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By: Michael Sims
The youngster in the Uppsala, Sweden, eighth grade class has a decision to make. In the United States, most boys his age have nothing more momentous to worry about than deciding to play baseball or football at recess. Per Lofberg has a bit more to contemplate. The Swedish school system of the mid-1960s is designed to channel students at an early age in one direction. They must choose between the “two-culture divide.” Lofberg can opt for either the humanities—arts, literature, and history; or the sciences—engineering, medicine, and biology. He picks the sciences because he might want to become a physician.
Just two years later, he must narrow his focus even more, so he chooses the life sciences—pre-med and biology—over advanced math and engineering. He is sure now that he wants to be a doctor. Toward the end of his high school years, he continues on the path by applying to medical schools. Not surprisingly for a gifted student, he is accepted.
But not everything goes according to plan. The socialization of healthcare has come to Sweden. Some physicians complain that the government is undermining much of the freedom that they formerly enjoyed, jeopardizing everything from operating a private practice to pursuing research. “Forget about medicine in Sweden,” one physician bluntly advises Lofberg. “It’s a dead area,” declares another. The teenager faces a new question: Can he change his future so suddenly?
His father’s example provides the answer. Jan Harald Lofberg was an estate and trust lawyer for Skandinaviska Banken in Stockholm and later head of the endowment for Uppsala University, the oldest university in the Nordic countries. But then his brother died. Rather than continue in law, Jan Lofberg made a career change while his son was in high school. He succeeded his brother in running Harald Lofberg AB, the retail and wholesale textile firm launched by his grandfather around the turn of the century.
If Per Lofberg’s father could make a dramatic change, so could he. He gives up on medicine and enrolls in the Stockholm School of Economics in September 1966. He also begins working in the family business.
The economics school is the sort of undergraduate business college that doesn’t have an equivalent in the United States. Like all of the young men around him, Lofberg wears a suit and tie to class. Students arrive punctually, dressed like budding bankers; the professor may drift in fifteen minutes later, at which point the students must rise respectfully. When professors speak to students from their exalted position at the podium, they address them as Mr. or Miss, and they themselves are always referred to as professor. On the rare occasion when students need to ask a professor a question after class, they run the risk of being scornfully reproached for the need to inquire further.
Slender, neat, always well groomed, known for being calm and balanced, Lofberg never goes through a hippie phase. He works hard but finds free time to devote to one of his favorite sports: golf. He and a new friend, Sebastian Tham, discover a shared interest in cooking. Besides hosting dinner parties, they even assist a course in haute cuisine. By all accounts, Lofberg becomes very good in the kitchen.
He and Tham are part of a half-dozen friends who plan to continue their studies beyond Sweden to prepare for employment opportunities in large multinational corporations throughout Europe. Tham plans to attend Insead, the famed international business school in Fontainebleau, France, near Paris. Lofberg gathers information from a dozen or so universities, including several in the United States. “The approach,” he has to admit, “was not scientific.”
Almost immediately, he perceives the hotly debated differences between the case-study method personified in schools like Harvard and the more analytical approach exemplified by universities like Carnegie Mellon. Harvard, in its promotional materials, defines its approach: The case method forces students to grapple with exactly the kinds of decisions and dilemmas managers confront every day. In doing so, it redefines the traditional educational dynamic in which the professor dispenses knowledge and students passively receive it. The case method creates a classroom in which students succeed not by simply absorbing facts and theories, but also by exercising the skills of leadership and teamwork in the face of real problems. Conversely, Carnegie Mellon espouses Management Science—the academic alternative to the case-study method—which has its roots in analytical decision making in complex, dynamic business environments. How do you solve a problem you’ve never seen before? Carnegie Mellon’s approach equips students with the fundamental tools and knowledge needed in uncertain, rapidly changing markets.
Lofberg confers with people who studied in the United States and later returned to Sweden. Eventually, he applies to about 10 schools, including Carnegie Mellon’s GSIA, now the David A. Tepper School of Business.
Without visiting the schools, he looks at the many brochures. He can’t help but notice Schenley Golf Course from an aerial shot of the Carnegie Mellon campus featured in the university catalog. “The idea of being on a campus that had its own golf course was pretty amazing,” he says. As soon as he arrives in Pittsburgh in 1971, he realizes that the catalog certainly did its job well; the 18 holes turn out to be less dynamic than he thought. But he soon finds out that the region around Pittsburgh probably has more golf courses than all of Sweden, and the sport becomes his regular diversion after classes.
The rest of his matriculation goes well. He is surprised by the friendly informality of American college life, which permits interaction among faculty and students. In dramatic contrast to his experience in Sweden, the faculty at Carnegie Mellon calls students by their first names, and students sometimes even reply in kind. Professors can be found around campus, sweaty and grass-stained, after playing touch football on the lawn. In addition to the friendliness, Lofberg also relishes Carnegie Mellon’s analytical approach to business, which reminds him of his science years throughout high school.(Continued …)