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Stine Bosse: Keep the Nordic region a sweet spot

Stine Bosse: Keep the Nordic region a sweet spot

| Text: Marie Preisler, Photo: Uffe Weng

The Nordic region is a privileged sweet spot, and should remain one. But it means fully embracing the EU says Danish Stine Bosse, named one of the world’s most powerful businesswomen many times over.

When Stine Bosse raises her voice, the worlds of business and politics at home and abroad pay close attention. She is a powerful businesswoman and also a well-known defender of showing political and economic prudence in order to create a better and safer world. In this interview she raises her voice to sound a warning to Nordic citizens and politicians.

“The Nordic region is a sweet spot. You don’t need to travel far in Europe to see how incredibly lucky we are. But this predicament cannot be taken for granted, it is a result of an open and agile economy and a deep engagement with Europe and the UN. If we forget that, the sweet spot could quickly disappear,” she says. 

Stine Bosse’s words are aimed at political parties in both Denmark and other Nordic countries which are currently moving away from European cooperation. In Denmark she sees this tendency especially among the opposition parties The Red-Green Alliance and the Danish People’s Party. They are at opposite ends of the political spectre but both are taking aim at the EU’s cornerstones.  

Lately the two parties joined forces to try to make the government stop the payment of child benefits to children of citizens from other EU countries - which would be in breach of the EU principle of freedom of movement. If this kind of attitude is spread to encompass a majority of citizens, things are not looking good for the Nordic welfare model, she warns.

“I am convinced that we in the Nordics will run into serious trouble if we stop considering ourselves as part of Europe. We are not alike in everything across Europe, but that doesn’t mean we should close the shutters and think we can manage on our own while the others look after themselves. I would be very worried about the kind of world this would create and that it would be the end of the Nordic region as a sweet spot,” she says.

Life balance 

Stine Bosse is a woman who speaks her mind without holding back. That skill, combined with her deep insight and experience from top management, made her Denmark’s highest ranking female CEO for several years running, and in 2009 and 2010 she was among the Financial Times’ top 25 most influential female businesswomen.

At the time she was CEO at the Tryg insurance company, a position she unexpectedly left in 2011 to spend more time with her family - two daughters and four grandchildren - and to spend more time on company boards. Both goals have been met, says Stine Bosse:

“So far my career has always zoomed along at top speed, and for decades my working week has been more than 60 hours, but balance is a keyword for me, and to achieve balance across my life I had to change tack.” 

She explains how she really longed to spend more time with her grandchildren. Today she spends a whole day a week with her eldest grandchildren and she also sees her daughters and good friends much more often than she used to.

She has also accepted a post as an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, and she has joined the boards of even more companies. Lately she was made boardroom director at The Royal Danish Theatre. The role makes Stine Bosse both happy and humble:

“Being the boardroom director for Denmark’s national stage is a kind of public service which it is almost your duty to accept if you are lucky enough to be asked. I also feel very humbled by the task, because I don’t bring any deep insight into culture. But I do know a lot about leadership.”

She reckons 80 percent of the leadership role at The Royal Danish Theatre is the same as any other leadership role. Another 10 percent is similar while the remaining 10 percent is definitely different.

It’s about daring 

To dare is a motto for Stine Bosse, as she explains in the biography ”It’s about daring”. And stepping away from her top leadership career is so far the bravest thing she has done in her professional life, she says without hesitating: 

“Quitting my job at Tryg is without doubt the bravest thing I have done. My other professional choices are nothing in comparison. So far my career has been a long list of exciting offers which I have accepted. Now it is me who have chosen a completely different life. And in order to choose that life I had to abandon top leadership,” she says.

She feels it is very important that the Nordic countries protect the welfare state, and she has expressed anger that there is not more political courage to carry out economic reforms. The welfare state needs reform in order to survive, says Stine Bosse. 

“Nobody can be angry all of the time, but it does make me angry that the politicians didn’t listen when I and the rest of the Welfare commission ten years ago called for tax reforms which would increase property taxes. Address the big issues rather than reducing the Nordic Region to a small, closed-off area where other EU citizens can’t get child benefits,” says Stine Bosse.

Social responsibility for companies too

Companies also carry big social responsibility, thinks Stine Bosse. Recently she was quoted as saying that it is not OK for companies which make large profits to lay off several hundred people. This was interpreted in several media to mean that Stine Bosse did not acknowledge companies’ right to maximise their revenues.

“I was really taken to task and I was misunderstood, because obviously companies must make money. But I still think companies to a large degree share a responsibility for the welfare state. It is obvious for small, local companies that they would not have had any customers without taking this responsibility seriously. But some large companies need reminding that they are responsible for more than their bottom line and need to think very carefully before they fire too many people.”

No to politics - so far

There has been talk about a political career several times. It is generally accepted that Stine Bosse has potential as a politician. But so far she has shied away from the opportunity, and will continue to do so for a few more years, she says.

“My political opinions are shaped by my experience from business, but I have chosen not to enter politics several times and for several reasons. Partly because I would like to live into old age, and right now my boardroom work and personal life remain priorities which I want to focus on. But I will not rule out that things might look different in five years’ time.”

She can’t explain why she has been named one of Europe’s most powerful women for several years running, nor can she say how you get there. But she hopes that many other women will achieve the same.

“I never quite understood why I was named. Presumably because of the combination of my business career and that I dare have an opinion about how society should work. My gender probably has played a part too, because i was quite alone as a female in top leadership. Hopefully there will be many more women to come.” 

One minute interview

What book are you currently reading?

“The Fly Trap” about hover flies and sawflies by the Swedish author Fredrik Sjöberg   

Which work tool do you appreciate the most in your office?

My MacBook Pro is an indispensable tool, and I also always carry my iPad with me

What is your hidden talent?

Ouch, I am definitely not good at sports, there are no hidden talents there. I do have a talent for writing, though, which is not entirely fulfilled at this stage in my life. I wrote several poems when I was young, and I am actually quite good at making party songs 

As a child, what did you want to become when you grew up?

I wanted to be a vet, no doubt about it, because I was very fond of dogs and my first student job was dog walker for a kennel. I also helped train them. Today I am happy my career took a different turn

Stine Bosse’s CV

Boardroom director at The Royal Danish Theatre - Denmark’s national stage

On the board of a range of companies and organisations, including Børnefonden, Flügger Denmark, TDC, Allianz and Aker ASA and CONCITO.

Former CEO at insurance company Tryg and at the time Denmark’s highest ranking female top leader

In 2009 and 2010 she came number 22 in Financial Times’ list of “most influential business women in the world”.

Adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School

Author of ”Bossen, om balance i ledelse” - a book about leadership

Master of Law from the University of Copenhagen

Born in 1960

Mother to two daughters and two sons from her partner’s previous relationship


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