Many expats come to Sweden for love. But not all of them manage to transform a physical move into a career move as well. Head of Tax Transformation at KPMG Sweden tells The Local how he did it and how the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) helped.
When David Perrone decided to study abroad in the Netherlands for six months, he had no idea he was about to meet his wife-to- be. Or that she would be Swedish.
“That's actually how we started talking though,” David recalls. “I was very good friends with a Swedish exchange student in high school, so I knew a little bit about Sweden.”
She was a student at Lund in southern Sweden. They hit it off, and since David's business programme at Indiana University allowed him to study abroad for a full year, he decided to spend another semester abroad, this time in Copenhagen – just about an hour away.
After completing his degree back in the US, David immediately began looking for work back in Europe.
“I wanted to find a job closer to her,” he says. “So I contacted the school where I studied about any openings, but the only position they had available was programme assistant to their marine biology programme.”
But David nonetheless saw an opportunity and managed to convince the department his business degree would be an asset in trying to promote the programme to international students. The job put him back in Copenhagen for a year, but he realized it ultimately wasn't the right fit and headed back to the US.
There he started working with transfer pricing at a big four accounting firm, a relatively new field at the time – and one that would have great significance in David's career journey.
“While I was visiting my wife over Christmas I started googling on a whim. And I found someone who worked with transfer pricing at KPMG – so I got in touch.”
From there moving back to Sweden all happened in a whirlwind.
“I arrived in Sweden on a Saturday, and began working on Monday,” he laughs.
KPMG is one of the largest professional services companies in the world, offering audit, tax, and advisory services. It was just what David had studied for. And yet – something was missing.
“It can be hard to get close to Swedes. Everyone I knew here in Sweden I knew through my wife or work,” David says. “Networks are very well-defined here, and connections are important. But I didn't have many connections of my own.”
David always knew he wanted to get an MBA at some point, so he started looking around, thinking that it might also be the answer to his networking woes.
“I wanted to go to a good school with a reputable network, and a school that was highly ranked internationally. The Stockholm School of Economics
seemed like the obvious choice.”
Founded in 1909, the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), is a leading business school offering two Bachelor programmes, five Masters programmes in English, as well as internationally-recognized MBA, PhD, and Executive Education programmes. David enrolled in the Executive MBA programme
and began studies there in 2012.
“It was a massive time commitment and a significant endeavor – but it fulfilled all my expectations. I'm glad I did it,” David says.
The intensive 18-month programme
, conducted in English, includes modules on topics such as Financial Management, Value Creation, Accounting and Finance, Global Context, and more, giving students the tools to succeed in international business no matter what their background.
“My class was about 40 people from different countries,” David recalls. “We all had different specialties and backgrounds, so we had leading experts from all areas in our class. Some sections were easy for me and others were harder.”
One area in particular had an impact on David, giving him skills he would later use to transform his career.
“SSE has a very strong profile in sustainability, and this has had a significant, positive impact on my career,” he says. “Sustainability was one of the first topics covered during our Creating Shared Value course, and in 2012 I wrote a paper about tax as an upcoming area of sustainability.”
Tax and sustainability would soon become a big issue – and David's expertise and education in the area got him to where he is today.
“It helped position KPMG as experienced in that area immediately. And now KPMG is a market leader in tax transformation and transparency,” David explains.
Today David is Head of Tax Transformation and Transparency at KPMG, and is also the Head of Marketing and Development for the tax department. And he has extended is network significantly.
“SSE let me make friends and connections I wouldn't otherwise have,” he says.
“Just a couple of weeks ago I did something with an old classmate almost every day of the week – tennis one day, then dinner with someone else, drinks with a friend, then a business meeting with another classmate. Four of seven days in the week I was with other alumni!”
The programme is rigorous and demanding, but David recommends the Executive MBA for expats who “really want to understand business”.
“You should enroll if you want to expand your network, if you want to advance in your career…if you're open to new experiences, if you're hungry for more,” he says. “It's exciting, exhausting, and exhilarating.”