Sammy-Sebastian Tawakkoli has been thinking about sustainability all his life. Now he’s applying what he learnt at the School of Business, Economics and Law to increase plastic recycling. His new company Atomler has already attracted users from around the world.

The image of the Albanian garbage mountain is always there

After graduating from the Master's programme in Finance, alumnus Kamol Khodjaev started at Volvo Cars and ended up as the company's CFO in Japan. He is now Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan. All thanks to hard and goal-oriented work.

Kamol is Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan

With a business idea in tune with the zeitgeist and a business degree, Alice Knap was ideally placed to turn her vision into reality. Her company HUJ makes plant-based sandwich toppings and has just started scaling up.

From start-up to scale-up with plant-based toppings

The former grassroots activist has stepped into the rooms where the real climate decisions are made. Alumnus Björn Fondén has worked towards the transition to a sustainable world in non-profits, businesses and in the UN. Where does he see the greatest opportunity to make a difference?

Björn went from being a climate activist to working for the UN

88%

Where your work tasks related to your education?

88% of students felt that their tasks were related to their education.

81%

How qualified were you for your first job after graduation?

81% of students thought they had qualified tasks.

SEK

92%

Recommending the School

89% of students would recommend the School to new students.

Average monthly salary

The average salary one year after graduation was 29 000–30 999 SEK.

Get employed quickly

92% were employed within 6 months of graduation.
55% had employment before graduation.

What happens after the Bachelor's Business and economics degree?

Since 2008, the School of Business has conducted follow-up surveys among students who graduated from the undergraduate program the previous year. The surveys provide answers to questions such as Where are the students working today? How did they get their first job? and In which sectors do they work?

After your studies
Björn went from being a climate activist to working for the UN

The commitment to the environment is like a common green thread in much of what Björn Fondén does. In upper secondary school, he became aware of climate change and its impact on our future, which led him to start an environmental organisation in his hometown of Lidköping. And when the Paris Agreement was signed, he was in the crowd of activists outside the negotiations pushing for a more ambitious deal. Now, he has gained a space inside some of those rooms where the critical decisions on climate and environment are made. His journey took off when he joined the Programme in Environmental Social Science at the School of Business, Economics and Law in 2015, where he chose to specialise in business administration.

“I find it exciting that the programme combines business, economics and politics with environmental science to answer some of the most important questions about our future. For me, it felt like the perfect choice," says Björn.

Getting started in the voluntary sector
Being an organiser at heart, he saw a chance to broaden his perspectives and network through the many student associations available at the School. In the association Handels Students for Sustainability (HaSS), he and other students arranged study trips, networking evenings and lectures with various people from the business world. Together with friends, Björn also started the student association Handels Entrepreneurs.

“If there isn’t already an association in your field of interest, the university environment offers both the structure and the network needed to easily start your own,” says Björn.

It was also very much thanks to his involvement in these associations that new opportunities opened up. During his final year at the programme, he was nominated by an environmental organisation to be the youth representative for Sweden at the United Nations, which gave him an opportunity to go to New York and present an evaluation of how Sweden had succeeded in achieving the global goals of the 2030 Agenda.

“It was an extremely exciting and important assignment, which I was given largely thanks to my previous sustainability commitment. In my experience, meeting people who share your interests will often lead to something new,” he says, and continues:

“This is advice I would like to pass on to students: To be able to get your dream job, volunteer work is a superb asset. It shows that you have an interest, allows you to establish new contacts and makes you stand out from the crowd.”

Through his studies at the School of Business, Economics and Law, he realised the importance of the business sector in the transition to a more sustainable society. This realisation guided his choice of employer after graduation, when he took a job at the consultancy and accounting firm Grant Thornton with the mission of establishing a brand new sustainability department. The aim was to offer companies advice on sustainability accounting, climate services and strategies for sustainable development. He also participated in the development of an internal sustainability strategy for Grant Thornton International.

“I really had a great opportunity to influence both internally and externally. Our point was that all companies today need a sustainable strategy to grow and maintain profitability in the future,” he says.

"The similarities are greater than the differences”
After two years at Grant Thornton, he had the opportunity to return to the UN. This time as a Climate Change Specialist working with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - the organisation that, among other things, leads the international climate negotiations. He was positioned at their regional office in Thailand, whose operations span all over Asia and the Pacific. Björn’s task was to help countries reach their climate targets and implement effective climate policies in preparation for the COP26 climate summit.

“For many people, a job at the UN is high on their wish list, and I was no different,” says Björn.

At the same time, his various assignments have made him realise that the similarities between NGOs and business are often greater than the differences.

“Businesses and NGOs both need to create value for their customers, members or funders in order to last. The big difference lies in why they exist in the first place. Whilst NGOs principally are organised around a higher social purpose, the general purpose of companies is to meet market demand and generate profit. However, this depends entirely on the owners, and the business sector can be seen moving towards a more society-driven approach. In my opinion, you can have a big impact wherever you decide to work – the key is about finding your own platform to make a difference.”

