KTH Royal Institute of Technology: Tech leader drives digital innovation in a courageous way

In the spring of 2021, Thessén was awarded for being a trusted leader with Guldhuset, an annual prize awarded to a successful young leader in the built environment sector. The KTH alumnus describes herself as a humble and open-minded leader.

“I believe in being your authentic self,” Thessén says. “I want my employees to be able to argue and tell me when they don’t agree or don’t understand.”

Thessén says that it can be easier for young leaders to be fearless and question the organisation’s long-standing methods.

“My tip to future young leaders is to be daring. Leadership is essentially learning by doing. There’s no need to know everything. What’s important is that you learn and grow together with your team.”

A driver of digital acceleration
In her current role, Thessén leads a team that drives an innovation agenda for AFRY X, the company’s new digital accelerator and division. Their focus is on creating digital transformation and new business models to expand the consultancy’s offering.

“We optimise clients’ businesses by being able to more efficiently solve complex problems. These can be about automating factories or creating mobility solutions in cities, such as transformation of public transport.”

Picture of Pernilla Thessén.
Thessén has experience from working at all levels in organisations, from acting as a consultant to serving on the group executive board for Tyréns, a Swedish community consulting company.

“My strength is that I have a good understanding of how strategies are implemented and executed in the business,” she says. “My job as a leader is to describe direction and logic that people want to be a part of in order to carry a strategic insight, from an executive level through the entire organisation.

“Because it’s in the day-to-day work that the battles are won—in sale pitches or product development.”

Art of engineering and its societal impact
Thessén is a fourth generation KTH graduate. Her mother’s grandfather, Harry Albihn, graduated from engineering studies in Electro technology in 1903.

“Growing up, we always discussed engineering’s impact on society. Engineers have largely driven technical development. Their quest to push boundaries is a strong force, and engineering knowledge is important today with complex social issues that demand technical understanding and solutions—issues concerning everything from the environment to the housing market and job opportunities.”

In addition to biotechnology studies at KTH, Thessén has studied political science and economics. She says she is interested in societal development and the different disciplines help her piece together a map in her head.

“The advantage of interdisciplinary studies is that you understand different ways to approach and solve problems.”

When she did her masters in technology and policy at MIT, Thessén learned to problematise technological development.

“There’s a widespread view of technology as deterministic, as if it’s laws of nature. Because humans drive technological development that misconception creates a problem for the society’s capacity to take ownership of the development. Both states and the industrial life have a responsibility to steer the direction of technological development in order to own the future and leave a sustainable world for the next generation.”

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