On Saturday, September 13, Robin and the girls drove me to the new McLean Metro station and I hopped on the new Silver Line to the airport (remarkably, though it opened in late July, I hadn’t mentioned it previously; way handy, 1.3 miles from home.) Flew up to New York, then across to Zurich. Descending through the cloud, a landscape of order and prosperity appeared. Switzerland. More evidence on the SBB (Swiss Railways) train northeast to St. Gallen and my 14th teaching appearance at the university there: perfectly smooth tracks; neatly stacked huge hay bales, shrink-wrapped in white plastic for outside storage in the coming fall and winter; and dozens of small manufacturers. As I have written, in a globalized manufacturing market, they are still viable, because the collective Swiss would not think of buying anything other than Swiss Made. Only the graffiti – and it seemed that there was more of it – suggested that not all was perfect (although most of it looked quite “professional”).
I walked a couple of short blocks from the St. Gallen station to the hotel. I had emailed them to ask about an exceptional early check-in; the Swiss are a rule-bound folk, but the room was ready. It was actually a studio apartment, nicely sized and facing west, with lots of light. I quickly changed into bike shorts and my day-glo yellow jersey and hopped on the bike that my swell young host, George Guttmann, loaned me for a Sunday ride. Two options: up or down. Up was into the relatively low mountains south of town; down was north to Lake Constance, what German-speakers call the Bodensee. The former would be lots of up (and down); the latter was one long down at the start, 900 vertical feet to the lake, then flat, then, of course, a climb back up.
Down I went, on a combination of bikeways and little-trafficked streets. At Rorschach, a lake resort town, I headed west along the water on bikeways. It was a picture-perfect day, and lots of people were out: on bikes, on foot, in cars. I rode west to Romanshorn, a bigger, ordinary town. At the SBB station I bought lunch (tuna sandwich, banana, yogurts = $10.24) and had a nice T-t-S with a young mother. Her four-year-old spoke to me first, and he simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t answer him! I rode back to a pleasant park in Arbon and had a late picnic lunch, then back up the hill, home by 4:10, 37 miles, a nice workout. In the room, my iPhone chirped a reminder to play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for that day was the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key’s penning the lyrics to our national anthem.
Took a shower and short nap, and at seven hopped on the local railway, Appenzeller Bahn, for a short ride southeast from the city to Tom Staller’s Schwarzer Bären restaurant. Before entering, I looked up his name in these pages, and greeted him warmly, saying I had eaten there last September. My bad, I didn’t notice on his website that he stopped serving dinner at seven on Sundays. So when I arrived at 7:15, he said the kitchen was closed. He remarked that they had served a wedding party of 80 people the night before, until 3 AM, and he was worn out. The train back to St. Gallen would not arrive for another 25 minutes, so he offered a beer on the house. I was grateful, and sat down. An elderly couple a few tables away were just finishing up their meal. A few minutes later, Tom appeared and said yes he would be able to serve me dinner after all. Hooray! Asked for a small mixed salad, followed by bratwurst and French fries. The salad was truly mixed, with lots of yummy vegetables, and the main course came with an enormous mound of fries (reminding me of a train-platform advertisement I saw earlier in the day for the Swiss potato growers; they promised lots of recipes at www.kartoffel.ch).
As is the tradition, on Monday morning I walked to the stunning Baroque abbey church (the monastery dates to 720) for morning prayers and whispered words of thanks to the huge wooden angel in the ceiling that I’ve addressed on every visit for 14 years. Then up the hill to the university. At ten I met George, who asked me if I could give the lecture at 12:30 instead of the scheduled 10:15; he admitted to a very un-Swiss mix-up, apologized, but I waved it off, did a bit more work, then gave the talk to 25 Masters’ students in Prof. Reinecke’s class. It was another sunny day, perfect for a walk back down the hill, a stop to get a light lunch, and back to the room. As my head hit the pillow for a short nap, recess began at the elementary school across Kesslerstrasse, with the usual noisy commotion, but the sounds of young life and fun didn’t keep me awake. Did a bit more work, and at seven walked a couple of blocks west to Gartenhaus, a simple, spotless, family-run place. Not a place where you’d expect free wi-fi, but there it was! A dozen older ladies, grandmothers likely, we’re sitting at two of the long tables that filled the place; it looked like a regular gathering, and they were having fun.
The university is growing, and the two lectures in Prof. Ruigrok’s classes Tuesday were in separate buildings downtown. In between, Winfried, George, and I had our now-traditional big lunch at Wienerberg, adjacent to campus (we drove up the hill). Class 1 was MBA students, and the late-afternoon group was younger kids doing a post-baccalaureate Masters of Management. Both groups were lively, and it was a good day in the classroom.