Continued involvement in the UN
Since last autumn, Björn is pursuing a one-year Joint Master’s programme in Global Economic Governance and Public Affairs, which is organised in Rome, Berlin and Nice by the LUISS School of Government & CIFE. Alongside his studies, he continues to be involved with the UN and was recently selected to a Youth Task Force aiming to support young people's inclusion ahead of the Stockholm+50 International Meeting in June this year. The UN conference will be held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm - the UN’s first ever environmental conference. In addition, the conference aims to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable societies.

“We are right now at an inflection point in human history. The critical decisions leaders take today will be the ones shaping our common future on this planet,” says Björn.

Remind yourself of the end goal
For students aspiring to work in the UN, his advice is to begin by identifying and getting involved in the issues they want to impact, and to work through NGOs or other organisations on a voluntary basis. After that, internships or junior positions, like the one he got, can be a way in. Where he himself will be heading after graduation is still an open question. “The most important thing is to remind yourself of what you want to achieve,” says Björn.

“We need people at every level - from the activists on the ground to the decision-makers in politics and business - to move the world in a better direction. It’s not your position that matters, but what you can do based on where you are right now. As the old saying goes: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.”

From start-up to scale-up with plant-based toppings

A rice cake with margarine and salt on top. That was what Alice Knap was eating for breakfast one morning five years ago when she decided that people wanting a plant-based diet needed something that tasted better than that to put on their sandwiches. Out of that idea came a business that now employs Alice and about fifteen people.

No sooner said than done. Alice and her then husband started experimenting with flavours and textures and the result that emerged was two vegetarian pâtés under the name HUJ. Many months of product development and tasting sessions followed and the sandwich topping was launched on a small scale in 2018. Today the range also includes a vegan cream cheese and HUJ has expanded beyond its first deliveries to local food shops to supplying hundreds of stores across Sweden.

“We’ve got a product in a growing segment that lots of retailers believe in, which has naturally smoothed the way. Many retailers agree with our view that this is just the start of a shift to vegan food,” says Alice Knap.

Put her studies into practice
Before embarking on this journey, Alice had no idea it was even possible to start up and run your own business. After graduating from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, she spent two years running a cleaning company.

“The Swedish Tax Agency had just made payments for cleaning services tax deductible and I saw the company as a bit of a project and an exciting opportunity. I only had to buy a car, a vacuum cleaner and other equipment so it was quite a low threshold to launching a business. Social sustainability was an important aspect of our business concept. We only employed young people who hadn’t had a job before due to high youth unemployment,” she explains. Here in her own company, Alice Knap got to put many of the things she had studied into practice, from bookkeeping and marketing to leadership, follow-up and customer management.

“I learned a lot and realised that it’s perfectly possible to run your own business and that a lot of it is fun too.”

Alice Knap’s degree from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg was in social sciences and the environment. She studied environmental science and the basics of business economics and then chose to focus on sustainable enterprise for her bachelor’s degree.

“I was only 18 when I applied and I thought I’d probably end up working as an environmental consultant and help companies to be more sustainable. Companies have a major impact on our society and on the climate and I wanted to work in that field somehow. But it didn’t quite turn out that way in the end, although of course sustainability is an important personal motivation in my current job. 

Having a basic understanding of business economics has been an important factor, especially for feeling that you’re on top of how it all fits together.

“It might sound obvious but when I meet other people who don’t already have that grounding, I realise how it’s given me a head start.”

Exciting scale-up phase
After a while working as an economist, Alice Knap worked as a consultant for the state-owned venture capital company Almi, which supports start-ups and growth companies by providing loans and business development. This brought her into contact with many new start-ups and their stories.

“I learned a lot about what it’s like running a company with ambitions for growth.”

And in 2021, growth was what HUJ was all about. From selling their products in 240 stores at the start of the year, HUJ now has products in 700 stores across Sweden and employs seventeen people.

“We’re not a start-up any more. We’re in a scale-up phase. 2021 was our first year on that journey. It’s exciting, I have to say. There’s no end to the challenges that come with growth and they just get bigger and bigger because everything is on a larger scale. But it feels great, especially because we’re a little team doing this together. In the early years I was mostly on my own because I was the only one on the operational side.”

Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice
Alice Knap has plenty of experience to share with anyone looking to make their business concept a reality. She’s especially keen to pass on ideas about making contacts and vanquishing that feeling of loneliness you get in the start-up phase.

“Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice from other people. Especially if, like me, you’re new to the industry. People love offering a helping hand. And then you need to sift through all the advice and make your own decision because it’s not uncommon to get completely contradictory advice from different people!”

It’s also important to find your “why factor” and be passionate about your concept and your product. There will be times along the way when you feel like everything is against you.

“When that happens, it’s good to have a motto or a clear objective saying why you are doing what you are doing and that gives you a bit of a boost. Personally, I can’t think of a better job than running HUJ and it’s a privilege to be able to work with your passion, making life easier for people who want a plant-based diet and being part of building something from the ground up.”

