Published: Thu 16 Feb 2012.

Bo Hedfors is the face of Chalmers in the United States

The first scholarship for US Chalmerists is in the works on the heels of an intensive telephone campaign for US Friends of Chalmers.

Now, Chairman, Chalmers alumnus and entrepreneur Bo Hedfors (E68) is singing the praises of Karin Markides:
“The Chalmers brand has increased in value in the US over the past decade, and certainly over the past five years with her on board,” he remarks about the current Chalmers President and CEO.”

We had a chat with Bo Hedfors over a fairly stable Skype connection to sunny California, where he has been based for the past nine years. But he has spent many years in the US, his first visit to the country taking place as early as 1983. From 1987 to 1993, he and his family lived in Sweden.
"In 1994, we moved back to the US, and I haven't come back since then," tells Bo.

Born in Karlshamn
Bo Hedfors was born in Karlshamn, Blekinge in 1944. He will turn 68 in March. He lives with his wife Anita in the town of La Jolla, just outside San Diego. The couple's two grown children Eva and Martin live in Stockholm with their three daughters.
Sailing is one of his favourite hobbies. La Jolla lies just steps from the Pacific Ocean, and after our conversation, he will go out for a spin in his private boat. The contrast between here and wintry Gothenburg couldn't be starker.
"We have sailing weather all year round. You never have to put the boat away - I have a diver that scrapes the bottom every single month,” he says.

Held many senior positions
Over the years, Bo Hedfors has held many senior positions in companies such as Motorola and Ericsson. During the first five years following his graduation from Chalmers with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1968, he worked in Holland and Denmark.
"I came home to Sweden in 1974 and was involved in developing Ericsson's massive AXE system, which was a source of success for them for 20 or 30 years.”

In 1983 they moved to Anaheim, California, where Bo Hedfors launched a joint venture between Ericsson and Honeywell, heading it up as CEO from his office just three blocks from Disneyland.
Most of Bo's career has been devoted to Ericsson. In 1990 he was appointed technical director; in 1994 he became the company's CEO for the United States.
"By 1998, I had been at Ericsson for 30 years and I thought it was time I did something more.”

Handpicked to Motorola
Bo was handpicked to fill the role of Vice President at Motorola in Chicago, where the family lived for five years. In conjunction with the major telecom crash of 2002, Bo Hedfors decided to shift gears and start his own company, Hedfone Consulting, which he ran until 2009; counting among his clients telecom giants such as Samsung.
"The work often involved helping out with customer contacts or reviewing different strategies. The company consisted of just myself;  I gathered experts around me and plugged into them as needed,” says Bo.
Three years ago, he phased out Hedfone - but he still has one foot firmly planted in the industry.
"When you've been involved in telecom your whole life, you can't just leave it. I now have a position on the board of both private and public companies. I have also invested in some new businesses, helping young entrepreneurs get started, including a Chalmers Innovation company," he says.

A few times a month, he heads to Silicon Valley where he works on a number of projects as advisor, consultant and board member. Bo is active on the board of telecom network CommNexus, and has invited TeliaSonera representatives to a meeting in San Diego in March.
He continues to keep tabs on the industry, among other ways by attending the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona each year. Other commitments, such as his role as Chairman of US Friends of Chalmers since its inception in 2002, take up much of his time as well.
"You've got a long day ahead of you if you also want to squeeze in a little sailing from time to time," laughs Bo.

Conducting fundraising
US Friends of Chalmers was formed with the express purpose of supporting research, development and cooperation with Chalmers by conducting fundraising for various projects. Bo Hedfors describes the early years as a bit hesitant, but organization has improved in the past few years thanks to an internship program that gives two Chalmers students the opportunity to complete a practical internship at a US company while working on the development of US Friends.
“The program is one of the best things we have achieved together with Chalmers. Participants do a lot of work to support US Friends, while getting the opportunity to work in real companies and getting to know the environment in Silicon Valley.”

Launching new scholarship
In 2012, US Friends celebrates its ten year anniversary with the launch of a new scholarship for American citizens seeking to earn a master's degree at Chalmers.
"We wanted to do something of strategic importance for Chalmers, and we concluded that the university must offer scholarships to attract as many international students as before, despite the new tuition fees. So a scholarship it was," said Bo Hedfors.

This fall, a fundraising campaign was held for alumni living in the United States in order to raise money for a US Friends scholarship for US citizens. The scholarship will fund up to 75 percent of tuition fees, and will be awarded for the first time later this spring.
"The goal is to continue awarding the scholarship every year. There are about 700 alumni in the US, and of course we are hoping to see continued interest," says Bo.

Commends President Markides
He commends Chalmers President Karin Markides for her efforts with US Friends of Chalmers, underlining her importance for the organization:
"Her assuming the role as President has been very positive for us. Not only has she worked as a professor in the US, but she also has a keen interest in the country, she knows how it works and has a lot of contacts here. It has been very inspiring for us to have her in the lead. She knows what we're doing, and she attends our various events.”

Bo Hedfors thinks Karin Markides has been a great asset to the US Friends of Chalmers.
"She has really done a very good job of selling the Chalmers brand, especially through her contacts at Stanford and MIT. The Chalmers brand has increased in value in the US over the past decade, and certainly the last five years, with Karin on board," he says.

Came to Chalmers in 1963
Bo began studying for his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Chalmers in 1963.
"I did military service in KA4 in Gothenburg and I learned a lot about Chalmers and Gothenburg at the time. All my friends in Karlshamn were going to Lund, but that didn't seem very fun to me, so I chose Gothenburg.”
"First I thought about becoming a chemist, but I didn't get accepted for chemistry. I chose electrical engineering because my grades weren't good enough. But it's been great all the same!”
He was not very involved in the student union scene.
"I built vehicles for the Chalmers Cortège parade some years, but otherwise, I was out playing soccer at Heden fields. I recall one interesting fellow named Per Rudquist who lived in a trailer outside the student union building with sheep and goats. You got to notice he was definitely there when it came time for August exams!”

Bo's thesis project focused on optimizing PCM pulses on telephone lines.
"A friend and I did it together, and we used a great big cable reel to make our measurements. We had some problems because of interference from the AM transmitter in Delsjön, and we could only measure at night when it was turned off. So we lay there and measured between midnight and four in the morning! Then we headed down to Café Auto in Nordstan to get ourselves huge sandwiches. A lot of Chalmerists hung out there," Bo Hedfors recalls.
"Another highlight was the traditional 'nollning', or new student orientation. We redid an entire house in Gamla Haga, creating a water slide from the fourth floor down to the street by putting masonite on the stairwell. Those were good days!”
Any helpful advice for our current students?
"At Chalmers, you learn a lot of facts and analytical stuff, and you learn to think rationally. But then when you get out in the business world, it turns out that life is about much more than technology. It's about social skills as well, so it's important to be involved in more than just your studies. I think that today's youth does a better job with this than we did. Perhaps Chalmers should offer a course in social skills?"
"There are many more possibilities nowadays. School of Entrepreneurship students can make their ideas a reality before they even turn twenty," says Bo.

Text: Michael Nystås
Photo: Tellabs Inc

Read more about US Friends of Chalmers >>>
usfriendsofchalmers.org

Published: Thu 16 Feb 2012.