2014 BSS ALUM OF THE YEAR: KAREN FRØSIG
Sydbank CEO Karen Frøsig (MA ´83) is one of the most powerful women in the Danish banking world. On the 20th of June 2014 Karen became a BSS Alum of the Year. ‘I am very proud to receive this prize’, Karen tells AU Alumni. ‘Things are so difficult these days because of the financial crisis. There have been a lot of problems to deal with, and then suddenly you get this prize. It was so nice!’
Becoming the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Denmark’s fourth largest bank was not something Karen aspired to as a young girl. She grew up in a small town in Jutland. ‘There was just a doctor, a dentist and some lawyers’, Karen remembers. She first wanted to study medicine, but after a volunteering job at the hospital and working in an environment of blood and people dying, she decided it was not for her. She then decided to become a lawyer. ‘I know this might not sound very smart, but that is just the way it goes for a lot of people’, she says.
After her studies, Karen worked as an attorney for five years. In 1986 she decided it was time for change and started working in the legal department of the former Danish bank Privatbanken. She moved to Aktivbanken, which merged with Sydbank in 1994. She became the head of the legal department and was privileged to work with and learn about all the different departments of the bank. This insight led her towards the role of CEO when the job became vacant. Karen: ‘They asked me if the job was something for me. It felt both good and scary when they asked that. It is a very big privilege to get this chance.’
Being the CEO of Sydbank means that every day is different. ‘One day I collaborate with human resources, because we have some challenges on this side of the bank. The next day I focus on the credit of the bank. And again another day I look at our market position. It is so fantastic. It is the best job in the world. You should try it’, she smiles.
Karen became the CEO of Sydbank in 2010, a time of financial crisis in Denmark. It was up to her to guide the bank through this difficult time. The bank had to make reductions and lay off people. This was not easy, but challenges motivate Karen. Under her leadership the bank shifted from being a traditional bank, to being a modern bank with good IT systems and new routines. Karen: ‘This was of course not only my job. We have a lot of good employees who work very hard. I am just the one with the glory.’
This is something that Karen is aware of in general. For the media, she is the person responsible for what is going on at Sydbank. ‘You learn to deal with it, but that is one of the very difficult things. It is interesting what you say, wear, eat, do or where you go. To me it is very important to keep my family out of the media, especially the kids, because they have never chosen this’, she says.
Above all, Karen loves her job and she is looking forward to future challenges. In the banking industry, it is extremely important to both plan ahead and anticipate on everyday changes. Besides, it is very important to focus on your client. No clients, no bank. For now this means having new and convenient IT systems. Karen: ‘Keeping a bank up-to-date is a very big job. I want to stay here for the rest of my work time -if I am allowed. You don’t make that decision by yourself’, she laughs. ‘I’m just lending the bank for this period and I then I have to pass it on to somebody else.'Aarhus UniversityKaren looks back at her time at Aarhus University very positively. She enjoyed the student life and made some very good friends. Besides, law school taught her valuable life lessons on how to grow up and methods of thinking. Karen: ‘People going to AU are very lucky, because it is a very fine university.I am proud to be an alum. A good education is the best you will ever get, because it provides you all the basics for whatever you want to do in life.’Karen is therefore very happy that her daughter recently started studying law at AU. As she wanted to see her former place of study, she accompanied her daughter to a lecture. ‘A lot of things were very much like they used to be and other things are different. Going to class with her and hearing the discussion, it was just like I was back in time’, she says.
Karen never forced her children in the direction of law school though. Her son works for instance in the Danish army. She thinks that her kids should do whatever they like. This is something she wants to recommend to current AU students and alumni as well. ‘I think it is very important that when you graduate, you don’t think about money but what you’d really like to do. Because if you are not happy with what you are doing, I don’t think you will be ever good at it.’ She agrees that this might sound funny from someone having a high profile function in the financial industry, and adds: ‘I think a lot of the young people today have to think about what they are going to study and what kind of they will be able to get. It is a little bit sad, because it is very important that you do something that you really love to do. You are the best person if you wake up in the morning and think, yes, I am going to work and it is going to be a good day. And I think that every morning.'
- Born on 23 September 1958
- MA in Law ('83) from Aarhus University
- First female CEO Sydbank
- Married to Karsten Steen Jensen, who has a law firm in Esbjerg
- Has a son and a daughter
- Likes her job so much that she gladly travels one hour to Sydbank’s headquarters in Aabenraa, and one hour back home every day
- Is able to enjoy her private life next to being a CEO. However, she is never offline from her job
By Lotte Kamphuis
Photos by Lars Detlef