The image of the Albanian garbage mountain is always there

We won’t create a better world by twiddling our thumbs. Sammy-Sebastian Tawakkoli realised this at the age of just seven. One of the comic books he used to read included a call to save the Amazon rainforests.

“That was when I first understood that people’s commitment could result in change,” he explains. “Since then, the idea has been a common feature of everything I do.”

Sammy-Sebastian had already studied design engineering before embarking on his studies at the MSc Programme in Innovation and Industrial Management at the School of Business, Economics and Law. In Gothenburg, he wanted to combine his product development expertise with his interest in environmental sustainability.

“I was quite critical of some of the theories taught at the School,” he recalls. “For example, I felt the need to explore the concept of growth, which I found hard to reconcile with sustainability.”

Since Sammy-Sebastian already had experience of student’s union work from his studies in Lund, the student’s union was an obvious place to start. In 2012, he and some friends started Handels Students for Sustainability (HaSS), which quickly attracted an excellent response.

“We got a big boost from the publicity surrounding sustainability issues. The School’s management supported us, and we started with a series of lectures titled ‘Why growth?’. We invited several big names such as Björn Stigson, Sasja Beslik, Åsa Romson and Anders Wikman. They all agreed to take part.”

The children on the garbage mountain
Sammy-Sebastian was driven by a desire to combine theoretical knowledge from lectures with real life. When one of his friends at HaSS came up with the idea of a study trip to Albania, he jumped at the chance.

“It was our last semester and it felt great to do something big together. Albania had just emerged from communism to become a market economy, and we decided to look at how the shift had affected the tourist industry, ownership and waste management.”

He will remember the images of Albania’s landfills forever. He saw how the huge mountains of waste attracted poor families, and how people struggled to make a living from what others had thrown away. The most heartbreaking thing was all the children playing among the rubbish. 

“When we started Atomler, I was thinking about Albania. Our vision is to increase recycling rates so that landfills won’t be needed in the future.”

After graduating from the School, Sammy-Sebastian started working as an analyst at the online marketplace Tradera. But he couldn’t forget what he had seen in Albania. Not only had the project resulted in a report – which was presented at the School and during Almedalen Week – it had also meant a lot on a personal level.

“The whole project was based on curiosity, and there was a sense of pure joy in its implementation. I wanted to continue along that track.”

Sammy-Sebastian managed to persuade his employer to send him to Almedalen Week again to do a market survey. Perhaps Tradera could open up its platform to a wider range of recycled materials?

“The idea fell through the cracks, but I couldn’t let it go. I got my colleague Johannes Schill on board, and we started to investigate the market.”

Poor plastic recycling rates
The pair soon settled on plastics, since the material currently has a low recycling rate. While up to 80–90% of all paper, metal and glass is recycled, plastics remain at a more modest figure of 10–30%, depending on the fractions involved. Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes began to look into the reasons.

“Most of the waste is in the production chain, but there haven’t been enough buyers there. We found that there was no matching service to allow people to find each other. We thought we could use a marketplace to solve many of the basic problems: material prices, continuous flows and quality.”

When Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes started sketching out the idea, they were still working full-time. Sammy-Sebastian had changed jobs and was now working as an analyst at the business newspaper Dagens Industri. In 2019, they both had the opportunity to take a six-month leave of absence after successfully applying for Danske Bank’s ‘+impact’ accelerator programme.

“We still didn’t really manage to get the company going, and I had to go back to Dagens Industri. But everything changed in summer 2020.”

That was when they heard Atomler had received 16 months of funding from Vinnova and the Swedish Energy Agency. Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes were able to drop everything else and devote themselves fully to the company.

The platform was launched in May 2021, and 190 companies have signed up so far. Almost every country in Europe is represented.

“We’re seeing that demand is growing and the secondary market is starting to stabilise. Now we’re trying to raise more capital to develop the business.”

Thanks to School of Business, Economics and Law
Sammy-Sebastian is extremely grateful for everything he learned during his time at the School. Without an understanding of how to run a company and how the innovation process is linked to bigger movements at the macro level, he would have been at a loss. He says that he has benefited immensely from all the strategies and theories he learnt about during his studies.

“If I were to pass something on to other students, it would be the importance of getting to know yourself and what drives you. What motivates you, and what do you want to leave behind on the planet? Think about what you want to do based on the answers to those questions. You don’t have to run a company – there are plenty of other ways to turn your ideas into reality.”

In 2017 you left your position at Volvo in Sweden to work as CFO at Volvo Cars in Japan. Tell us more! 

"Prior to the assignment in Japan, I had worked in various roles at Volvo Cars, in each role I tried to learn key aspects of the job quickly and contributed to making a difference. I always tried to put both short- and long-term goals and worked relentlessly to exceed them. The Volvo Cars graduate program allowed me to experience three different roles in three years including one in the US and undertaking various leadership and business trainings. After that, I landed in corporate treasury where I learned the key essence of financing various investments and lead a team to manage company credit risk and improve its working capital. This allowed the company to make new trade partners to grow and re-invest unlocked cash back to customers. These achievements didn’t go unnoticed by Volvo Cars’ leadership and they honoured me with an international assignment in Japan as a local CFO, in line with my career aspiration."

