How one Italian built his road to Swedish success

Maxime Gazzo didn't think before moving to Sweden - he just did it - and seven years later his architecture and design firm is booming. Gazzo tells The Local about passion, parmesan, and the importance of not being Swedish.

How one Italian built his road to Swedish success
"I moved to Sweden with a motorcycle and a backpack," says Maxime Gazzo. Photo: Solveig Rundquist
Maxime Gazzo was born in Canada, educated in Italy, and after graduation found himself interning with a Polish architect firm in Paris. And then he moved in with a Swede.
"I moved in with this guy, and then one day he said, 'You don't have a job, right?' I was worried he thought I couldn't pay the rent," Gazzo recalls.
Expecting eviction, Gazzo was instead presented with an opportunity. His Swedish landlord offered him a position doing shop-fitting and carpentry in Paris. He worked there for two years before the company went bankrupt, and that might have been the end of his Swedish story – if it wasn't for love.
"I worked mostly in Paris but sometimes I would come to Sweden to meet the bosses. And that was when I met Erica, who also worked at the company," Gazzo tells the Local.
He sips contentedly on his espresso, a shiny new ring twinkling on his left hand. The pair just returned from their October wedding in Italy.
"I thought, either we do it now, or it's not going to work," Gazzo says. "I didn't really think, I just did it. I moved to Sweden with a motorcycle and a backpack."
That same spontaneous passion which brought Gazzo to Sweden would become his career success story, although it took a matter of years.
"You can send one thousand CVs here and not get one reply," he says. "It's all about contacts."
After having the "worst interview of his life" at H&M, a friend advised Gazzo to start up his own business. So he did.
"I would never have thought of starting my own company in Italy," Gazzo confides. "There's no passion for this work in Italy. But here people are proud of their work."
Gazzo opened his firm in the same building as two former colleagues, and the three fledgling businesses helped each other out however they could. Still, progress was slow.
One problem was that he simply could not learn Swedish.
"I was shocked," Gazzo says. "I picked up French in three months just by being there. And Swedish took me three years. At meetings with clients I would nod, pretending to know exactly what they were talking about, and then go look it up."
With a brand new business and a baby at home, Gazzo didn't have the time for SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) classes. He took a one-month course at a community school but still didn't pick up very much. So one day he put his foot down.
"Everyone usually answered in English so I always figured they don't mind," Gazzo says. "But Swedes are not very happy if you're not speaking Swedish. They are much more comfortable with their own language. So I decided, now I'm only going to speak Swedish. And somehow I picked it up."
Gazzo's first big break came when Boots Pharmacy decided to open in Sweden. Thanks to networking with his former boss, Gazzo got in. He designed and fitted the first Boots shops in Sweden. Gazzo's client list now includes everything from fashion house Acne to massive grocery store chains to private apartments.
"You have to have something you can sell, and you have to create a network," he explains. "If you just come here and expect things to come to you, nothing's going to happen. Get a job first, any job, and talk to everyone you know. Call companies up and tell people you're available for projects."
But life is more than business, and even with work going well, life in Sweden was flawed, at least for a while. All of Gazzo's contacts were Erica's, not his, and sometimes he simply felt "grumpy".
For one thing, the parmesan pieces in the grocery stores were simply too small.
"I didn't have a history," Gazzo says. "When you first move somewhere, there's nothing, no feeling for anything. But over time, you start to create those memories."
Gazzo rekindled his passion for water polo, a sport he had always enjoyed but had dropped. Now his polo teammates are his closest friends, and they see each other two or three times a week.
"You have to integrate as much as possible," Gazzo says. "If you just make foreign friends you isolate yourself."
But when it comes to finding work and friends in Sweden, Gazzo says there's really just one method – don't be Swedish.
"Swedes have Big City Syndrome," Gazzo says with a chuckle. "They can be reserved, and you tend to find yourself becoming like that. But once they get to know you they can be very open. So keep that approach, like you're somewhere else, and keep smiling. In a very un-Swedish way, you have to say – 'Here I am.' That's the little extra something.”
And with the passing of time, Gazzo says, general life in Sweden just keeps getting better.
"Now there are big bits of parmesan."
Solveig Rundquist

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.