She has been driving change processes since the mid-90s, in the middle of Sweden’s move towards digitalisation. Now Malin Frenning wants to strengthen RISE as an enabler of Swedish innovation.
“I’m proud to have helped develop much of what we take for granted today,” says Malin Frenning, the new CEO of RISE.
Malin Frenning took up her post on 2 October 2023. Her most recent role was Business Area Manager at the technology consultancy Afry, but she has enjoyed a long career as a leader with a clear focus on technology and change.
“Societal issues have been a common thread in my career, along with helping to create the digital journey of change,” says Frenning. “I studied mechanical engineering in Luleå in the early ’90s, and applied for my first job at Televerket, which when I started had become Telia.”
Telia began a 22-year journey of expansion and change in the midst of Sweden’s digital transformation. Frenning worked as Head of International Carrier and oversaw the first wholly-owned cables through which today’s internet data is transferred, she served as project manager for the national 3G rollout, and as broadband manager with the task of converting copper to fibre with even more customer offerings built on new opportunities.
“Looking back, I’m proud to have been part of the change we take for granted today, such as video meetings at work or being able to watch the latest episode of your favourite series on the way home.
“But driving change is not easy. Today, you can joke about having heard arguments like: ‘no one wants to watch TV on the bus’ or ‘there’s no point in sending TV via broadband, there are already other jacks in the wall’, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s not strange to have different opinions. No one knows for sure. Leading such a change process, where you have to make trade-offs and choices without knowing what’s the right thing, demands a lot from everyone involved. But it’s also gratifying when you achieve your goals and can celebrate them together.”
With a strong and continuously evolving RISE, there is an increased chance that Sweden will be able to defend and develop its role as a leading nation geared towards knowledge, innovation, and industry.
Frenning has brought these experiences to RISE, with the task of implementing the company’s new strategy, which includes investments in areas such as climate and environment, digitalisation, and health and welfare.
“RISE has a unique role in society to support both the business community and the public sector. We can influence the development of society in all the major transition issues – particularly climate, environment, and digital transition. We are a research institute with a clear mission in applied research.”
By building up collective cutting-edge expertise and through the operation of 130 test and demonstration facilities where tomorrow’s products and services are tested and scaled up, RISE acts as an independent partner to solve crucial parts of the innovation value chain.
“Our test and demo facilities play a unique role, especially for SMEs that do not have the same resources as large organisations, and which may need support and help when developing new products and innovations. It’s RISE’s role as an enabler that I find so exciting and motivating.”
RISE’s strategy emphasises that the institute shall complement Sweden’s investments in basic research with investments in needs-driven applied research and innovation.
“With a strong and continuously evolving RISE, there is an increased chance that Sweden will be able to defend and develop its role as a leading nation geared towards knowledge, innovation, and industry. The newly opened testbeds within SEEL are a good example. The electrification of the transport sector is crucial for Sweden to achieve its climate goals. SEEL brings different parts of the industry together, and it is important for accelerating the transition.”
Now that you will lead this broad business, what are you bringing from your previous assignments?
“I’ve always been interested in what comes next. My approach is to understand what we need to ensure Sweden’s competitiveness and innovation, not just now, but in the long term. Sweden’s prosperity is largely based on the export of technological innovations, and this necessitates that we have high-quality education and research. I want RISE to continue to contribute to this, so issues relating to skills, goals, and roles will be important to me.”
What are you like as a leader?
“I strive to create positive change, and I’m largely results-oriented. Something I realised early on is that there are limits to what I can achieve as an individual, but together and through others you get much greater leverage. It feels great to set goals, achieve them, and celebrate them. I think this shines through in my leadership.”
What do you envision over the next few years – where is RISE heading?
“We will continue to complement basic research with applied research and serve as a catalyst between industry and academia. We will work in several areas that strengthen Swedish competitiveness in challenges relating to climate change, security, the green transition, and so on. We must constantly transform as a research institute to be able to support the industry and ourselves.”
Lastly, you have made a career in a field that remains male-dominated. What will make more girls apply to engineering and tech?
“For me, it was about wanting to better understand how things fit together, and that, quite late in my schooling, I realised I had an aptitude for maths and its usefulness. Technical education turned out to be the right path for me to understand the world. I hope more girls try it out.
“Otherwise, my most important piece of advice is to choose your managers well. A large part of my success is because I’ve worked with managers who support, challenge, coach, and help me progress.”
MALIN FRENNING’S CAREER
Malin Frenning is the CEO of RISE. Previously, she served as Executive Vice President and Head of the Infrastructure Division at AFRY. She has held several senior positions in both the private and public sectors. For example, she has been County Council Director of Stockholm County Council and CEO of Telia Sweden. She has also served on the boards of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and IT & Telekomföretagen. Frenning was ranked fourth on the list of Sweden’s most powerful women in IT in 2010 by the magazine Ny Teknik, and eighth on the list of influential inspiring female engineers in 2015. In 2011, the business magazine Veckans Affärer named her the most powerful woman in business. She has been an honorary doctor of technology at Luleå University of Technology since 2011.