Johanna Lundgren Gestlöf
Describe your role and what you do?
I am working as Head of sustainability at the Swedish pension provider SPP. That means I am the expert in sustainability related matters, and I am working closely together with product development, our financial advisors, communication and the leadership team to drive our sustainability agenda forward.
SPP has been working with sustainability as an integrated part of the business for 25 years, and I am responsible for continuously ensuring that sustainability is an integrated strategic topic throughout our company. I am the spokesperson for sustainability related questions towards the public. I also help educating the organization in sustainable finance and handle our sustainability reporting. Lastly, I work with new initiatives so that we can take the next steps within sustainability.
What inspired you to work with sustainability?
I have always been passionate about sustainability. Both of my parents were very aware of environmental issues when I was a child. I remember being very upset with the risk of global warming leading to winters without snow after watching programs about nature and listening to grown ups talking about the urgency of stopping the climate change. As I grew up, the interest sparked and it was one of the main reasons for me engaging in politics when I was eighteen.
After graduating from SSE, I worked for 3,5 years as a management consultant with a 6 months break for working within politics during the 2018 elections. I had a great time, but I increasingly felt that I wanted to combine what I had learned about business strategy with my interest for societal matters and sustainability. Now I am working with something I feel strongly about which is truly rewarding.
How did your education at SSE help you get to where you are in your career?
First of all, I have great friends from SSE that are always encouraging and a good counterpart to discuss career, concerns and future with – or talk about everything except work when that is needed! Having good people around you is always important, in career and in life. But SSE also taught me how to be efficient in learning new things, how to approach something unknown and being confident in how much I can learn in just a short period of time even though it seems really complex from the beginning.
I think the logical and critical thinking that you practice during the education is really helpful for your professional life, as well as being able to plan your time and know your limits, which you need to learn when combining studies with for example engaging in the student association.
What have you learned in the past few years that has contributed to your success?
Most importantly, I think we should all learn that people appreciate having fun at work, and collaborating with people that are easy-going, positive, engaged and kind. By being such a colleague, people will want to work with you and that will lead to new opportunities.
Secondly, I think it is really important to have integrity and care for yourself and your own time. As a management consultant I worked many hours, but I was always very clear to myself that I did not have to prove anything at the expense of my wellbeing or at the expense of losing precious time with family and friends. So just push yourself as long as it is rewarding, and remember to say "stop" or "this is good enough" because otherwise you could always work an hour more. And no one will make sure you spend your life the way you want to except you, so if you respect yourself others will also respect you. Then of course, you will have to do a proper and thorough work, double check numbers, predict and prepare for any questions you will get when presenting something, be curious and be ready to step up for your team. But I have learned that most of the time it is more important to show progress and a learning curve than to know everything from the beginning.
What advice would you give to students considering applying to SSE?
Do it! It is so inspiring to be among engaged students and you will learn so much and meet so many interesting and funny people. I sometimes wish I could do it all over again because it is such a privilege having a teacher telling you what is important to know, learning new things all the time, and at the same time eat lunch with your best friends every day. Also, SSE will provide you with extremely valuable opportunities to meet companies and potential employers over the years, which will truly strengthen your opportunities to have an exciting career after graduating.