This weekend I participated in a truly Nordic activity. I spent the better part of my Sunday sliding around on the ice between the small town of Sigtuna and Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. I was taking part in “Vikingarännet” (directly translated it would read the Run of the Vikings), or more specifically I participated in the shorter women’s version of the race called “Tjejrännet” (directly translated – the Run of the Women – which I guess implies Viking women). It basically meant that I tried to keep myself upright and going in the right direction for 35 kilometres on frozen Swedish inland lakes and canals. We even had to get our skates off in a couple of places and hike in the snow between the lakes – very rough indeed!
It was a lovely day and we had a tailwind, so it was not as much an exercise effort as a balancing act involving courage, and in my case a lot of “can do” attitude.
The whole adventure made me think about the recent February 2, 2013 issue of the Economist. The feature article for this particular edition was named “The Next Supermodel – Why the world should look at the Nordic Countries” and the front cover displayed a very confident looking young bearded Viking – with horns and all. I will not try to analyse the article too much in detail, but in broad strokes the Economist praised the Nordic countries’ models and their ability to balance financial stability with a fairly large public sector and good economic growth. The Economist of course also pointed out of some of the future challenges for Sweden and its Nordic neighbours, but all in all it seemed like the “Vikings” had gotten a majority of things pretty right.
I could not help reflecting on the like-mindedness between Sweden and the UK. As appreciative as the UK’s Economist magazine is about the Nordics, the Swedes are in general similarly appreciative of the Brits. Both countries have a lot in common – from the composition of our industry and export sectors, to the joint appreciation of good comedy – and let’s not forget that Swedes are some of the best non-native English speakers in the world.
All of the above (and much more) make Sweden an attractive market for UK companies. With about 9.5 million inhabitants, Sweden is the biggest Nordic export market for the UK, with total exports of £9.5 billion in 2011. It is also the second largest Nordic supplier to the UK, on 2011 figures, only superseded by Norway with its dominant oil and gas industry. The well known phrase “a home away from home” is not farfetched as a description of the British-Swedish relationship.
Of course the old stereotype of the Viking does not apply to modern Scandinavia, even if beards seem quite “a la mode” in Sweden – especially in the more trendy parts of Stockholm – I promise there are no horned helmets in sight. Let’s not forget though that the ancient Vikings were great traders in their time, while the modern Vikings in their turn are international-relationship-building professionals with a positive attitude and a global outlook. Exporting to Sweden is more attractive than ever and I would encourage British companies to read the February 2 edition of the Economist and to look for opportunities in Sweden.
I believe that there is an analogy to be made between exporting to new markets and skating in the Run of the Vikings – you need to combine courage and determination with a good sense of direction and a “can do” attitude, something entrepreneurs already know all too well.
To sum up, I bid British entrepreneurs “Welcome to Sweden”, to run with the modern Vikings – with or without skates!