In 2020 you left Volvo to go to Amazon – can you tell us more about this?

"It wasn’t an easy decision, Volvo wasn’t just a place of work for me, it was a place where I realized my first career aspirations and despite being far from my home and family, I didn’t feel lonely working at Volvo due to my amazing colleagues who became close friends. However, I felt I needed to challenge myself with something new to learn and develop after 10 years in the automotive industry. Online trade and tech innovation have always been catching my curiosity and Amazon was at the top of my list. An opportunity opened in Japan, and I took it. Starting at Amazon was exciting, everything was new and there was a lot to learn. I found Amazon to be very fast yet very thorough in innovating and decision making, with a relentless focus on the customer."

Tell us about your position as Head of Program Finance at Amazon? 

"In my current role, I lead a team of seven talented finance leaders. We provide finance leadership over e-com retail programmes focused on growth, customer acquisition and profitability throughout complex sets of inputs to spin Amazon’s flywheel. On top of this role, I have been partly backfilling the CFO role for Amazon Retail Japan since a year back on an interim basis."

Do you have any tips for students on how to get an international career?

"This is very individual; I would share what worked for me. I had a clear preference and an interest in which verticals I wanted to start in while having an open mind on location and company. I targeted companies that could offer me this and that were also specifically interested in graduates from the University of Gothenburg, meaning my chances of being invited for an interview were good. I listed these companies and tried to learn more about their corporate culture and goals. I then connected those insights with my aspiration (if matched) and articulated that clearly in my resume. Networking might help too but, in my case, I didn’t count on it much. Also, I would suggest practising numerical, problem solving and business case interview assessments already now to stay sharp when companies invite you to take them, it is fairly common practice and preparation makes a difference. Besides this, I found it imperative to create routines. In my case, I set clear short- and long-term goals, write down how to achieve them with clear milestones and relentlessly work backwards from each of those milestones."

Kamol is Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan

How come you chose Gothenburg for your Master’s?

"Volvo, IKEA, H&M, the Nobel Prize, and a beautiful Scandinavian landscape, I didn’t know much else about Sweden. After doing some benchmarking among the leading universities in Europe, I discovered the quality of education in Sweden. I searched for high-quality international education and possibilities to get scholarships and grants to support the tuition fee and Sweden came among the top countries to offer this. In Sweden, The School of Business, Economics and Law had high ranking, strong references from its alumni, intentional diversity, reputable professors and offered grants to cover education fees."

What was it like to come to Gothenburg from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where you studied for your Bachelor's degree?  

"Northern lush forests and crashing Atlantic Ocean waves to solid rocks filled me with breath-taking impressions. I was also impressed by the level of English most people spoke in Gothenburg and the welcoming, warm attitude towards visitors. I was also pleased to see many international students with diverse backgrounds making my education experience truly memorable. Everything was great except finding accommodation in Gothenburg, as it took some time to find one." 

When did you start developing an interest in Finance?  

"Math was my favourite subject at school. I always thought numbers tell the truth faster than words. I also wanted to learn something I can apply in any industry. A combination of these preferences led me to go with Finance."

What is your impression of the Finance programme? 

"I liked the international diversity of my class. There were many talented people from all over the world and I truly enjoyed studying with them in group assignments and spending time in social activities together. I made some friends and until this day we keep in touch regularly. I also liked the finance lab seminars, which provided necessary access to rich data sources and professional financial applications that allowed me to connect theory with practice. Moreover, professors were knowledgeable and always accessible to seek guidance on complex questions. Most of them had business experience so it was valuable to learn from how our learnings/case studies find a real application."

Do you feel that your studies in Gothenburg have helped you in your career? How?  

"Definitely! The School was well recognized and I thought it would give me a good chance to start my career in some international company in the Nordics or back home in Uzbekistan. The School was excellent in keeping a strong network with many international companies based in Sweden, they constantly invited companies to give seminars on various topics at campus, arranged career events and provided career services to students. These activities made a difference in my career pursuit."

After graduating in 2010, you got accepted to Volvo Cars Global Graduate Program. Can you tell us what that was like and how you applied?

"I was interested in consumer products and trade, things like cars, PCs and smartphones always attracted me due to their complex functionality, design and brand equity. There were many companies that allowed me to find what I was looking for. Among those companies was Volvo Cars, which showed a strong interest in recruiting people from the School of Business, Economics and Law by visiting the university campus and arranging various seminars. I was very intrigued by their company culture and liked their cars a lot, so I applied. I think being a graduate from this school helped me get the first interview at Volvo Cars."

After graduating from the Master's programme in Finance, alumnus Kamol Khodjaev started at Volvo Cars and ended up as the company's CFO in Japan. He is now Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan. All thanks to hard and goal-oriented work.

Kamol is Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan

The image of the Albanian garbage mountain is always there

Sammy-Sebastian Tawakkoli has been thinking about sustainability all his life. Now he’s applying what he learnt at the School of Business, Economics and Law to increase plastic recycling. His new company Atomler has already attracted users from around the world.

