I am a strong believer in the importance of having a good work-home balance, regardless of the position you are in.
Stina Flogell Östlundh is the Managing Director of Megger Sweden, holder of 2nd Dan Itosu-Kai and a karate instructor. In an interview for Women in Power Systems, Stina shared her professional journey, her philosophy for achieving a balance between the professional and private life, and some advice for young women considering a career in the power industry.
Petra Curlin Today we are very proud to be talking to Stina Flogell Östlundh, Managing Director of Megger Sweden and one of the pillars of the Women in Power Systems community. Welcome, Stina, and thank you for joining us.
Stina Flogell Östlund Thank you very much.
PC You have over two decades of experience in the power industry, including several managerial positions. But let us go back to the beginning. What first inspired your decision to pursue a career in this industry?
I received the strangest reactions to my career choice from people outside the power industry. But not within the industry, they have been very welcoming in all situations.
It was actually pure coincidence. I was working as a sales engineer for a semiconductors distributor, and I was visiting one of my key accounts, a large Swedish relay manufacturer. They showed me the ranking of all their suppliers, with my previous company in the middle or at the bottom. The only companies that were disclosed were my company and the top one. The top company was Programma, a test and measurement equipment manufacturer. It was located in my neighborhood, but it was totally unknown to me.
So, I got curious and found out more about Programma. They became my customer and at a later point, an opportunity came up at the purchasing department. So, I switched sides and started as a purchaser at Programma. This was the starting point of a long career within the power industry.
PC It is interesting how you said you got curious. Isn’t it fascinating how, sometimes, one small moment or conversation can change the direction of your life completely? What kind of support did you experience from the people close to you when you decided to take this career path?
The reaction of those closest to me was – oh, this is cool! So, I never felt that it was something odd. I actually received the strangest reactions outside the power industry. And then I got comments like “Is that really a job for a little girl like you?” But I have not felt that within the power industry. They have been very welcoming in all situations, with one or two rare exceptions of patronizing behavior from senior colleagues a few years back.
However, I think the industries in general have taken giant steps in the past decades. My mother was one of the first women who got a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. At that time a professor told everyone in the class that, if she as a female could solve the problem, anybody could.
I am a strong believer in the importance of having a good work-home balance, regardless of the position you are in. I think it is important to take care of yourself, and I have made sure to have both a carrier and a good private life as well.
PC It is wonderful to see how the situation has changed within only two generations, and that the energy industry now nurtures a much more positive attitude towards women engineers. Has this sort of new attitude been your experience only in Sweden? What is the situation like elsewhere in the world?
SFÖ I don’t think it is a typically Swedish thing. Because, for us, Sweden is a small market, so our company exports to over 100 countries. I have been traveling a lot as managing director and I never had bad experiences elsewhere in the world.
PC Given the responsibilities of your position as managing director, how do you manage to balance your private and professional life? And could you tell us a little bit more about what you do outside of your professional career?
I always try to focus on objectives and to work towards achieving them, instead of running by a schedule.
SFÖ I am a strong believer in the importance of having a good work-home balance, regardless of the position you are in. I have always made sure to have some time to exercise. Every day I either go to the dojo and practice karate or, if I don’t practice karate, it is the gym. Family and friends are also very important to me. Of course, sometimes I spend many more hours at work than I usually do. But I think it is important to take care of yourself, and I have at least managed myself so I can have both a carrier and a good private life as well.
PC That really is an inspiration. I would just like to know how you organize your responsibilities – do you have a system that helps you keep that balance going every day?
SFÖ For instance, I am a karate teacher for kids and then I have a specific time to meet. So, I usually have dinner at work before I leave for the dojo and have my class with the kids. And after that I practice myself. It is good to have dedicated time. It is just like another meeting in your schedule, so you can’t make excuses for not doing it or continue to work. And then, if necessary, you can pick up the computer later in the evening. But I think you need to cleanse your brain to get new energy.
PC Absolutely, I think anyone who has ever experienced burnout from work will realize the importance of dedicating time to yourself during the day. You once said that karate is about defending yourself, not attacking your opponent. Are there any elements of the karate philosophy that you have found helpful in your professional life as well?
Elements of karate, such as structure, discipline, respect for others and constantly challenging yourself are helpful in daily life, private as well as professional.
