on the board of the Sri Lankan Children's Association (SLBV), supporting vulnerable children and young people to make a difference in their lives and futures.
What are your driving forces?
Basically, I am a curious and stubborn entrepreneur. I have a curiosity for people and cultures - not only corporate culture. I want to help build value-driven organizations, which has been a common thread throughout my career. When I started my career, the HR function was relatively obscure, reporting to the Chief Financial Officer. A lot has happened since then. I have sat on several management teams of international telecom companies with responsibility for HR and Organization. Modern organizations need to value culture and organizational issues as business critical. There is no alternative.
What do you want to contribute to the work of the board?
I hope to contribute with my many years of experience within IT and telecom. Sri Lanka has a growing high-end IT sector. Too few in the Swedish business community are aware of this. I want to help raise awareness, both of the sector specifically and of Sri Lanka in general. I also hope to share my experience of developing corporate cultures and value-driven organizations with our members in various ways.
3 quick questions to Cecilia Oskarsson trade commissioner of Sweden to India at Business Sweden about export opportunities to South Asia, support from Business Sweden when exporting to Sri Lanka and best tips to Sri Lanka – for business and pleasure.
1.Most Swedish exports still go to countries close to Sweden. How can we get more Swedish export companies to discover South Asia and especially Sri Lanka?
Being near your own market works to a large extent as risk management – you know the culture and how to do business in the area. When you are looking to enter a market further away, you need to get the knowledge on how to act, what constitutes the legal structure, how do you conduct business and what is considered as a complete no-no there.
The Sweden-Sri Lanka Business Council is doing great work and this should be leveraged – Knowledge about Sri Lanka can be spread across by the Council to showcase good business cases. There is huge potential in showcasing the possibilities and for the Council to be a hand to hold in the learning journey. Business Sweden can extend its support for creating long-term and feasible relationships.
There are great business opportunities for Swedish companies, not least because environmental sustainability poses as one of the region’s greatest challenges, leading to a large appetite for new, sustainable innovation. And this, of course, is the hallmark of Swedish companies.
2.How can Business Sweden assist Swedish companies that want to export to Sri Lanka?
Our cross-cultural teams offer practical assistance and in-depth knowledge about local business conditions.
Contact us today to:
3.You have visited Sri Lanka several times. What are your best tips?
For Business – have people on the ground. It is imperative to partner up with the right partner. Do your homework well before entering by talking to partners who have local experience. Sri Lanka is a strategically placed island with much to offer and hence can be a lucrative partner.
Pleasure – more than 10 years ago since I was last there, but fascinating that you have everything: the beach, natural parks, hiking, mountains. Very much looking forward to coming back very soon. Ceylon tea gives you the best start of the day!
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