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Never lost in translation

Gustaf Teder, chairman of the Swedish Young Professionals in Beijing, has combined his engineering and management skills with a proficiency in many languages.

TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
23 DECEMBER, 2019

Languages and different cultures have always been of great interest for Gustaf Teder, who is fluent in Chinese – which he can both read and write – as well as English, French, Italian and his native language Swedish.

“When I studied French in Canada as an exchange student in my teens, I learnt how much more welcomed you’ll be by people around you if you can speak a foreign language,” says Teder, who grew up in the city of Norrköping in Sweden and today works at Ericsson in Beijing. He is also the chairman of the Swedish Young Professionals in the city.

In upper secondary school, he studied Italian, which in its structure is similar to French, and when it was time for university in 2009, he first chose Asian studies with a focus on the Chinese language and then industrial engineering and management, also with a China focus.

“This inspired me to go to China, so my brother and I spent a summer backpacking on the mainland and in Taiwan. The following summer, I went there again. I’d traced alumni from Linköping University and through my contacts I was able to make study visits to several big Swedish companies in Shanghai,” Teder says.

While living in Shanghai, he found a good way to improve his spoken Chinese. He brought his books to study in a park and often people approached him for a chat.

He also spent one year as an exchange student in Taipei, where all courses and all students were Chinese. While mainland China uses simplified Chinese as written language, Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters just as Hong Kong does.

“I found that traditional Chinese is actually easier to learn since it is built on ‘modules’ [radicals] and is often more logical than simplified Chinese. Even if there are more strokes to a character, it’s easier to remember them and also easier to see the connections between the character elements,” he says.

After graduating from Linköping University, Teder was convinced that he wanted to work in China. One of his previous contacts had just started working for Assa Abloy, a global leader in security and safety solutions, and asked Teder if he wanted to join the company in Shanghai.

He spent two years in Shanghai as a project manager, sourcing electronics, and as a category leader for plastics which involved evaluations of and negotiations with suppliers.

I’ve taken part in many negotiations and dinners with suppliers and I’ve found out that it is really helpful if, as a foreigner, I can speak their language,”

However, he wanted to live in Beijing because his girlfriend, Lucy, a China-born Canadian whom he had met a couple of years earlier in Cambodia, was living and working there.

That was how he came to leave Assa Abloy and move to Beijing and start his own Swedish consultancy company, GT China Consulting, with the aim of helping his contacts in Sweden sell their products in China.

“I travelled frequently between Sweden and China, organised match-making and joined trade fairs. But after a while, I felt it was a bit lonely working on my own. I wanted to have a clearer plan for my future so I started to look around for work in Beijing,” Teder says.

Through contacts at Ericsson, he managed to find a job as strategic sourcing manager, which he started in July 2019.

“I am responsible for Ericsson’s power-generation suppliers, which includes evaluating and developing them, building relations and solving problems. I’ve taken part in many negotiations and dinners with suppliers and I’ve found out that it’s really helpful if, as a foreigner, I can speak their language,” he says.

Traditional Chinese is actually easier to learn since it is built on ‘modules’ [radicals] and is often more logical than simplified Chinese characters.”

Teder is also chairman of the Swedish Young Professionals in Beijing, that arranges various activities via a WeChat group and for which everyone work as a volunteer.

“Until now, we haven’t been a formal association with memberships, but from 2020 young Swedish professionals in China who are 35 years or younger will have the opportunity to join the Swedish Chamber of Commerce at a discounted fee,” he says.

Shanghai has a similar association and both will now be integrated with SwedCham.

“For young professionals, it’s important that they will now be recognised as part of SwedCham China. It will also look good on their CVs,” says Teder.

In his leisure time, Teder likes to play football, read about politics, the economy and travel. He and his girlfriend plan to stay in China, at least for the time being.

“We both enjoy living in China, but when we have children we’d probably like to move to either Sweden or Canada,” says Teder.

Gustaf Teder in brief

Age: 30.
Hometown: Norrköping, Sweden.
Lives: In Beijing.
Works: As strategic sourcing manager at Ericsson China.
Education: Asian studies and Master of Science in industrial engineering and management at Linköping University 2009-2015; Exchange studies in mechanical engineering at National Taiwan University 2012-2013.
What is best about Beijing: “All the culture that exists here at museums, exhibitions, historical places, and so on.”
What is worst about Beijing: “The air pollution – even though it’s become better over the past couple of years – and the frequent traffic jams.”