With a business idea in tune with the zeitgeist and a business degree, Alice Knap was ideally placed to turn her vision into reality. Her company HUJ makes plant-based sandwich toppings and has just started scaling up.

From start-up to scale-up with plant-based toppings

Björn went from being a climate activist to working for the UN

The former grassroots activist has stepped into the rooms where the real climate decisions are made. Alumnus Björn Fondén has worked towards the transition to a sustainable world in non-profits, businesses and in the UN. Where does he see the greatest opportunity to make a difference?

89% av studenterna skulle rekommendera Handelshögskolan till blivande studenter.

Rekommenderar skolan

Den genomsnittliga månadslönen ett år efter examen är mellan 29 000–30 999 SEK.

Genomsnittlig månadslön

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98% av studenterna tyckte att deras arbetsuppgifter var relaterade till deras utbildning.

98%

Var dina arbetsuppgifter relaterade till din utbildning?

98% av studenterna tyckte att de hade kvalificerade arbetsuppgifter.

Hur kvalificerade var dina arbetsuppgifter på ditt första arbete?

98%

94% fick jobb inom 6 månader efter avslutade studier.
51% fick jobb innan avslutade studier.

Lätt att få jobb

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Vad händer efter
juristexamen?

89% of students would recommend the School to new students.

Recommending the School

The average salary one year after graduation was 29 000–30 999 SEK.

Average monthly salary

SEK

88% of students felt that their tasks were related to their education.

88%

Where your work tasks related to your education?

81% of students thought they had qualified tasks.

How qualified were you for your first job after graduation?

81%

92% were employed within 6 months of graduation.
55% had employment before graduation.

Get employed quickly

92%

What happens after the Bachelor's Business and economics degree?

Since 2008, the School of Business has conducted follow-up surveys among students who graduated from the undergraduate program the previous year. The surveys provide answers to questions such as Where are the students working today? How did they get their first job? and In which sectors do they work?

After your studies
Björn went from being a climate activist to working for the UN

The commitment to the environment is like a common green thread in much of what Björn Fondén does. In upper secondary school, he became aware of climate change and its impact on our future, which led him to start an environmental organisation in his hometown of Lidköping. And when the Paris Agreement was signed, he was in the crowd of activists outside the negotiations pushing for a more ambitious deal. Now, he has gained a space inside some of those rooms where the critical decisions on climate and environment are made. His journey took off when he joined the Programme in Environmental Social Science at the School of Business, Economics and Law in 2015, where he chose to specialise in business administration.

“I find it exciting that the programme combines business, economics and politics with environmental science to answer some of the most important questions about our future. For me, it felt like the perfect choice," says Björn.

Getting started in the voluntary sector
Being an organiser at heart, he saw a chance to broaden his perspectives and network through the many student associations available at the School. In the association Handels Students for Sustainability (HaSS), he and other students arranged study trips, networking evenings and lectures with various people from the business world. Together with friends, Björn also started the student association Handels Entrepreneurs.

“If there isn’t already an association in your field of interest, the university environment offers both the structure and the network needed to easily start your own,” says Björn.

It was also very much thanks to his involvement in these associations that new opportunities opened up. During his final year at the programme, he was nominated by an environmental organisation to be the youth representative for Sweden at the United Nations, which gave him an opportunity to go to New York and present an evaluation of how Sweden had succeeded in achieving the global goals of the 2030 Agenda.

“It was an extremely exciting and important assignment, which I was given largely thanks to my previous sustainability commitment. In my experience, meeting people who share your interests will often lead to something new,” he says, and continues:

“This is advice I would like to pass on to students: To be able to get your dream job, volunteer work is a superb asset. It shows that you have an interest, allows you to establish new contacts and makes you stand out from the crowd.”

Through his studies at the School of Business, Economics and Law, he realised the importance of the business sector in the transition to a more sustainable society. This realisation guided his choice of employer after graduation, when he took a job at the consultancy and accounting firm Grant Thornton with the mission of establishing a brand new sustainability department. The aim was to offer companies advice on sustainability accounting, climate services and strategies for sustainable development. He also participated in the development of an internal sustainability strategy for Grant Thornton International.

“I really had a great opportunity to influence both internally and externally. Our point was that all companies today need a sustainable strategy to grow and maintain profitability in the future,” he says.

"The similarities are greater than the differences”
After two years at Grant Thornton, he had the opportunity to return to the UN. This time as a Climate Change Specialist working with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - the organisation that, among other things, leads the international climate negotiations. He was positioned at their regional office in Thailand, whose operations span all over Asia and the Pacific. Björn’s task was to help countries reach their climate targets and implement effective climate policies in preparation for the COP26 climate summit.

“For many people, a job at the UN is high on their wish list, and I was no different,” says Björn.

At the same time, his various assignments have made him realise that the similarities between NGOs and business are often greater than the differences.

