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Christina Synnergren

Deep in the forest of northern Sweden, rolling hills like hands cradle the tiny village of Stöde. Woven together by the threads of time and tradition, there is a church, a school, and a lake. With her drive, determination and down-to-earth values, Christina Synnergren dreamed of the day she would move from this tightly-knit town, knowing deep down that she would always return. Christina’s distinctive ability to cultivate strong relationships has kept her tied to this community as well as sustain an international corporation.

“Growing up in a village of only 300 inhabitants really shaped me. There is some- thing very special about living in such a small community so close to nature. My roots are there. My paternal grandfather comes from a long line of fishermen. He was 19 and my grandmother was 21 when they got married. They had four children in four years, living in one room with no electricity and no running water; but Grandfather always strove for something better. He found innovative ways to ferment, salt, and brand the fish he caught, selling it as a delicacy to restaurants, schools, retirement homes, and shops. His drive and ambition were impressive. He saw opportunities everywhere. Grandfather taught me what entrepreneurship is really about. For that, he was my hero.”

Christina’s maternal grandmother was also extremely inspiring.

“Grandmother was one of seven children. She had to leave school at the age of nine to support her family and help pay for her brothers’ education. The notion at the time was that educating a girl was a waste of money, so her destiny was to become a housewife. She never became a formal teacher but led a life of learning and educated scores of women right out of her own home.”

“She became a working-class activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She was politically active for more than 30 years, writing opinion pieces for the newspaper into her late 90’s. She died at 97: a proud and dignified woman. Grandmother taught me what can be achieved with grit and determination. For that, she was my heroine.”

Both Christina’s mother and father were the first in their respective families to receive a formal education. They met in high school and graduated together from teacher’s college.

“They fell in love and got married and dreamed of having a large family of their own. But they tried. And tried. And tried. They were so grateful when they finally had me.”

They never let Christina forget that she was their precious one.

“Fertility assistance was not available at the time, so they just suffered for ten long years before I was born. They tried to have more children, but they couldn’t. There were always lots of kids around me though. As they were both teachers, they welcomed all other children into our home. Because of their love for me and for the village, I felt I always came from a bigger family.”

Christina lights up when she speaks of her parents.

“We have always been very close. Three is enough to make a family. I love and respect them and still think they’re great teachers. They valued learning as though it was an integral part of life and the right of every child. I feel so blessed to have grown up in a family where educa- tion was essential.”

Spending so much quality time with her parents really made Christina who she is today.

“I always got their undivided attention. They never spoiled me with anything other than their time. The connection you have with your parents as an only child is unique. At the end of each school day, they were with me. The long holidays we had were always spent together.

They were my coaches, my mentors, my teachers, my friends.”

Regardless of how far up or away Christina goes, a part of her will always remain in the town she first called home.

“It doesn’t matter where I am in the world – LA, Tokyo, Istanbul – I still call my parents every day. I’m also very close with my best friends, who are like sisters to me. We sometimes reflect on how beautiful it is that we grew up where everyone took care of each other.”

Sports was also a big part of Christina’s life growing up. Soccer, hockey, cross-country skiing, and the scouts were the only four activities that were available in the village.

“Our parents were our coaches and the whole community was involved. I love the camaraderie and competitiveness of team sports: to have stood and fought for something. Winning and losing, as a child, benefits you later in life; it’s important in business to have handled failure. Sports or any other competitive activity helps you with that.”

As Stöde has no high school, Christina commuted one hour by bus each way every day to the nearest town.

“We were the farmers who came to the city. There were so many opportunities. As education had always been the cornerstone of my existence, I did quite well at school and even skipped a grade in elementary school; so I was always one year younger than my classmates.”

This was never a concern for Christina, until everyone – but she – turned 18.

“They could drive a car, which is necessary in the North. They could also go to bars. But I made a deal with one of the entrepreneurs who owned most of the venues and said: ‘I’m one year younger than all my friends. They have so much fun at your nightclubs, then come to school on Monday and tell me all about it. So ... here’s a document I prepared for you’.”