Dinner was at Zum Goldenen Leuen, a small place in the old town that has not always exuded a friendly vibe, but it was cheery that night. Most patrons were outside, enjoying the last of a sunny and warm day. I opted for indoors, wood-paneled and cozy. Ordered a dark beer that owner Walter Tobler makes nearby, and reflected on another successful trip to Switzerland. The teaching was great, the weather was superb, the hosts totally hospitable. A good beginning to the autumn term. At 8:00, through the open front door, I could hear what I have long described as “the sound of Europe”: church bells pealing right times. All was well in the Swiss Confederation! Had a light meal nicely complemented with Walter’s “Mexican Ale,” with a bit of sweetness and citrus-like hops.
Out the door Wednesday and onto the 7:48 train back to Zurich Airport. At 8:45 I met Gieri Hinnen, a young Swiss Ph.D. student at St. Gallen who works for Swiss International Air Lines. We had a quick, Starbucks-fueled yak about the airline business, his new son, and some cool ideas he had for a new business. At 10:30 I got aboard a SAS flight to Stockholm, back to Sweden, another favorite place (well, maybe they’re all favorites!). Breaking through the cloud on approach to Arlanda Airport, I smiled at the familiar landscape of forest, field, and water. Grabbed lunch at 7-Eleven in Terminal 4 and flew SAS on to Umeå, my 19th visit there. Landed on another clear, warm day – four in a row. In the bag claim, I spotted friends who I didn’t know were on my flight: Guy Pfeffermann, Devi Gnyawali, and Håkan Olofsson. France, Nepal, Sweden, USA, a good mix for the International Advisory Board at the Umeå School of Business and Economics. Into a cab for the short ride downtown and the comfy Uman Hotel. The receptionist handed me two keys, for the room and for one of USBE’s bikes (delivered earlier in the day by my young friend Marcus).
Like the previous Sunday, I was on the cycle in no time, riding east on Kungsgatan to the bike shop with free air, topping up both tires, then east to the long lake called Nydala. It had been three years since I rode around it, so I circled twice. Places you frequently visit – in this case almost annually since 1994 (and was last in Umeå five months earlier) – often seem to stay the same. Of course they don’t, and I began to focus on all the new buildings. The city is clearly growing, notwithstanding the shrinking of an old-economy fixture, a Volvo truck plant west of town. Returned along the river, past a wonderful new set of apartments right on the water (well, not quite: the bike and pedestrian path is closest to the riverbank) in the district called Öbacka. At seven, USBE dean Lars Hassel welcomed the board, four of us from the flight plus Marian Geldner from Warsaw School of Economics. A good start and a nice dinner.
Suited up Thursday morning, rode the bike up the hill for a full day of IAB meetings on its 15th anniversary. Great discussions in sessions and at lunch. It’s an interesting group, academics, practitioners, and Guy – a former World Bank economist who now heads the Global Business School Network – and me in between. Swedish elections held four days earlier were a topic at mealtime. We finished at four, down the hill, changed into bike shorts, then over to my favorite Bölesholmarna, a small island in the river. It’s just a few blocks upstream from downtown, but is totally country. Rode around six times (each circuit is 1.4 miles). Early on, a good T-t-S: a couple was walking their West Highland terrier, a pooch like our Henry. I waved when I passed them the first time, and stopped the second: “You probably don’t remember me . . .” But of course they did, recalling that we met on that same island a year earlier. I petted Queso (a curious name) and rode on. That night we had an IAB anniversary dinner at Köksbaren, a fancy new-cuisine place, lots of laughs with members of the USBE Business Advisory Board (locals), and department heads from the school, people who have become good friends.
Friday was busy. First stop, Frukostclubben, the Umeå Marketing Association breakfast club. The association’s director, Nils Paulsson, welcomed me and a big group, about 75, heard my talk on real-world leadership. Rode up the hill for a morning IAB session, then down the hill in former dean Lars Lindbergh’s Volvo to one of Umeå’s three Rotary clubs. I spoke at one years ago, when Linda briefly belonged to one in Richardson, Texas: notalottatime! Delivered my general talk on financial challenges in the airline business in 20 minutes, two questions, done, whew.