“Businesses and NGOs both need to create value for their customers, members or funders in order to last. The big difference lies in why they exist in the first place. Whilst NGOs principally are organised around a higher social purpose, the general purpose of companies is to meet market demand and generate profit. However, this depends entirely on the owners, and the business sector can be seen moving towards a more society-driven approach. In my opinion, you can have a big impact wherever you decide to work – the key is about finding your own platform to make a difference.”

Continued involvement in the UN
Since last autumn, Björn is pursuing a one-year Joint Master’s programme in Global Economic Governance and Public Affairs, which is organised in Rome, Berlin and Nice by the LUISS School of Government & CIFE. Alongside his studies, he continues to be involved with the UN and was recently selected to a Youth Task Force aiming to support young people's inclusion ahead of the Stockholm+50 International Meeting in June this year. The UN conference will be held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm - the UN’s first ever environmental conference. In addition, the conference aims to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable societies.

“We are right now at an inflection point in human history. The critical decisions leaders take today will be the ones shaping our common future on this planet,” says Björn.

Remind yourself of the end goal
For students aspiring to work in the UN, his advice is to begin by identifying and getting involved in the issues they want to impact, and to work through NGOs or other organisations on a voluntary basis. After that, internships or junior positions, like the one he got, can be a way in. Where he himself will be heading after graduation is still an open question. “The most important thing is to remind yourself of what you want to achieve,” says Björn.

“We need people at every level - from the activists on the ground to the decision-makers in politics and business - to move the world in a better direction. It’s not your position that matters, but what you can do based on where you are right now. As the old saying goes: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.”

From start-up to scale-up with plant-based toppings

A rice cake with margarine and salt on top. That was what Alice Knap was eating for breakfast one morning five years ago when she decided that people wanting a plant-based diet needed something that tasted better than that to put on their sandwiches. Out of that idea came a business that now employs Alice and about fifteen people.

No sooner said than done. Alice and her then husband started experimenting with flavours and textures and the result that emerged was two vegetarian pâtés under the name HUJ. Many months of product development and tasting sessions followed and the sandwich topping was launched on a small scale in 2018. Today the range also includes a vegan cream cheese and HUJ has expanded beyond its first deliveries to local food shops to supplying hundreds of stores across Sweden.

“We’ve got a product in a growing segment that lots of retailers believe in, which has naturally smoothed the way. Many retailers agree with our view that this is just the start of a shift to vegan food,” says Alice Knap.

Put her studies into practice
Before embarking on this journey, Alice had no idea it was even possible to start up and run your own business. After graduating from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, she spent two years running a cleaning company.

“The Swedish Tax Agency had just made payments for cleaning services tax deductible and I saw the company as a bit of a project and an exciting opportunity. I only had to buy a car, a vacuum cleaner and other equipment so it was quite a low threshold to launching a business. Social sustainability was an important aspect of our business concept. We only employed young people who hadn’t had a job before due to high youth unemployment,” she explains. Here in her own company, Alice Knap got to put many of the things she had studied into practice, from bookkeeping and marketing to leadership, follow-up and customer management.

“I learned a lot and realised that it’s perfectly possible to run your own business and that a lot of it is fun too.”

Alice Knap’s degree from the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg was in social sciences and the environment. She studied environmental science and the basics of business economics and then chose to focus on sustainable enterprise for her bachelor’s degree.

“I was only 18 when I applied and I thought I’d probably end up working as an environmental consultant and help companies to be more sustainable. Companies have a major impact on our society and on the climate and I wanted to work in that field somehow. But it didn’t quite turn out that way in the end, although of course sustainability is an important personal motivation in my current job. 

Having a basic understanding of business economics has been an important factor, especially for feeling that you’re on top of how it all fits together.

“It might sound obvious but when I meet other people who don’t already have that grounding, I realise how it’s given me a head start.”

Exciting scale-up phase
After a while working as an economist, Alice Knap worked as a consultant for the state-owned venture capital company Almi, which supports start-ups and growth companies by providing loans and business development. This brought her into contact with many new start-ups and their stories.

“I learned a lot about what it’s like running a company with ambitions for growth.”

And in 2021, growth was what HUJ was all about. From selling their products in 240 stores at the start of the year, HUJ now has products in 700 stores across Sweden and employs seventeen people.

“We’re not a start-up any more. We’re in a scale-up phase. 2021 was our first year on that journey. It’s exciting, I have to say. There’s no end to the challenges that come with growth and they just get bigger and bigger because everything is on a larger scale. But it feels great, especially because we’re a little team doing this together. In the early years I was mostly on my own because I was the only one on the operational side.”

Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice
Alice Knap has plenty of experience to share with anyone looking to make their business concept a reality. She’s especially keen to pass on ideas about making contacts and vanquishing that feeling of loneliness you get in the start-up phase.

“Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice from other people. Especially if, like me, you’re new to the industry. People love offering a helping hand. And then you need to sift through all the advice and make your own decision because it’s not uncommon to get completely contradictory advice from different people!”

It’s also important to find your “why factor” and be passionate about your concept and your product. There will be times along the way when you feel like everything is against you.

