Spotlight Story

Hanna Katrin Fridriksson ’01
Defining Success in Iceland’s New Economy

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A few months after she received her MBA in 2001, Hanna Katrin Fridriksson returned to Iceland to embark on a career that has proven as rewarding as it is challenging and diverse. Today, after stints in higher education, the shipping industry and government, she is helping healthcare company Icepharma thrive in a radically new economic reality.

What drives you in your work?

I am passionate about defining and implementing the changes necessary for companies and people to thrive. I was offered my current job as a business development manager at Icepharma, a leading company on the Icelandic healthcare market, because the company owners realized they had to rethink certain aspects of their operations to succeed in the economic difficulties and political turmoil that we have experienced in Iceland since the crash of 2008. Icepharma did survive and has not required any special help or refinancing in the wake of the crisis. But the environment has changed drastically, in large part due to various administrative actions, many of them rash, to say the least.

My challenges range from planning  organizational development of Icepharma and its sister company, Parlogis (a leading logistics service provider for the Icelandic healthcare sector), each company with a staff of about 80, to battling the authorities and other key market decision makers, to dealing with critical foreign suppliers who are weary of Iceland’s current situation and are contemplating leaving the market.

Where is your career headed?

My varied interests make for a rather short stay at each post. It is debatable if that is an advantage for my career, but in the 10 years since my graduation I have had the opportunity to work with enormously competent people at well-run companies where the challenges have been as diverse as they have been many. After I came home from California in fall 2001, I was offered a position with a new private university, Reykjavik University (RU), and spent the next four years leading the build-up of the RU Executive Education, among other things, a first in Iceland.

In 2005 I was became an executive of organizational development with the shipping company Eimskip, a job that included extensive international business and travel. The mother group’s transportation fleet consisted of more than 60 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, 30 container ships and 170 trucks. I also worked closely with Eimskip’s sister company in England, Excel Airways.

In spring 2007, a new government came to power in Iceland. A good friend became minister of health and asked me to be his special adviser on certain strategic changes he wanted to introduce in the health care system in Iceland. I took some time to mull this over, as it was a fundamental change in my career and a step I had not previously contemplated. I decided to take the plunge, in part because of the toll taken by the heavy traveling required by my job at Eimskip. My wife had a new challenging job and by accepting the offer I envisioned a more tranquil family life. It turned out I was wrong! There was no rest for the wicked as the financial crisis hit Iceland full force in fall 2008, with the collapse of the three biggest banks and the de facto bankruptcy of the central bank. My position vaporized as the government toppled six months later and I found myself out of a job, as were so many others.

Fortunately, the experience I gained with the Ministry of Health has benefitted me greatly in my current position with Icepharma. My diverse background has also drawn offers for various board positions, and I currently serve on the board of MP Bank, a small but growing investment and commercial bank. The bank enjoys solid shareholders, domestic and foreign, and I look forward to participating in its growth in the near future.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

The first thing that comes to mind is the emphasis UC Davis put on group projects and teamwork. The foundation of my work is my skill to pull together powerful groups and apply the strength of each member to the task at hand. I have also benefitted greatly from the courses in strategic planning and strategic thinking, and the same goes for my skills of influencing and partnering, as I have often found myself in the position of leading projects with people of different backgrounds.
Your favorite GSM memory?

I gave birth to my twin daughters during my second year in the program—March 19, 2001, to be exact. I often took them with me when working on group projects. There was never a shortage of people who were willing to look after them when needed, be it my fellow students or faculty members. The togetherness and friendship we experienced was invaluable. At graduation, two of our friends from the class of 2000 came to our flat, slept on the living room floor and took care of the little ones so Ragnhildur and I could enjoy the day.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now?

Living in another country makes it difficult to keep up personally. I have been to California twice since graduation and was able to meet with some of my friends there. We have a 10-year graduation anniversary coming up and I hope to attend. I have to admit, however, that my relationships with my former classmates have faded—that’s what time and distance does to you. Speaking of distance: I am still waiting for my old friends to visit Iceland!
The same goes for my contributing to the GSM’s Annual Fund. I donate occasionally, but I’m afraid that has also decreased over the years. Isn’t it appropriate for me to use the opportunity to promise to redress that here?

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