Stockholm (NordSIP) – Just a month into her new position as Head of Nordic Distribution at BNY Mellon Investment Management, Kristina Najjar Wahlgren shares with NordSIP her first impressions of the new team she is now part of and the exciting challenges that lie ahead. In this exclusive interview, she also reflects upon the importance of aligning personal and corporate values and the dynamics of an ever more sustainable Nordic investment landscape.
“I had an idea of what BNY Mellon Investment Management did, of course, but as I’m getting to know the brand better, I am increasingly impressed by its rich capabilities,” says an enthusiastic Najjar Wahlgren. “Our investment firms are true specialists in their respective fields, with a relentless focus on alpha generation as well as a long history of innovation. Ultimately though, asset management is all about people and culture, and throughout conversations over the course of some six months before joining, I really felt it clicked, and we were a fit. What struck me the most was a combination of long-term focus, a humble and curious approach to clients and building the business, and a very collegial and meritocratic way of operating. This attitude also permeates the firm’s approach to sustainable investing, recognising that there is more work to do and being willing to put in the effort, but also accepting that it will take time to get it right.”
Given her formidable financial career, Najjar Wahlgren was understandably very discerning when choosing a new employer. After a few years of working with private equity in London, she moved back to Sweden and successfully led Aberdeen AM’s expansion in the Nordics for a decade. She later headed Pimco’s business in the region. “At this point, having already been involved in several diversity initiatives, I was thinking a lot about my personal values and how to align them with my professional work. The broader sustainable investments agenda was increasingly becoming part of my everyday life, and it added a dimension to work, a focus on people and the planet which I fully embraced,” she reflects.
Eventually, she decided to explore this side of herself further. She took a career break to pursue a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action and Conflict at Uppsala University, adding studies in human rights and humanitarian law at the Swedish Defence University. “It was an amazing experience, both in terms of being deeply immersed in something completely different than finance, as well as meeting so many interesting and passionate people dedicating their lives to important causes improving our world,” she explains. “When I eventually started having conversations with BNY Mellon Investment Management, I believe I came at it from a very different angle than I would have in the past, thinking more carefully about alignment of values and culture, not least.”
Taking a break from the industry seems to have amplified her hunger for engaging with Nordic clients. She looks forward to the interesting discussions and to solving problems together. “I have often found that creativity and unconventional thinking can make a big difference. There is so much going on in this region, and our clients are really in the avant-garde a lot of the time in terms of adopting or, indeed, creating new standards and new ways of doing things. It keeps you humble, and there is a constant learning process,” she adds.
Having witnessed for years the rapidly evolving sustainability scene in the Nordics from a global investment management vantage point, Najjar Wahlgren is in a perfect position to appreciate it properly. “Nordic clients are at the forefront of these issues, and asset managers can embrace the opportunity to learn from them,” she says. “This is also a place where innovation in sustainable investing can be rewarded and where we as managers can work in partnership with clients to develop better approaches. That could be around engagement models, building bespoke strategies, developing better data or measuring impact.”
“From my perspective, there could be no better place for managers to evolve their sustainability thinking and approach than here, in the Nordics,” she concludes.