“When that happens, it’s good to have a motto or a clear objective saying why you are doing what you are doing and that gives you a bit of a boost. Personally, I can’t think of a better job than running HUJ and it’s a privilege to be able to work with your passion, making life easier for people who want a plant-based diet and being part of building something from the ground up.”

The image of the Albanian garbage mountain is always there

We won’t create a better world by twiddling our thumbs. Sammy-Sebastian Tawakkoli realised this at the age of just seven. One of the comic books he used to read included a call to save the Amazon rainforests.

“That was when I first understood that people’s commitment could result in change,” he explains. “Since then, the idea has been a common feature of everything I do.”

Sammy-Sebastian had already studied design engineering before embarking on his studies at the MSc Programme in Innovation and Industrial Management at the School of Business, Economics and Law. In Gothenburg, he wanted to combine his product development expertise with his interest in environmental sustainability.

“I was quite critical of some of the theories taught at the School,” he recalls. “For example, I felt the need to explore the concept of growth, which I found hard to reconcile with sustainability.”

Since Sammy-Sebastian already had experience of student’s union work from his studies in Lund, the student’s union was an obvious place to start. In 2012, he and some friends started Handels Students for Sustainability (HaSS), which quickly attracted an excellent response.

“We got a big boost from the publicity surrounding sustainability issues. The School’s management supported us, and we started with a series of lectures titled ‘Why growth?’. We invited several big names such as Björn Stigson, Sasja Beslik, Åsa Romson and Anders Wikman. They all agreed to take part.”

The children on the garbage mountain
Sammy-Sebastian was driven by a desire to combine theoretical knowledge from lectures with real life. When one of his friends at HaSS came up with the idea of a study trip to Albania, he jumped at the chance.

“It was our last semester and it felt great to do something big together. Albania had just emerged from communism to become a market economy, and we decided to look at how the shift had affected the tourist industry, ownership and waste management.”

He will remember the images of Albania’s landfills forever. He saw how the huge mountains of waste attracted poor families, and how people struggled to make a living from what others had thrown away. The most heartbreaking thing was all the children playing among the rubbish. 

“When we started Atomler, I was thinking about Albania. Our vision is to increase recycling rates so that landfills won’t be needed in the future.”

After graduating from the School, Sammy-Sebastian started working as an analyst at the online marketplace Tradera. But he couldn’t forget what he had seen in Albania. Not only had the project resulted in a report – which was presented at the School and during Almedalen Week – it had also meant a lot on a personal level.

“The whole project was based on curiosity, and there was a sense of pure joy in its implementation. I wanted to continue along that track.”

Sammy-Sebastian managed to persuade his employer to send him to Almedalen Week again to do a market survey. Perhaps Tradera could open up its platform to a wider range of recycled materials?

“The idea fell through the cracks, but I couldn’t let it go. I got my colleague Johannes Schill on board, and we started to investigate the market.”

Poor plastic recycling rates
The pair soon settled on plastics, since the material currently has a low recycling rate. While up to 80–90% of all paper, metal and glass is recycled, plastics remain at a more modest figure of 10–30%, depending on the fractions involved. Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes began to look into the reasons.

“Most of the waste is in the production chain, but there haven’t been enough buyers there. We found that there was no matching service to allow people to find each other. We thought we could use a marketplace to solve many of the basic problems: material prices, continuous flows and quality.”

When Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes started sketching out the idea, they were still working full-time. Sammy-Sebastian had changed jobs and was now working as an analyst at the business newspaper Dagens Industri. In 2019, they both had the opportunity to take a six-month leave of absence after successfully applying for Danske Bank’s ‘+impact’ accelerator programme.

“We still didn’t really manage to get the company going, and I had to go back to Dagens Industri. But everything changed in summer 2020.”

That was when they heard Atomler had received 16 months of funding from Vinnova and the Swedish Energy Agency. Sammy-Sebastian and Johannes were able to drop everything else and devote themselves fully to the company.

The platform was launched in May 2021, and 190 companies have signed up so far. Almost every country in Europe is represented.

“We’re seeing that demand is growing and the secondary market is starting to stabilise. Now we’re trying to raise more capital to develop the business.”

Thanks to School of Business, Economics and Law
Sammy-Sebastian is extremely grateful for everything he learned during his time at the School. Without an understanding of how to run a company and how the innovation process is linked to bigger movements at the macro level, he would have been at a loss. He says that he has benefited immensely from all the strategies and theories he learnt about during his studies.

“If I were to pass something on to other students, it would be the importance of getting to know yourself and what drives you. What motivates you, and what do you want to leave behind on the planet? Think about what you want to do based on the answers to those questions. You don’t have to run a company – there are plenty of other ways to turn your ideas into reality.”

In 2017 you left your position at Volvo in Sweden to work as CFO at Volvo Cars in Japan. Tell us more! 

