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Anna Zhan

Meet Anna – Stakeholder Engagement & Public Affairs Manager at H&M Group in China and MSc in Accounting, Valuation & Financial Management alum.

Describe your role and what it is that you do overall and on a day-to-day basis.

My role is to manage relations with key industry stakeholders in China to achieve our environmental, social and business goals, which in turn contribute to the overall H&M Group’s sustainability strategy. On this transformation journey, ambitions to create a circular ecosystem for our products and provide fair jobs for all, can only be achieved if we as a company team up with external actors – sometimes even our peers – to create the industry-wide change that is needed. Therefore, a large part of my job is to communicate with industry associations, policy-makers, NGOs, the Swedish Embassy and business community, among others, to drive commitment and partnerships towards our sustainability goals and activities. It definitely comes with its challenges, but I can assure you it never gets boring!

I’m a highly purpose-driven person and strive to make an impact through the work that I do. This job enables me to work with sustainability in an important industry for social topics – garment – in an important location for environmental issues – China – which is also very close to my heart due to my cultural roots.

Why did you choose to study at SSE? 

Growing up with non-academic parents in an immigrant neighborhood of Malmö, it was not an obvious choice at all. I had many supportive teachers and role models along the way, not to mention dedicated parents, who encouraged me to not only aim for a business degree – but the best business degree I could find in Sweden. That’s how I found out about SSE in the first place. Then, there was a great deal of determination and hard work to obtain the grades required to enter such a highly-regarded university program.

Coincidentally, the national high school exam I took in 2012 included a reading comprehension test of a newspaper interview with an SSE student; Golnaz Hashemzadeh. She was not just any student, she was elected president of the student association, which was a full-time role and the highest position any student could have. Throughout the school’s 100-year history, she was (only) the seventh female and the first with an immigrant background (her parents were from Iran). Her story inspired me a lot and erased any doubts I had about studying at SSE.

Why did you choose to study your subject area at SSE? 

To be completely honest, I was an accounting nerd even before setting foot in SSE. I studied social sciences with business in high school and had taken book-keeping and accounting classes that I really enjoyed. I knew that a business degree from a well-reputed university like SSE would open many doors into the corporate world.

Among all the courses offered during the Bachelor program, I never had a doubt about which ones I enjoyed the most and which Masters program I would pursue. The thrill and challenge of financial analysis, understanding a company from its fundamentals was something I grew to love more and more. A professor once said that “accounting is the language of business” and that’s when I had the “aha moment” – the language of business was the obvious attraction for a language nerd like me!

How did your time/education at SSE help guide you to the career journey you have embarked on? 

During my studies at SSE, I was exploring the intersection of business and society, and developed an interest for corporate sustainability and sustainable finance. I really enjoyed researching on companies’ CSR performance and its relationship to cost of capital for my bachelor thesis, which was very well received back in 2015 when “ESG” was still an emerging topic.

From a career journey perspective, SSE offered a great platform to meet different companies and explore opportunities in various sectors. I was very active in attending seminars by alumni, career events and student projects to broaden my perspective. Throughout my years as an SSE student, I had tried out different jobs in auditing, banking and consulting – the typical career tracks. In the end, it was an SSE alum at Business Sweden who opened up my eyes to its international platform that sealed the deal.

What path did you take from graduation to where you are now? 

I made a conscious career choice and spent a long time looking for something that encompassed who I was and what I was good at. It was important for me to put both my Swedish-Chinese cultural background and business education to their best use. 

During my last semester at SSE, I was selected for the graduate trainee program of the government’s trade promotion agency, Business Sweden, with a mission to help Swedish companies grow and expand globally. It came with a great sense of purpose and pride to represent sustainable, innovative companies abroad and contribute to trade, exports and nearly half of Sweden’s GDP.

My first placement was in Beijing and my role was to help Swedish companies develop and grow business relationships with Chinese counterparts and work closely with the Swedish Embassy to help companies navigate policy, regulations and market trends.

My second placement was in Hong Kong, where I focused on tech companies in neighboring city Shenzhen (known as China’s Silicon Valley) and lead the Swedish business community’s sustainability agenda as Vice-Chair of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainability Committee – where I met other brilliant SSE alumni. We made quite a splash advocating for a “green recovery” policy to the Hong Kong S.A.R government and business community!

After four years at Business Sweden, of which two were pandemic years, I decided to return to Sweden and take a sabbatical to spend time outside of the corporate world for a while, before joining H&M full-time.

Following your time studying and living in Stockholm, do you have any words of wisdom or advice you would like to share with our current students?

Try to find your passion, your “thing” that sets you apart from the rest. Don’t forget to also look beyond the “SSE bubble” to widen your opportunities and connect with students at other universities, organizations etc. 

For me, SSE provided the environment, the people and the opportunities that allowed my passion and vision to grow and bloom. It was the perfect testbed for me to explore the world and go way beyond my comfort zone. In between the moment I stepped inside the large oak doors for the first time and the moment I took the traditional graduation photo outside the same doors, there were also many moments of confusion, self-doubt and feeling lost about career choices and what I wanted to do. I realize now that it was a meaningful process that I had to go through to find my own direction. Don’t forget that you can (and should!) reach out to seniors or role models to ask questions.

SSE offered me tremendous exposure to the most brilliant, famous, smart people I could ever wish for - but also peers, alumni, professors whom I have the honor to call friends and mentors. When the graduation ceremony is over, these are the meaningful relationships that will stay with you through the rest of your life.