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In a series of three, Artworks contributor Ulf Waltré sits down with the new president of Stockholm School of Economics Lars Strannegård to discuss the future of the school, culture and the value of a modern education

4 min read

Congrats Lars! How does it feel in the your new role as president?

It feels really good. It’s a lot of fun, I really have to say. I’m very happy.

Why do you think you were selected?

L: Well, I think because on the one hand I have had a lot of experience at Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) and Handelshögskoleföreningen (Economy School Association) and have been here for quite a long time. On the other I’ve also been at lots of other places. I have conducted research and had some leading positions, both at IFL and also managed our Executive MBA education, so I’ve seen a lot of different parts of the school.

I also think they believe my view of what the school should do moving forward lies more or less in line with what the board thinks as well. It just seems like we’re going to have a pretty good collaboration.

Where does your interest in economy originate from?

Fundamentally I am very interested in societal issues. Economy is a part of the society. Economy originally means housekeeping, but it is a lens to understand society. If you don’t understand economy, and how economy works, both economics and business, you’ll have quite a hard time understanding how society works. My own subject is organisation and leadership, which is about how society is organised and also about how economic organisations operate. Fundamentally, it’s a major interest in societal issues, broadly speaking.

How come you’ve also veered towards the arts and culture?

L: I’m deeply interested in culture, and just like economy is a way to understand society, so is culture, only in different ways. As I see it art is actually a way of communicating. It is also a way to carry knowledge, and particularly in a professional context I think it’s the most interesting way.

Everything we do here at SSE is based on scientifically produced knowledge. There are studies behind it, logical reasoning, and so on. Art communicates in a different manner, it’s a form of aesthetic communication. It speaks directly to our senses meaning that it doesn’t have to go through our heads and be made intelligible. It can simply be things you feel. That kind of communication is the key for giving input and creating an experience from things that are essential for society and man. It’s simply a way of seeing what society is like.

It’s two sides of the same coin. In the middle lies the understanding about society and economy and culture are both entrances, and they are entirely connected.

Would you say that there is a third way, or do they complete each other, given that economy also includes law, politics and other similar areas.

It’s really two forms of knowledge. One is logical and scientific, and it comprises of all science-based subjects. Then there is the other one, which is more of an aesthetic form of communication. It’s just a way of separating knowledge and the spread of knowledge.

What does the role as president entail?

SSE is an academic institution to the core. At the same time it’s an odd animal in the sense that it’s externally and privately financed. It’s a private university. We have a little bit more than 80% of our funds from private and external sources while only 18% of funding comes from the state.

Does someone own the school?

L: No, not really. There is a board that makes the calls, and then there is something called the Economy School Association whose sole purpose is to assist SSE. The Economy School Association appoints a majority of the board, and the board decides de facto what the school should do and its strategic direction.

Thus, the role as president is like that of a CEO in a company. It’s incredibly similar. You have responsibility for revenues, make sure funding is going well, and keep track of costs. The most important role of the board is to hire and fire the president. The similarities with a company are huge governance-wise.

Then it is also an academic institution, but at universities the faculties choose the presidents, and here it’s not done like that. The role is very similar to that of a company, and here it’s about pushing the organisation, the academic institution in this case, forward and make sure that you have clearly stated goals and can back them up.

We’re far from a representative figurehead, it’s much more of a CEO-mission.

Read part 2 of the interview