"Prior to the assignment in Japan, I had worked in various roles at Volvo Cars, in each role I tried to learn key aspects of the job quickly and contributed to making a difference. I always tried to put both short- and long-term goals and worked relentlessly to exceed them. The Volvo Cars graduate program allowed me to experience three different roles in three years including one in the US and undertaking various leadership and business trainings. After that, I landed in corporate treasury where I learned the key essence of financing various investments and lead a team to manage company credit risk and improve its working capital. This allowed the company to make new trade partners to grow and re-invest unlocked cash back to customers. These achievements didn’t go unnoticed by Volvo Cars’ leadership and they honoured me with an international assignment in Japan as a local CFO, in line with my career aspiration."

In 2020 you left Volvo to go to Amazon – can you tell us more about this?

"It wasn’t an easy decision, Volvo wasn’t just a place of work for me, it was a place where I realized my first career aspirations and despite being far from my home and family, I didn’t feel lonely working at Volvo due to my amazing colleagues who became close friends. However, I felt I needed to challenge myself with something new to learn and develop after 10 years in the automotive industry. Online trade and tech innovation have always been catching my curiosity and Amazon was at the top of my list. An opportunity opened in Japan, and I took it. Starting at Amazon was exciting, everything was new and there was a lot to learn. I found Amazon to be very fast yet very thorough in innovating and decision making, with a relentless focus on the customer."

Tell us about your position as Head of Program Finance at Amazon? 

"In my current role, I lead a team of seven talented finance leaders. We provide finance leadership over e-com retail programmes focused on growth, customer acquisition and profitability throughout complex sets of inputs to spin Amazon’s flywheel. On top of this role, I have been partly backfilling the CFO role for Amazon Retail Japan since a year back on an interim basis."

Do you have any tips for students on how to get an international career?

"This is very individual; I would share what worked for me. I had a clear preference and an interest in which verticals I wanted to start in while having an open mind on location and company. I targeted companies that could offer me this and that were also specifically interested in graduates from the University of Gothenburg, meaning my chances of being invited for an interview were good. I listed these companies and tried to learn more about their corporate culture and goals. I then connected those insights with my aspiration (if matched) and articulated that clearly in my resume. Networking might help too but, in my case, I didn’t count on it much. Also, I would suggest practising numerical, problem solving and business case interview assessments already now to stay sharp when companies invite you to take them, it is fairly common practice and preparation makes a difference. Besides this, I found it imperative to create routines. In my case, I set clear short- and long-term goals, write down how to achieve them with clear milestones and relentlessly work backwards from each of those milestones."

Kamol is Head of Program Finance at Amazon Japan

How come you chose Gothenburg for your Master’s?

"Volvo, IKEA, H&M, the Nobel Prize, and a beautiful Scandinavian landscape, I didn’t know much else about Sweden. After doing some benchmarking among the leading universities in Europe, I discovered the quality of education in Sweden. I searched for high-quality international education and possibilities to get scholarships and grants to support the tuition fee and Sweden came among the top countries to offer this. In Sweden, The School of Business, Economics and Law had high ranking, strong references from its alumni, intentional diversity, reputable professors and offered grants to cover education fees."

What was it like to come to Gothenburg from Tashkent, Uzbekistan where you studied for your Bachelor's degree?  

"Northern lush forests and crashing Atlantic Ocean waves to solid rocks filled me with breath-taking impressions. I was also impressed by the level of English most people spoke in Gothenburg and the welcoming, warm attitude towards visitors. I was also pleased to see many international students with diverse backgrounds making my education experience truly memorable. Everything was great except finding accommodation in Gothenburg, as it took some time to find one." 

When did you start developing an interest in Finance?  

"Math was my favourite subject at school. I always thought numbers tell the truth faster than words. I also wanted to learn something I can apply in any industry. A combination of these preferences led me to go with Finance."

What is your impression of the Finance programme? 

"I liked the international diversity of my class. There were many talented people from all over the world and I truly enjoyed studying with them in group assignments and spending time in social activities together. I made some friends and until this day we keep in touch regularly. I also liked the finance lab seminars, which provided necessary access to rich data sources and professional financial applications that allowed me to connect theory with practice. Moreover, professors were knowledgeable and always accessible to seek guidance on complex questions. Most of them had business experience so it was valuable to learn from how our learnings/case studies find a real application."

Do you feel that your studies in Gothenburg have helped you in your career? How?  

"Definitely! The School was well recognized and I thought it would give me a good chance to start my career in some international company in the Nordics or back home in Uzbekistan. The School was excellent in keeping a strong network with many international companies based in Sweden, they constantly invited companies to give seminars on various topics at campus, arranged career events and provided career services to students. These activities made a difference in my career pursuit."

After graduating in 2010, you got accepted to Volvo Cars Global Graduate Program. Can you tell us what that was like and how you applied?

"I was interested in consumer products and trade, things like cars, PCs and smartphones always attracted me due to their complex functionality, design and brand equity. There were many companies that allowed me to find what I was looking for. Among those companies was Volvo Cars, which showed a strong interest in recruiting people from the School of Business, Economics and Law by visiting the university campus and arranging various seminars. I was very intrigued by their company culture and liked their cars a lot, so I applied. I think being a graduate from this school helped me get the first interview at Volvo Cars."