I was home for a little more than a day – my own bed felt good, especially with Henry and MacKenzie snuggled on top – and at 5:15 the next day I took off on SAS for Copenhagen. The flight was way full, but I had a real ticket, and got a great exit-row seat with both legroom and a sense of space (the plane was an Airbus A340, a good-sized bird). The flight was fast, as were the connections in CPH and Stockholm, and I was in Umeå for the 18th time by 12:45, a day before I’d begin a week’s residence at the Umeå School of Business and Economics. My first visit was in 1994, so this was the 20th anniversary – USBE was the first overseas business school I visited. (April also marks the 25th anniversary of B-school guest lecturing, back to a first visit to Mac Noden’s airline management class at Cornell; indeed, I met my original USBE host, Kerstin Nilsson, when we were both visiting Ithaca.)
I had been in residence once before, for two weeks in 2009, and school policy for longer stays is a simpler but perfectly comfortable OK Hotell. It’s truly just that, okay but not fancy. Checked in, unpacked, took a needed shower, grabbed a sandwich at the convenience store next door, then took off on “my” bike – one of the great USBE traditions is provision of a two-wheeler, which is the way most of the town, young and old alike, get around. The tires needed air, and, happily, the hotel clerk had a hand pump that was a bit balky but managed to add a bit of pressure front and rear. And I was off!
For almost the whole two decades that I’ve visited, the splendid, wooded island of Bölesholmarna, in the Umeå River just upstream from the center, has been a magnet, so I headed there first. From the SAS flight 90 minutes earlier, I could see there was still snow and ice here and there, and the island had both of those as well as a lot of mud. Tough sledding, to mix sports! So I only made one circuit (1.5 miles), and headed back onto pavement. The bottoms of both pant legs were spattered with mud (happily, after it dried it simply brushed away, always good on your first day away with limited clothing!).
Rode west to Backen, past the wonderful old church, and north the Sculpture Park, about 50 works outdoors. We had visited in autumn 2008, on a spectacular fall day. It was gloomy, but I saw some cool stuff, and some “this is art?” stuff, too. Rode back to town, weaved around a bit, then back to the hotel. Grabbed a 20-minute nap, brought this journal up to date, read a bit, and at 5:45 got back on the bike to find dinner. Lots of stuff is closed on Sundays in Sweden, but the Bishops Arms, an attempt to reproduce an English pub, was open and pouring some nice ale from small Swedish breweries. Enjoyed some with a grilled salmon dinner. Slept hard.
Up early Monday morning, up the hill to the university. I didn’t have much to do on the first day, but it was fun to say Hej! (hello) to lots of old friends. Left campus at the end of the day, changed into bike shorts and tights (the saddle on the “comfort bike” was anything but, and I already had a sore rear), and rode 11 miles. The OK Hotel had a free, though rather limited, dinner buffet, and I tucked in.
Tuesday I had a meeting with the dean, Lars Hassel, a very good guy, a lecture in the afternoon, and another bike ride after work. High point that day was dinner at the Allstar, a sports bar downtown. I was there twice during my 2009 two-week residence, and they have big-screen TVs all over the place. When you arrive, the hostess asks you what you want to watch, and I knew the answer: game 5 of the semifinals in the Swedish Hockey League championships, Skellefteå, the 2012-13 SHL champs, against Linköping. In a country of 9.5 million, most SHL teams hail from smaller cities, and Skellefteå has only 32,000, plus it’s sort of local – in the same county (Västerbotten) as Umeå, about 80 miles north. I had a great seat, and the game started well, with Skellefteå scoring the first goal within about a minute. The Swedes stared as this fan erupted with cheers and a pumped fist, something I repeated twice more in period 1! Go S, go! Enjoyed a beer and a salmon burger (garnished with guacamole – something odd about eating that this close to the North Pole), and left after the second period. Caught the end of the game at the hotel, a 7-3 win. The European hockey style is different, and it was fun to watch.
As often happens, night two in Europe was a bit of toss-turn-toss-turn, so the Swedish coffee Wednesday morning was especially helpful. Gave a lecture in the morning and afternoon. Grabbed a short nap after work, and at 5:45 met Peter Vegh, a prof in the university’s culinary arts and tourism school (and host of my lecture earlier that day on airline service quality) at Lotta’s, a cozy bar and microbrewery. He’s a great fellow, very open, and we had a really fun chat and some fine home-brewed pale ale. I was not surprised that a food guy grows lots of fruits and vegetables in the summer (a greenhouse helps with warmth), but was intrigued by another summer pastime: he spends a few weeks each summer waiting tables at cutting-edge restraurants in Stockholm to pick up on the latest cuisine trends and techniques. Way cool. I missed my after-work bike ride, so near sunset (it was clear all day, a welcome respite from days of cloud) I pounded out eight miles. I’m grateful for a bike when I visit, but by day four I pined for my carbon-fiber road bike!
Thursday saw me in meetings with the dean, senior leaders in the business school, and a wonderful fellow Minnesotan, Kjell Knudsen, retired dean of the B-school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Kjell was serving as a volunteer mentor, helping the school prepare an application for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). After the meetings, I peeled off for another bike ride, rather unpleasant because of a howling south wind, out to the airport and around the island of Ön (in the river). At seven Kjell, Lars, and others gathered for dinner at TC Teater Cafeet, a fancy restaurant downtown. When we left the restaurant at nine, it was spitting sleet and freezing rain. Felt good to be back in the warm hotel room.
Up Friday, out the door for meetings. The sun came out at noon, and it warmed up a bit, but we were indoors. At 3:30, I rode the bike a block to the ePuben, the pub that the business students association, HHUS, runs. It was time for the second “drink and learn” lecture; the first one in September 2013 was a huge success, and we were looking for a repeat (90 minutes before the talk, I overheard one student ask, “Are you going to hear Rob Britton?” Yes, other replied, “and drink beer.” A good sign. The talk went well, good questions. Said goodbye to the students and rolled down the hill a last time.
Changed clothes and at 6:45 met Kjell and Lars for part a jazz concert (they had dinner reservations at 8:30, but I was going back to the OK to pack). Format was one set per group, and first up was FIVE38, two women from Paris, on long-neck guitar and hard. This was jazz? Really? WWBD (What would [Dave] Brubeck do?). The guitarist made much use of her wow-wow pedal. The program promised a “harp, liberated completely from its historic constraints.” It was yet another manifestation of gimmick as art, and as I whispered to Lars, a bad day for a headache! It got much better, with a brisk set by the Foyn Trio from Aarhus, Denmark: bass fiddle, guitar, and Live Foyn Friis, a young woman with a riveting voice. Finally, melody. We headed out, I rode back and clocked out.
Up early Saturday morning, seven o’clock taxi to the airport with a very chatty driver, then down to Stockholm. On arrival, I met two Master’s students from the Stockholm School of Economics, who heard me speak seven months earlier. They were doing a project on airport-airline partnerships, and I offered some strong views. At ten I peeled off, through security. First stop, the Swedish-design department of the duty-free shop. I had a specific item in mind and asked the clerk if she had silver moose napkin holders. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, “all we have are holders like painted horses.” I thanked her and started walking away, disappointed. “Wait,” she called, “are you looking for these?” Indeed, and I whooped with joy. “Your enthusiasm made my day,” she said, but I countered, “no, you made mine.” I told her the moose replaces an identical number that mysteriously disappeared in our move from Texas.