Back at school I did 90 minutes of consulting work, then it was time to stand and deliver the day’s third talk, to HHUS, the business-students’ association. Time for “Drink and Learn” at the ePuben, their bar in the student union. We had done it twice before, an informal end-of-week seminar with beer. HHUS leader Marcus told me there was a waiting list, which added to my few stomach butterflies – I was giving a talk for the first time, a case study of cross-cultural management success in the jet-engine-building joint venture of GE Aviation and the French company Snecma. It went well, and I stayed on for almost an hour more, answering questions and enjoying a local microbrew. Down the hill one more time, an early dinner at the hotel buffet, then out with the boys for a couple of pints and some laughs and storytelling at Lotta’s, a pub I know well.
Up at six Saturday morning for a quick ride over to and around Bölesholmarna, then out the door in Lars’ car, with Guy, Marian, and Prof. Håkan Boter, north and west to Granö Beckasin, an outdoor-activity center. Lars arranged a morning of fishing. We caught nothing in a stocked pond, but Lars, who was well-experienced outside, reeled in three nice perch in the nearby river. I did remember, more or less, how to cast the rod. Afterward, Marian headed into the woods, where harvesting was much more successful – he knew wild mushrooms, and filled two large bags. We ate lunch and headed back. Time for a nap.
At 5:20 I hopped on the bike and rode downriver four miles for dinner at the Paulssons. Nils, wife Carolina, and young boys Johan (11), Petter (6), and Olle (almost 5), welcomed me back, my third time in the wonderful traditional house they built themselves. We had a good visit and a fine meal, covering lots of topics, including news that Carolina won a competition to write a Swedish cookbook focused on sustainability. First course was carpaccio, from a nearby farmer’s steer, then baked cod fresh off the boat from Iceland. A wonderful evening with special people.
Out on the bike one more time Sunday morning, north on the riverside trail. At eleven, as I always do when in town, I headed to the Stadskyrka for my annual Swedish lesson, via the hymns. The teenage choir livened things up (“Can’t nobody do me like Jesus” were words from one tune). I think Luther, who believed that good music was central to successful worship, would have approved of the liturgy. The preacher had her sermon notes on an iPad. After church, I rode a bit more around town, admiring the outstanding renovation of an old hotel, then back to the hotel for an hour of work.
Cruise-ship syndrome, the laziness that comes from people taking really good care of you while travelling, set in on Sunday afternoon. Four days with everything organized. Now back onto a do-it-yourself trip. The syndrome abated after flying 300 miles south to Stockholm, when I got off the airport bus, the Flygbuss, at St. Eriksplan in a steady rain. After a week of sun, the cold and wet snapped me back. “I can do this,” I said, and set off decisively for my lodging. In ten minutes I was a bit wet but happy to meet Ewa Rogala, my Airbnb host for the next two nights. Her apartment in a splendid 19th Century building was perfect, her welcome warm. My room was off the kitchen, clearly the cook’s quarters back in the day.
I unpacked, visited a bit with Ewa, then headed back out for dinner. I like Swedish cooking, but after four days I needed some spice; a few hours earlier I Googled a bit, and found Ethiostar, an Ethiopian restaurant four blocks north. Perfect! About four-fifths of the clientele were African, a good sign. I asked the friendly waiter to dial up the spice (“I lived a long time in Texas, a land of hot peppers,” I explained). After a big, late breakfast, I didn’t need lunch, but I was hungry at eight, and the meal, especially the spongy bread called injera that doubles as fork and knife, filled me up. Walked back, worked my email and visited with Ewa, then clocked out with the balcony door open.
Monday morning, time to stand and deliver. Out the door, onto Kungstensgatan, feeling like I lived there, like a local, which is another of the great benefits of Airbnb. Walked a few blocks north to the Stockholm School of Economics, my ninth visit, and met host Hans Kjellberg, a swell guy, and some of his colleagues. At 10:15 I delivered a lecture on airline alliances in a wood-paneled room that was once part of the library, on the southwest corner of the school. Students were bright and engaged. At noon it was pelting rain, and Hans suggested a place close by, in this case Indian food right across the street. I worked my email and consulting for a few hours, delivered another talk from 3:15 to 5:00, said goodbye to Hans, and walked home.
Changed clothes and walked a mile or so toward the center, to Stureplan and the splendid old-school seafood restaurant called Sturehof. It was in this place in 1924 that two enterprising Swedes founded Volvo. Sat at the bar for a beer and at seven met another longtime SSE friend, Anders Liljenberg. We had a splendid meal: herring (hewing to tradition, he ordered schnapps with the fish), followed by a main course of Arctic char (called röding in Swedish). We had a long conversation across lots of topics: politics, economics, the school, life. A great evening.
