Alumnus of the Year Jenny Larsson is a CEO and ecowarrior

Jenny Larsson with her arms crossed,

International contacts are part of Larsson’s everyday working life. As a leader, she works for diversity and equality of opportunity, as the citation for this year’s award emphasises.

For Jenny Larsson, Uppsala University’s Alumnus of the Year 2021, interest in the environment arose early in life. As Managing Director of Hitachi ABB Power Grids in Sweden, she now works for a fossil-free society – but also for diversity and inclusive leadership.

The citation for Larsson receiving the Alumnus of the Year award is: “Jenny Larsson has had a brilliant engineering career and her professional success, interest in the environment, solid leadership and commitment make her an excellent role model for the University’s students.”

On 5 October, she will arrive in Uppsala and give a lecture entitled ‘An ecosystem of technology and humans – for sustainable progress’ (in Swedish). The lecture will be livestreamed on starting at 18:30. Two days later, she will receive the award at a ceremony in the University Main Building.

Larsson’s concern for the environment began back in 1986, when she was 12, with the Chernobyl disaster. Living in Gävle, she saw up close the devastation that followed in the wake of the nuclear accident.

“Radioactive rain fell over large parts of Sweden and a huge amount in the Gävle area, where I lived. It brought home to me, my family and friends that events can happen that affect our environment and us human beings. It was then I realised that I wanted to work proactively on environmental issues.”

She studied at Uppsala University, obtaining her MSc in Environmental and Water Engineering in 1998. After several years at Vattenfall, the leading European energy company, and three years as Managing Director of Gotlands Energi AB, she joined ABB Power Grids in 2018. Two years later, she became Managing Director and, in the same year, a joint venture with Hitachi was started. The global company Hitachi ABB Power Grids was formed, with Larsson as Country Managing Director in Sweden.

“We stand for the technology that can enable the transition to a fossil-free society through electrification. This is, of course, necessary to reduce fossil emissions in various sectors. The energy sector is a huge part of our client base, but we also work directly with customers in industry, as well as transport and infrastructure,” Larsson says.

It may, for instance, be a matter of transmitting energy from one country to another, or from offshore wind farms to the mainland. This involves using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology, which can transmit large amounts of electricity over long distances with low losses. Another example is integrating a digital intelligence platform into power grids, where the company is working on numerous solutions.

In Sweden, Hitachi ABB Power Grids has 4,000 employees. Globally, 36,000 people work for the company. So international contacts and collaborations are part of Larsson’s everyday working life.

As a leader, she works for diversity and equality of opportunity, as the citation for this year’s award emphasises: “In her various positions, she has promoted gender equality and diversity issues and actively worked to get more women into leading roles.” For her, active efforts to promote these issues are self-evident.

“Responding to employees with respect and interest, no matter what their jobs are in an organisation, is a guiding principle for me. Working together as a team is essential. We also need to be different, with varied backgrounds. That makes us a more innovative and creative company, and one that produces what the customers want.”

Looking back on her years at Uppsala, she remembers the great breadth and what fun it was meeting students from several different study programmes in the nations, the University’s time-honoured student organisations. Above all, she recalls the sense of fellowship on her programme.

“We were there for one another. I remember how we were the stuff of one another’s everyday lives. We came from various parts of the country and we were all very different, but the comradeship was strong.”

Did you learn anything in particular in Uppsala that you have benefited from?
“Yes, loads. The teachers and professors had up-to-the-minute knowledge of sustainability and environmental issues. When I was on the programme, far from every organisation and company had sustainability on the agenda at all. But for us, it was a natural part of our education and became an integral aspect of our thinking when we moved on. I think that’s been valuable.”

Annica Hulth

Facts: Jenny Larsson

Career in brief: Completed a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering at Uppsala University in 1998. Has held management positions since 2002 at Vattenfall, Gotlands Energi and ABB, and is now Managing Director of Hitachi ABB Power Grids in Sweden. Board Chair of the Swedish Shippers’ Council and member of the Swedish Government’s Commission for Electrification.

Nation: Belonged to the Norrland Nation, but also spent much time in the Östgöta Nation, for the music.

Interests: “I love hiking in the countryside and the mountains. I’m a team leader and coach of the children’s football team, along with my husband, so we spend lots of time on the football field.”

Currently reading: Greta Thunberg’s book No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, with her collected speeches.

Inspired by: People who have the courage and urge to step up and push for change. Good leadership and respect for everyone, regardless of role and background.

Driving force in work: Being involved and contributing to something better, whether big or small. In my case, sustainability issues and the environment are paramount.

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