‘Some people have a strategic approach to their career, but I have always been driven by lust. By having fun at work and choosing assignments that are joyful and inspiring it doesn’t really feel like I am working when I am at work. I love that!’
She is the founder of her own recruitment company, an endorphin junkie and a former gymnast. We got the chance to talk to Anna Stenberg about what motivates her, how she handles stress and what to do when you hit a glass ceiling.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your story?
I started my career as management trainee at MTG (Modern Times Group) after graduating from Stockholm School of Economics. Most of the students started banking careers in London but I was never interested in that arena. A fun and dynamic company culture like MTG was always my number one priority. The result-driven and entrepreneurial DNA of the Kinnevik Group was a perfect match for a 24-year-old former gymnast like me, who loved chasing wild goals and take on challenges that was almost too tough to handle. After eight years in various leadership roles I was eager to start my own business and launched WES. I was driven by the idea of establishing a company that could generate a positive social impact and business growth at the same time.
You founded the executive search firm WES (Women Executive Search) in 2011. Tell us a bit about the company and your mission with it?
When I recruited candidates to my management teams at MTG I got frustrated with old-school and stiff headhunting firms that only presented the same stereotype male candidates and never understood the benefits of diversity. I was convinced that a diverse management team would make every company more competitive, profitable, innovative and successful but the headhunting firms didn’t have gender-, racial- or cultural diversity on their radar. I was convinced that other CEOs were just as disappointed as I was with the headhunting firms, so I started WES – an executive search company with the mission to innovate and challenge the headhunting industry with a straight-forward focus on diversity and inclusion through a new and innovative way of searching for talents and leaders. So far, WES has recruited more than 700 leaders out of which 80% are women and 40% have international background. WES has helped more than 300 companies recruit their first female CEO, CFO or Board Member – ever. The WES-team consists of some kick-ass Research Managers and Recruitment Consultants who share my vision and who always go beyond the traditional recruitment networks in every search process.
What was the reason behind selling the company?
WES has a strong momentum; the business keeps growing since more and more companies are realizing the power of diversity and the connection between inclusive leadership and profitability. In order to accelerate the growth further we need more muscles, so selling the company to SJR who shares our vision is a move to accelerate the growth. For me personally, I also have other engagements where I invest into and assist new exciting businesses, so this gives me an opportunity to expand those interests.
As an investor focusing a lot on female startups, can you see a pattern in what business men choose to invest in compared to the business women invest in?
No, I don’t see differences when it comes to investment strategies, but I am convinced that VC and PE-firms should increase their number of female investment managers in order to identify and attract more female entrepreneurs. Diversity within the investment companies is extremely important if they want to be able to identify 100% of the business opportunities available on the market. Right now, they don’t.
Before you started WES, you worked as Head of HR at MTG. Was there a big difference between how you approached the recruitment process at MTG vs how you approached it at WES?
As HR Director at MTG I was buying recruitment services from headhunters and I put pressure on the headhunting firms to present candidate lists covering a diverse range of candidate pools. I challenged them as much as I could to deliver more women and more candidates outside what I perceived to be a narrow stereotype. At WES we can make a difference on a bigger scale since we coach and challenge all our clients to break their traditional recruitment norms and patterns.
What are you looking for in a candidate?
Each recruitment is unique, and each company culture is unique so there is no “standard super candidate formula” that can be applied for all roles we recruit to. That’s the beauty of this job – that there is a perfect candidate out there for each role – no matter what the competence profile looks like and no matter what the corporate culture or values represent.
Have you ever experienced any obstacles or mistreatment in the business world because of your gender?
I would rather say that the lack of women on top positions in many of the companies and industries I have worked in has generated opportunities to drive change and to challenge existing norms and behaviors. The increasing demand for improved diversity is a valuable momentum for all amazing female top talents on the market that are ready to take on a new management- or board position. I have taken advantage of this momentum myself, but I have chosen wisely and picked employers with values that I respect and who represent a modern leadership culture without limiting politics and old school hierarchies.
Looking at your resumé, it is easy to get the impression that you work a lot and in a high pace. How do you keep yourself grounded and relaxed in times of stress or when you have a lot going on?
As a gymnast, my training and development came from making a lot of mistakes during practice as well as on competitive events, so I learned how to tackle mistakes under high pressure from an early age. It helped me to not be afraid of failure. In combination with being a true optimist with an annoyingly positive attitude to life in general I have always had a relaxed and solution-oriented approach to my career and to my job. Some people have a strategic approach to their career, but I have always been driven by lust. By having fun at work and choosing assignments that are joyful and inspiring it doesn’t really feel like I am working when I am at work. I love that!
When you were younger, you competed in gymnastics and achieved a lot of success such as winning gold in team gymnastics at the European Championship. Is sports still a big part of your life and do you see it being something that helps you stay motivated in your everyday life?
Definitely! When I did gymnastics, I got my daily boost of endorphins and a natural “high”. I love that feeling and I seek it in my daily life now as well as through fun job challenges and entrepreneurial adventures for example. I still do gymnastics every now and then and sports will always be a big part of my life. I am doomed to be an endorphin junkie forever, haha.
If you could give any advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of anything – little good comes out of it. And, buy Apple stock…
If you could give any advice to young career women, what would it be?
If you ever hit a glass ceiling – smash it.