Jacob Birkeland, årets alumn 2023

Alumnus of the Year: The SEDU provided the tools for successful leadership in business

His time at the Swedish Defence University gave Jacob Birkeland the tools needed for leadership in the business world. Today, he has global responsibility for press and public affairs at Skanska. This year, he was awarded the 'Alumnus of the Year' prize at the Swedish Defence University.

"Being awarded Alumnus of the Year is a great honour and a reminder of how important my time at the Swedish Defence University has been for my career".

As a teenager, Jacob Birkeland, now 38, was fascinated by the large-scale social issues and wanted to contribute to something bigger.

With a background in social anthropology, Jacob Birkeland found a unique opportunity to deepen his understanding of complex social issues at the Swedish Defence University.

" My studies allowed me to break down large, complex issues into smaller parts, giving me a unique understanding of global conflicts and crises. It is about improving and protecting everything we hold dear: our democracy, our freedoms and rights", he says.

After completing his education in International Crisis and Conflict Management at the Swedish Defence University, Jacob enjoyed a diverse career. He has worked as a political secretary in the Parliament, in psychological operations in conflict zones and as a press officer and political expert to the Minister of Trade. These experiences have given him a broad understanding of different aspects of governance and international relations.

"Every role gave me new perspectives and taught me the importance of being open to new ideas and approaches", he explains.

Encourages collaboration across sector boundaries

As Alumni of the Year from the Swedish Defence University, Jacob Birkeland is recognized with the following justification: "Jacob has extensive experience from both the public and private sectors, which makes him a worthy winner of the award. Today, he works at the intersection of the public and private sectors, which is what Jacob aimed for since his time at the Swedish Defence University."

"I have always been interested in how different areas of society can learn from each other. The Swedish Defence University has done a great job breaking down barriers and encouraging cross-sector collaboration. Something that will become increasingly important with the development of the comprehensive defence", says Jacob Birkeland.

He looks back on his time at the Swedish Defence University with great fondness, the student community was strong and the learning environment was stimulating, full of ambitious students and dedicated teachers. This has been of great importance for Jacob Birkeland's career.

He also emphasizes how positive it is that the school keeps such a large alumni network alive and up to date through the Alumni of the Year award.

"I was very happy when I got the news, as I know some of the people who have studied at the Swedish Defence University over the years. It's been more than a decade since I was a student, so it makes me even more humble and happy."

Solid education with a desire to learn and develop

Today, Jacob works at Skanska as Global Head of Press and Public Affairs.

"My role at Skanska allows me to be part of a team that drives climate change in our industry. Contributing to this work is very rewarding."

What drives Jacob Birkeland in his role is to be a cog in the big machine that is Skanska. He reminds us of the importance of having fun at work and not just focus on the long-term purpose-driven work.

Jacob Birkeland's approach to leadership is shaped by his experience in both military and civilian roles, giving him a unique insight into what effective leadership really means. One of the key things he learned at the Swedish Defence University is the lesson that things are often not what you think.

"There are very few people who know the whole truth and most likely, I am not that person", he reflects.

He also stresses that leadership is a practical skill that must be learned, you can't become a good leader just by reading books because it's about seeing people. The Swedish Defence University gave him a toolbox for handling complex situations as a manager or leader. And perhaps most importantly, the courage to make decisions and then stand by them.

Jacob Birkeland's journey from the Swedish Defence University to a leading position in business shows how a solid education, combined with a willingness to constantly learn, and develop, can lead to a meaningful and diverse career.

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