Tuesday morning, easy start. Ewa left early, for a trip to Edinburgh, so I paddled around the apartment in my pajamas. Dressed and walked a block to the ICA supermarket (to me, a wander through a big food store overseas is as interesting as a museum). Admired the huge herring department; spotted bottles of Stubb’s barbeque sauce from Austin, Texas (the equivalent of $7 a bottle and I’m sure worth every penny); and bought bread and yogurt for breakfast. Took a short walk up the observatory hill, full of lots of nursery-school students, most in day-glo yellow vests, not unlike my bike jersey.
Waiting for my 10:30 pickup, I spotted a young woman across the street, struggling with some giant IKEA bookshelves, so I ambled over and offered help. “Are you sure?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, “I’m old but strong.” We quickly moved the shelves into her office, and launched a nice T-t-S. She was a magazine publisher, niche stuff. Yakking with her, I didn’t notice that my mentee Peter Gabrielson had parked and was waiting. Hopped in his compact Land Rover and motored a few miles north to SAS’ headquarters to deliver a seminar on trends in the airline business. Peter heads the product development team, and before the talk he showed me SAS’ new business class seat and gave a short tour of an impressive building, beautifully sited amid woods and water. After the talk we had lunch with one of his colleagues, Cristina, then Peter drove me to the nearby train station at Solna.
Hopped on a brand-new suburban train north to Arlanda Airport, then northwest to Uppsala, historic university city and seat of the Swedish (Lutheran) Church. My ticket included a ride on the local bus, so zipped two miles more to a stop close to my next Airbnb “home,” with Carlos Teixeira.
I found Lings Väg 46 quickly, but I wasn’t certain it was the right place. A tradesman was working on concrete right in front of a second-floor outside entrance. I asked about #46, and he waved me on. I walked for several blocks, consulting the map on my iPhone. A map at the entrance to the subdevelopment proved my first navigation was correct, so I growled and walked back to #46. The cement guy was gone, but the keys were in the mailbox as Carlos promised. Unlocked, walked in, found my bedroom, unpacked, then spotted a welcome note. He had a bicycle for me! Woo hoo!
Changed clothes and hopped on the bike. Unfortunately, the seat was way too low, making my posture like a circus bear, but the tires held air, so it was all good. Rode into town, quickly remembering the basic layout of the city from my last visit in 2008. Uppsala was home to some smart people, like Celsius and Linnaeus. Rode to his garden, pausing to marvel at a wonderful 1935 bronze sculpture of the taxonomist. Then south to the business school, locating the venue for the next-morning’s talk to the business-students’ association.
Rolled a few blocks to the huge brick cathedral, the Domkyrka, which was surrounded with police. Sweden is a relaxed place, so I wondered what was up. Inside, a young church official explained that it was the opening mass of the clerical year, and that King Carl and Queen Silvia were in the front row. Whoa! I sat for a few minutes, listening to the children’s choir. Rode back to #46. Carlos arrived at 5:15 and we hit it off immediately. His parents, from the Portuguese island of Madeira, emigrated to Capetown, where he grew up. Moved to London, met and married a Swede, and landed in Uppsala. He was divorced, but his three kids spent every other week with him (and he rented the room the other weeks).
My SSE host, Hans Kjellberg, pulled up at six, on the edge of Carlos’ neighborhood, in his prize, a red 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible. With the top down. The ride to his house, several miles south in the hamlet of Berga, was a bit cold, but totally awesome. The big-ass V8 rumbled, the suspension lumbered – and that’s the right word, for the ride was like a land yacht. Totally way cool. He pulled the car into the garage and we walked into the traditional-style house. I thought it was 150 years old, but in fact it was a manufactured structure built in 2002 (turns out that most new Swedish houses are prefab, built in blocks and assembled on site).
In the kitchen was wife Mia, cooking dinner. And what a repast it was. Roast moose from the previous autumn (Hans was headed for the 2014 hunt a couple of weeks hence), lean and flavorful. Sauteed mushrooms that they picked recently. Hans and Mia both come from the country, about 100 miles north of Uppsala. Although highly educated, they are country people, folks who know a lot about the natural world. Their daughter Linnea, who just began at Uppsala University, and teenage son Pelle, joined us for dinner. Dessert was ostkaka, which translates as cheesecake, but this dish was different: slices of a semi-soft cheese baked in cream, topped with homemade cloudberry jam. Naturally, they picked the orange-yellow fruit themselves. For the second time in three days, I was welcomed into a Swedish home. And for that I was so lucky.
