“Life is a box of new things to be learned”

Name: Ulf Orrenius
Did PhD at: KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Current position: CEO of ENSY
Interviewed by: Liyun Yang

Ulf Orrenius is now the CEO of a small start-up company with six employees trying to develop new technological solutions for the refinement of biofertilizers which are of better environmental sustainability. After being a technical specialist at the large international company Bombardier for nearly 18 years, his new job deals with a totally different area and tasks.

We meet outside his office for a joint lunch. Ulf comes out greeting me with a big smile and a firm handshake. As the CEO of a small company which has few employees spread out over Sweden, Ulf has rented an office room for one colleague and himself in an old and spacious building located in Gamla Stan.

“It’s good to have some social interaction at work, and especially the coffee.”

Ulf finished his PhD in 1997 from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Acoustics. After that, he started to work at Bombardier Transportation as an acoustic specialist. Meanwhile, he also started working as one founder of the company ERAK about ergonomics and acoustic. The work with ERAK was out of his interest and had been a side work for many years. Besides that, he has also developed and offered courses to both companies and university on acoustics. “I enjoyed to have one foot in the industry and another in the academics”, Ulf explains.

“I think it is important to find an employer or company that values your skills. For Bombardier, my specialty in acoustics is of core value and I have also been treated well.” Ulf also mentions that the job at Bombardier was really interesting and rewarding. Their team had really strong competence and had been at the leading place worldwide. His work also consisted of many international collaborations and he had travelled regularly within Sweden and Europe.

In 2016, due to the strategic changes at Bombardier, Ulf’s department was closed down. This led to a big change in his career path, from the technical specialist to a managerial role in the start-up company ENSY, which lies in a new area of environmental engineering. Ulf was contacted by the company’s main owner, who was looking for a good partner to run the company.

“I have experience from industrial project management and also have good people skills, that’s partly why I got this job.”

Now his work involves a lot more different tasks, from doing the financial and legal management to planning the project development and finding people with right specialties.

“I’m curious and like to learn new things. Just two years ago, I didn’t know anything about my current work”, he says. Even after his PhD, Ulf has been learning continuously, both from university courses and his business partner, who is an experienced business man. One new skill he learned from his business partner is how to succeed in a negotiation. “Talk less and listen more, like the Japanese do!”

What skills that you obtained during your PhD are most beneficial today?

“Never give up with challenging problems and divide up the big problems into smaller tasks. In addition, it’s a good ability to read and obtain information from research papers, which other people may not do if they don’t have a PhD.”

What skills did you obtain after your PhD?

“I would say the people skills in terms of project management and giving presentations. It is also about finding compromises, which is quite different compared to the academic training.”

What advice would you give to those who are about to finish their PhDs?

“First you should follow your heart. Then, be careful in picking a boss and organization that values your skill. Lastly, be open to opportunities for international assignments and collaborations, which is one of the benefits a scientific training can offer. Such experiences are personally rewarding and generally favorable to your career!”


Photo: distributed under Creative Commons  https://flic.kr/p/PCCA2L 

This career portrait was originally written for the PhD course “Career skills for scientists”, organized every spring by KI Career Service. As explained in the introduction post, all participants in the course interviewed PhD holders with an academic or a non-academic career. Keep an eye on the tag #careerportrait for a selection of these portraits. Get inspired and learn more about your options for your post-PhD career!



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