Christina asked the man to sign a paper, stating that she was allowed into all of his nightclubs. And he did! She was an expert negotiator – even at 17.

“Closer to graduation, everyone started thinking about the next step. There was a career fair at our school where a guy gave a presentation about a business school in Stockholm. He was one of the few from our small northern area at the school, and I thought it looked amazing.”

Christina knew she wanted to go to the Stockholm School of Economics, so she immediately applied.

“But I didn’t get in. I moved to Linköping instead, where I studied Industrial Engineering and Management. It was interesting; however, I craved more business and less science. Then I saw a posting for an analyst associate with a real estate financial advisory firm in Stockholm. I applied and got the job!”

Christina was thrilled to move to Stockholm but needed a place to live. She was delighted when she found an apartment in the suburb of Rinkeby.

“I didn’t know the area at all and was just happy to have found something. I had a mattress on the floor, two plastic chairs, and a sofa that a colleague had given me. Every day, I took the subway from Rinkeby to the fancy offices of the premiere real estate financial firm in Stockholm.”

Christina learned a lot from this time. Most of all, she realized that she really wanted to work in business. She reapplied to SSE.

“But I didn’t get in, again. I went to Stockholm University instead, where I did my first two years of business. Then SSE accepted students for the fifth semester, so I applied a third time. SSE selects some of the best students from the other universities in Sweden, and I was finally accepted.”

Christina loved SSE, where things were very different than anything she had ever experienced.

“I was used to university lectures where 1000 students sat in a big hall in front of a professor. At SSE, there were 30 of us in one room; then, the teaching assistants actually walked you through the details in break-out sessions afterward. This contact was amazing.”

The one thing Christina noticed though was that she was one of the very few people from small-town Sweden.

“Most students came from Stockholm; some had grown up in big fancy houses with parents who were CEOs of some of the largest companies in Sweden. Everyone wanted to do management consulting or investment banking, and I didn’t even know what that was! But even though people were different, the friendships I made were very warm and open and still exist today.”

SSE was the prime recruiting ground for the top firms within management consulting and investment banking. This scared Christina a bit.

“The year was 2000, and it was lobster and champagne for everybody! Of course, everyone wanted to get into these firms and be part of that culture too. But what I saw around me had nothing to do with the way I was brought up. It did not make any sense, so I took a break.”

After a year at SSE, Christina bought a ticket and moved to Spain.

“I just packed my bag and went to Valencia. I needed to get away, so I could decide what to do. I studied Spanish, ran with bulls, and picked oranges to get by. Getting back to nature and the simple life while embracing the Spanish way of living helped me re-calibrate. Six months later, I felt myself again and went home.”

By this time, Christina had already been accepted to SSE’s MBA exchange program with universities in the United States.

“I desperately needed funding to move abroad and to secure a summer internship for when I returned. I interviewed with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and was offered one of the only two internships. Then I flew to the States. I wanted to be somewhere in the South: small and close to nature. I went to Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. I still feel very grateful to SSE, not only for the exchange, but also for the scholar- ship I received. I could not have gone otherwise.”

Christina experienced as much life in America as she could in one semester.

“I got to see a lot of the Southern States, which were beautiful. I experienced the excitement of American football, baseball and lacrosse, and learned how to play golf. I tried spring break in Florida and picked cherry blossoms in Washington – it was incredible.”

Christina was 23 years old and says her most valuable lesson from the MBA exchange was how to better negotiate.

“Most students were American and had serious management consulting experience. I especially remember a negotiation class where I learned a lot of techniques that I still use in my international career today.”

Christina’s plan was to work at Boston Consulting Group, which she says was unexpectedly interesting and exciting.

“On my final day as a summer intern at BCG, I received an offer. But I always wanted to start my own business; so I figured I would do two to three years at BCG, then go out on my own. But I was so engaged, constantly challenged, and worked with so many smart and humble people that, 18 years later, I’m still there.”