Because Sweden arrests people who drive with even a trace of alcohol in their blood, Hans called a taxi. The ride home reminded me why I avoid them: the meter rose from a start of 43 kronor to 62 ($8.50) before we left the driveway – the elderly driver had trouble punching my destination into his GPS, then waited for several cars to pass before backing out of the driveway and into a rural road. The ride ran to 38 bucks, but the evening with the Kjellbergs was stupendous.
Carlos’ Airbnb offer included breakfast, so Wednesday morning I tucked into a big bowl of muesli, a double espresso, and some splendid homemade high-vitamin juice, his specialty with carrots, beets, spinach, apple (for sweetness), fresh ginger. Outstanding. We adjusted the bike seat upward, and I took off for Ekonomerna, the student association. They had their own building, an old pink house called Borgen. A warm welcome, the leadership talk for the second time in a week. Students again hung around, asking questions, seeking advice. I worked for a bit in the B-school, and at 11:45 met my new host, Sabine Persson, and my former host, Mikael Gidhagen. We walked briskly to a tiny Thai place for a buffet lunch, then back to a 1:15 lecture.
Rode home, changed clothes. At six I rode back to town, with a little detour along the Fyris, the river that runs through Uppsala. I circled the cathedral, admiring its scale and its role as design model for countless smaller Lutheran churches in the U.S. I locked the bike by the river (the town is so full of cycles that you sometimes have to search for a parking place!), and talked my way into the pub of the Norrlands Nation, one of a number of “nations” that are distinctive to Uppsala University, a sort-of mix between college dorm and fraternity – a way for youngsters to belong. The guard in the courtyard said the pub was only open to those in the tribe, but when I explained I was a guest lecturer he waved me in, adding that I “was very welcome tonight.” Nice! There was a long line at the bar. I asked the barmaid for a beer from “nearby” (there’s a microbrewery in town, but I forgot the name). Her colleague proffered a bottle of St. Eriks, a distinctive rauchbier, smoky and a bit sweet, from a tiny brewery adjacent to Arlanda Airport. Sat at a bench with students and brought this journal up to date. Had another beer and a garlic-infused burger, and rode home.
Thursday morning, back to rain, and Carlos kindly drove me back to the railway station. Hopped on the #801 bus to Arlanda and onto my first flight on Norwegian, a fast-growing low-cost airline. Their success was quickly apparent: smiles and welcome from cabin crew, a PA from the captain that genuinely thanked us, spotless cabin, free wi-fi, wowie. One other cool aspect of the carrier: local heroes are painted on their tailfins. Originally Norwegians like composer Grieg and skater Sonja Henie, as they’ve grown across Scandinavia they’ve added Linnaeus, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and 120 more. Way cool.
I was bound for Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city (a million people), 240 miles west-southwest. Landed in sunshine, whoopee, and hopped on the Flygbuss into town. I’ve always liked second cities, smaller places, and took an immediate like to Göteborg. My third Airbnb of the week was less than 2,000 feet from the bus stop, just west, in the old neighborhood called Nordstaden. Veronika’s flat was in a building from the 1880s, originally a factory. I trudged to the top floor, had a nice yak with my host, put on coat and tie, and walked less than a mile to my first visit to the business school at Gothenburg University. Passed wonderful old buildings, warehouses and other signs of a vigorous port. Lots of leafy parkland. The grittiness that comes with being a port. More cultural diversity than other cities in the kingdom. In short, a great city.
Ate a late lunch in the student cafeteria, and at three met my young host, Oscar Sellhed. The GU visit was a late, unexpected addition; he emailed me nine days earlier, when I was in St. Gallen, said he heard I was headed to Sweden and asked if I could “stop by.” Why not, I thought, so we made it happen. Met his advisor, Robert Orbelin, and at four delivered my leadership talk to 25 students. At 5:30, six of them and I walked a couple of blocks to Haga, the pleasant, car-free old town for an early dinner at Hemma Hos. Walked home at dusk, along the water, then into Nordstaden. The long blast of a ship’s horn reverberated through the narrow street, a splendid last sound. I was asleep by 8:40, because the homeward journey the next day would begin at 4:30.
Out the door, back to the bus, out to Landvetter Airport. I was flying standby on SAS to London, and my friend Peter said the flight was full but I would likely get a seat. And I did, prompting a little victory whoop and dance on the jetbridge. Landed Heathrow before eight, onto the Silver Bird at 9:45, home by way of Miami. Landed at National Airport at 7:00. Linda flew in at 9:00, so I waited for her and we rode home together. It was good to be home.