Barbro Ehnbom – Trailblazer in Life Science and Women’s Networking

Swedish business woman Barbro Ehnbom took the United States by storm in the 1970s as one of the first female executives in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry as well as the first female executive analysist on Wall Street. Throughout her career, her success has allowed her to accomplish many things. In 2005, she founded the Swedish-American Life Science Summit, an initiative aimed at building strategic and collaborative relationships in academia, industry and funding between the two countries. She also has created her own network, Barbro’s Best & Brightest, through which she promotes young women in Swedish and international business by providing mentorships and interdisciplinary idea-exchange.

Serendipity. This is the word used by Barbro Ehnbom when explaining how she ended up in the pharmaceutical industry. After graduating from the School of Economics in Stockholm at the age of 23, she moved to New York City and began working for a pharmaceutical company, specializing in marketing and research.

– Despite it being a coincidence that I started my career in the pharmaceutical business, it turned out to be a perfect fit and I am still happily working in the Life Science field, says Barbro Ehnbom.

Since Barbro Ehnbom has spent most of her life working to develop and maintain Swedish-American relations, both culturally and commercially, it was a natural step forward for her to start the Swedish-American Life Science Summit (SALSS) in 2005. SALSS is an initiative whose main purpose is to increase the level of cross-border business between the United States and Sweden, one of the most important Life Science industry centers in Europe. Over the years the Summit has taken on an increasingly global nature, making it a true reflection of the Life Science industry today.

– Next year’s summit will focus on “All About Brains” and will feature brain experts from across the world, says Barbro Ehnbom. This subject is relevant as so many people are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

In 2001, Barbro Ehnbom initiated Female Economist of the Year, a scholarship awarded to a distinguished female student at the Stockholm School of Economics. The same year she founded the BBB – Barbro’s Best & Brightest, a network for young ambitious women. Initially meant only for business school students, this organization has expanded to include women from a wide range of disciplines and universities. Today, BBB has more than 200 members.

– If SALSS is my business, Barbro’s Best & Brightest is my passion, says Barbro Ehnbom. The network is all about connecting women with each other and helping them find contacts within companies.

When Barbro Ehnbom started her career in Life Sciences and later worked in finance on Wall Street, having a woman hold a high-ranking office within a company was a rare notion. Thankfully the situation is different today, as there are more women pursuing previously off-limits or unavailable careers the same way Barbro did. She has been, and continues to be, an inspiration for women across the world and encourages them to not fear a career path in male-dominated fields. However, despite these improvements, while many companies practice gender diversity, there is still a long way to go in terms of equality. Barbro specifically points to companies in finance as the ones who need to step up their game in terms of involvement and inclusion of women.

– The finance companies not only need to actively work on attracting more young women, but also must be more flexible when a woman wants to start a family and have children. Diversity is very important, both in companies and in the board rooms. Not only does it eliminate risks, in the long run it also makes the company more successful.

Last summer, Barbro Ehnbom got the chance to host her own program in the well-known Swedish radio show “Sommar i P1.“ During her one-hour program she shared her life story, from her educational experience at the School of Economics, her time spent in New York City and on Wall Street, to the life she led as the first female executive in one of the most successful business sectors in the world.

– I got a fantastic response from listeners who liked my radio program, Barbro Ehnbom says. I got hundreds of letters from women praising my talk, who were all able to find inspiration and confidence in themselves after listening to my program.

According to Barbro Ehnbom, 2018 is going to be an eventful year. She will keep on working with SALSS and developing her new project – SALSS Invest. There are plans to feature the event “SALSS Goes To Washington” as the U.S. capital plays a key role in the Life Science industry. Barbro’s Best & Brightest will continue to expand and seek out passionate and ambitious women. And if that wasn’t enough, Barbro is contemplating writing a book about her life, a story that will embolden and support aspiring women everywhere.

Katarina Åström