Christina always longed to get to the next level at BCG. Even as a junior consultant, she already imagined herself as the Managing Director and Partner she is today.

“For seven years now, I have worked with fashion for which I am currently on the global leadership team. I’m also on the global leadership team for artificial intelligence; I thrive in that intersection.”

Christina’s first project in March 2003 was particularly memorable.

“I was a “newbie” and was assigned to work with a senior consultant who was also an SSE graduate. He was supposed to guide me through the case, yet he immediately pointed out that I didn’t have full control over my numbers. I thought he was a bit arrogant and all-knowing. Needless to say, we didn’t really hit it off. But I admired his diligence, smarts, and extreme sharpness. He understood the analytics and was able to really drill down to the solution.”

His name was Jonas, and he was impressed by Christina’s client relations skills: that she was a junior person who had just started, yet the senior executives were asking her for advice.

“At some point, we just recognized that we worked well individually and made a great team together. Jonas is calm, analytical, and insight-driven; I am outgoing, emotional, and super-engaged. We have such different personalities, but we overlap in our values for life.”

“We ran into each other a few months later outside work and I realized he’s not only a great consultant; he’s actually a great guy. We fell in love and our dreams were to explore the world. We both worked and travelled extensively and were seriously considering moving to China and diving into the next chapter in our careers. After a weekend together in London, Jonas flew to Shanghai to do a bit of groundwork first.”

Christina was back at the office in Stockholm when Jonas’ mother called.

“I answered the phone and she told me that Jonas’ father was dead. Heart failure. He had just turned 60. It was devastating. After that, everything changed. I called Jonas in China and broke the terrible news to him. He flew home and we buried his dad.”

“Then we had an epiphany: we decided not to do the China adventure and to focus on what really matters in life. We said: ‘This is it. Let’s get married, buy a home, and build a family.’”

Three months later Jonas and Christina were married in an intimate ceremony on the island of Värmdö. They bought a house outside Stockholm and now have three children.

“We are fortunate to have each other, our children, and to be healthy and happy. That’s all we need. We try to spend as much time together as we can: playing a lot of sports and music together. As a family, we also love being close to nature: hiking in the mountains, camping by the ocean. This is part of my heritage; it’s how we recharge.”

Christina grew up reaching for something she didn’t know existed, yet has remained deeply rooted to the place she calls home. When she reflects, she realizes that SSE was the door for her: one, which allowed her to go from a small village in the north of Sweden onto the Global Executive Committee of the Boston Consulting Group. As one of the 15 people that makes the biggest strategic decisions for the firm, she is the youngest, the first Swede in his- tory, and the first mother of three who openly took all of her maternal leave to be with her babies. Christina brings with her both the tenacity and the tenderness she learned in Stöde.

“Twenty years later I coincidentally met the guy who spoke at our high school career fair and I thanked him for inspiring me to go to SSE. The school has given me so much: not just the career opportunity; I also met my husband. Many people see us as such a power couple – but really, we are just simple people. Most of our weekends are spent playing music with our kids, coaching their soccer teams, and helping with the Scouts.”

Christina tries to be for her children what her parents were for her.

“When I’m in that high-spinning moment of my career, flying around the world, I try to remember what is really important. And that is family. And by family, I mean extended family. When you come from such a small community and there are so few of you, you quickly learn how to form bonds with those around you. When you don’t have a lot, you only have each other.”

You can take the girl out of the village. But you can’t take the village out of the girl.

“As my children grow up in the country’s largest city, I want them to also learn the small-town values that I did: humility, generosity, empathy, and compassion. I also hope they will always have my grandparent’s youthful idealism and the courage to imagine a better future, whatever that may be. If my grandparents were alive today, I do believe they would be thrilled to see that what I’ve become is not really all that different from who I was to begin with...”

“And to know that their parents’ values, which they taught all of their children who, in turn, taught their own children, are the very same values that I now teach mine.”


Text: Karyn McGettigan