SFÖ Definitely. Karate originates from Japan and is based on self-defense techniques with counter attacks. But Karate is much more holistic than these techniques – many would go as far as to say it is a lifestyle. We teach elements of the Japanese culture such as harmony and respect for others, which is helpful in daily life.
Other important elements are structure and discipline, combined with consistently challenging yourself. It is no surprise that business improvement methods such as Lean Six Sigma are inspired by karate terminology. We have implemented a Lean Excellence System within our Operations, and our Lean leaders are awarded different-colored belts depending on their level of experience.
PC Some of the women leaders whose stories we shared with our community have stressed the same principle that is part of this philosophy – challenging yourself, getting out of your comfort zone to grow both personally and professionally. But there are times when we are confronted with challenges that we didn’t choose. What are some such challenges that you faced during your career in the power industry and how did you overcome them?
SFÖ I would say that one of the challenges was when I started as a managing director. The company was in a bad shape at that time. We hadn’t released any new products in several years. We were losing sales, our sales distributor network was losing confidence in us and, as a side effect, we were also losing employees. All of this was caused by the corporate strategies that did not fit the company. And at that time, the company was acquired by Megger. They allowed us to run the company as we wanted and, as we were self-financed, to invest in new product development.
They gave me the confidence to run this company. It took a couple of years and there were a couple of bumps in the road. But that was the huge turning point for the company. That was a challenge that we overcame, and I would say that the company is in a very good shape now.
PC That turning point for the company must have been a huge milestone for you as well. What would you say was a moment that you are most proud of in your career?
SFÖ It is difficult to mention a single point, but something that I am very proud of is that we get very high scores in engagement surveys for the employees. And I am also proud to see that people who left many years ago are coming back to the company now. My management team and I together created a good workplace that people want to come to and where they want to contribute to the company.
I am very proud that my management team and I have created a good workplace that people want to come to and where they want to contribute to the company.
PC That is a truly great achievement. We see that a welcoming and stimulating work environment is one of the key factors that attract people to join a company. We are also seeing a wave of great change sweeping over the industry with the transition from traditional to renewable energy sources, electrification of homes and transportation and the integration of distributed energy resource (DERs) into the power grid.
All of this means more possibilities for young people considering a profession in the power industry, and we at Women in Power Systems would like women to have equal opportunities in that industry as men. What advice would you like to give young women contemplating or starting their career in the power systems?
SFÖ I would recommend anyone to approach the power industry, whatever it is that you want to do. It is such a broad industry. There is need for accountants, administrators, application specialists, engineers… Whatever your field of interest of expertise, you can decide to have a career within the power industry. We have been working a lot on equality, diversity, and inclusion. Megger is like a large family. We have people from many different countries, people of different ages. For a company within the power industry, we are exceptionally diverse.
Megger Sweden has many women on the board and in top management positions, there are women in almost every department and in several key positions. So, I think there are a lot of possibilities. And one of the opportunities that I think I have really enjoyed, is that I have been able to travel to so many countries I had never dreamed of before. I have visited the Itaipu hydro power plant at Iguassu Falls. I have also been at more urban places like Moscow or Mumbai.
We have customers all over the world. And I feel that the power industry is like a huge community. There are a lot of different opportunities and you can change positions during your career as well.
I would recommend anyone to approach the power industry. It is such a broad industry that, whatever your field of interest of expertise, you can decide to have a career in power systems.
PC Having travelled, you must have encountered women in different companies and different countries. In your experience, what is the situation like considering equity and the position of women outside of Sweden and outside of Megger?
SFÖ Of course, men are the majority in this industry. If I go to a fair, perhaps 95% of the participants are men. I would say it is perhaps easier for me as a female because I am already in a senior position. It might be more difficult if you are in a junior position. But I haven’t experienced that while traveling because I only started to travel once I was already managing director. So, I personally never felt that I have been treated in a different way because I am a woman. Perhaps a customer would insist on paying the bill if we went out for dinner because I am a woman. But I try to insist – “No, you are my customer, so I should pay the bill,” (laughs.)
PC I love what you said about the Megger family working a lot on diversity and equity. From what you said and how you described the support that you experienced when you chose this career path, I think that the situation in Sweden and definitely in Megger is all one could hope for. That is something that we at Women in Power Systems would really like to be the reality of power systems in general – collaboration between men and women, women having equal opportunity and access to all positions and all roles. Stina, thank you very much for sharing your journey with us. We are very happy to have you as one of our inspiring women in our systems.