Go to main navigation Navigation menu Skip navigation Home page Search

Henrik Rhenman

Can you inherit the desire to learn? For Henrik Rhenman, the need to explore has always been one of his greatest strengths. It was as though he was born wanting to know more. Henrik was just five years old when he attended his first class at the Stockholm School of Economics. The topic? Organizational Management.

“I took a seat in the front row and was in awe. The round lecture hall was the biggest room I had ever seen, and I was completely fascinated by how high the ceiling was. This was a very special day for me. My father was holding a lecture and decided to take me with him.”

“As he was the young father of five sons, I was so proud that Dad chose me. I know now that he was just thirty years old. He decided to wear a pair of glasses because he thought it made him look older. How proud was I: to see my father standing there in front of all those people.”

Henrik’s smile is wide as he describes how there was a certain grandeur about pushing open those heavy oak doors and of the reverence these students seemed to have for their lecturer, Dr. Eric Rhenman, who could not have been much older than they.

“That had a lasting impression on me. It is really one of the strongest memories I have of the importance of learning from my father. He was such a guy. The world was like a black-and-white TV. Whenever my father walked into a room, suddenly everything turned to color. Dad had the ability to light up any conversation. He could make friends with anyone in the elevator so that, by the time they got to our floor, they were invited inside: for dinner, a party, to be part of our lives.”

“I was a very wild child and did all sorts of things that you weren’t supposed to do. I guess that was challenging for my parents. I was born in Fruängen, just outside Stockholm. At that time, you took a tram to get into the city. Which I did. By myself. When I was three years old. Then I took the ladder from the chimney sweep. I stole the key from the mailman’s bike. And when I was four, I lit a summerhouse on fire. I think having five boys was really tough for my mom. Especially with me in the middle.”

Henrik moved to Lund when he was 11. He continued what he calls his “experiments”. As a teenager, he developed a love of gymnastics and high jump. Individual sports was a perfect fit. When he was a senior in high school, his father accepted a professorship at Harvard and moved his family to Boston. Henrik decided he didn’t want to stay. So, at the tender age of 16, Henrik returned to Sweden and moved in with a group of university students instead.

“My father gave me a lot of independence. As long as I was in good balance and harmony, he let me do my thing. Being given complete independence at 16 is a fun challenge. I think most people would grow from that experience once they get over the loneliness they might feel in the beginning.”

Henrik was, indeed, lonely. So, he sublimated his solitude into scholastic achievements. The day he graduated from high school, he moved back to Stockholm. He already had an inner understanding of the many things he wanted to do.

But military service was not one of them.

“I did not want to waste a year. I also didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. Not that kind of authoritarian management system. I started at the Stockholm School of Economics instead. I think that lecture I went to when I was five was a major reason. It was very exciting to come to Sveavägen. Most students came from Stockholm and its suburbs, but I was the guy from Skåne. As a Swede, I still felt somewhat different from everyone else. I was a little bit of an outsider.”

“When I first started, I was a lonely guy. I was coming out of a relationship with a girl, so I was a little sad. My way of handling my sadness was to study like hell. I did my three-year degree in two years. Studying was a way to manage my feelings. I was also intellectually hungry and the Stockholm School of Economics was a completely open school. I loved it. You could go into any classroom at any time of the day, and no one would ask why you were there.”

The cerebral power of healing a broken heart. Henrik could study whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. For a somewhat despondent yet determined 19-year-old, intellectual growth helped fill any empty space. The technological step was too big, and the venture failed. Moving on before the end was the most important decision of Henrik’s life.

“Working in big projects is too risky when I cannot control the circumstances. I moved away from big companies and became more entrepreneurial: where I could take steps in different directions and move into things that were both rich in opportunity and interesting.”

“In 1988, I had breakfast with Sven Hagströmer: one of the first big venture capitalists in Sweden. Sven recruited me that same day and I became a financial analyst on the sell side at Hagströmer and Qviberg. This was exactly what I wanted to do: jumping into anything I felt was interesting. I could move quickly from one thing to another, which is what the sell side is all about: finding opportunities that one should entertain financially. Yes, it took about five or six career years to figure out that I was not a good consultant. I was not a good team mem­ber in a big project. I was not the guy to turn around a very complex technology venture. I would not make a good doctor. Or a good soldier. Or even a good chemist. All of those years at university brought me to where I really wanted to be: in the financial industry.”

Henrik speaks with both nostalgia and regret of his years at that time.

“I loved the work, but the hours were very long: seven in the morning until well past ten at night. It was so interesting though that I felt it was worth it. A few years later, I moved onto SEB bank to work on the buy side. But there was a cost. Karin and I had four children together: Axel, Ylva, Mari, and Elin. My career took a lot of time and effort away from my life as a father and as a husband.”

In 1997, Henrik was offered the prestigious position of Managing Director of an investment bank in Boston. It was an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.

“After 18 years of marriage, I decided to move there on my own.”

Settling into Boston was easy for Henrik after having spent so much time there in the past. Although the work culture was much more rigid and controlled, Henrik liked it. One day at the company’s corporate library, Henrik met another Swede. Her name was Maria. Henrik had been looking to hire someone with an impressive financial background whom he could trust. Henrik and Maria soon started working together.

The global financial crisis then shook the world and the investment bank started to lose money. After uprooting himself from Sweden, moving across the world and spending two years in Boston, Henrik was let go.

“That was tough, especially after leaving a very nice job as a portfolio manager at SEB. Com­ing back to Sweden without a job was very stressful, indeed.”

Henrik returned to Stockholm, and Maria went with him. He accepted a job at Carnegie where he ended up staying nine years. He loved the work.

“That was a fantastic job. We travelled a lot and had a wonderful time. But everything must come to an end. After nine years at Carnegie, I was ready for something else.”

That something else took shape in the form of a question. One rainy October evening while sharing a taxi in Paris, Henrik’s colleague Carl Grevelius turned to him and said: “Why don’t we start our own firm?”

At 50 years old, it was the perfect time to become something he had always wanted to be: an entrepreneur. It was an exciting time for Henrik in his family life as well. He and Maria welcomed their daughter Ebba into the world. This meant Henrik was now a father to five. Just like his dad.

“I had always chosen a safe career, so I could provide for my children. Now I was finally able to start something on my own. At Rhenman & Partners we manage a healthcare fund. We have about one billion dollars invested in 100 highly innovative companies, which offer new drugs and devices that will make a difference for patients.”

Henrik’s company was guided by his father’s vision: that one can blend business with academia, and that you need detailed knowledge in order to make good business decisions.

“Our scientific advisory board regularly discusses the science behind new discoveries. It’s fascinating to learn about all the new drugs and medical devices that are being developed and sold. We can help people. We can heal people. We can repair people. We can treat diseases. This is my way of helping people get their medical treatments without actually being a doctor.”

Everything comes full circle. Henrik’s father taught him to learn as much as he can and to mix everything in life.

“I went to SSE to study economics; I graduated from KTH in biochemistry; and then I peeked into the medical school at Karolinska Institutet where I learned about medicine and pharmaceuticals. My father inspired me to have a strong consultancy background, which taught me how to analyze and understand how businesses make money.”

Professor Rhenman was instrumental in the career path his son chose. Henrik says his dad taught him that it is not only possible, it is actually preferable to mix everything in life: work with play, colleagues with family, academia with adventure. Learning independence at a young age made Henrik the man he is today. And if curiosity is, indeed, the birth of knowledge, then this is one gene he definitely inherited from his father.


Text: Karyn McGettigan