Per-Olof Lööf, Honorary Consul of Sweden in Fort Lauderdale
Interviewed by Sofie Kinnefors
Per-Olof Lööf has always been proud of his Swedish heritage. As Honorary Consul of Sweden in the U.S. for the State of Florida he “aims to be supportive in promoting Swedish culture and traditions by facilitating exchange with individuals seeking to learn more about Sweden, Swedish culture, commerce and language,” he said. Swedish Press spoke to Lööf about job responsibilities, climate change and why Swedes visiting Florida for the first time shouldn’t miss “the big swamp.”
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden and completed my education at Handelshögskolan (Stockholm School of Economics). I have a background in global economy and have, for example, worked as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Europe for computer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corporation, Senior Vice President of NCR’s Financial Solutions Group, as well as President and Chief Executive Officer of Sensormatic Electronics Corporation. Since 2005, I serve as Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors of the leading global supplier of electronic components KEMET Corporation, and as Chairman of TOKIN Corporation, which is now a Japanese subsidiary of KEMET.
When did you start working at the Swedish Consulate in Florida, and what does your job as Honorary Consul entail?
My family and I moved to Florida in 1999, and I have served as Honorary Consul of Sweden for the State of Florida since I received exequatur status from the U.S. Department of State in 2006. In my role as Honorary Consul, I strive to connect and serve as an active liaison between the Swedish and American communities in the U.S. Many business representatives attest that the great collaboration between the U.S. and Sweden is helping businesses thrive. There are many Swedish affiliated companies located in Florida.
Our Consulate has more than 1000 visitors per year. We assist Swedes residing or traveling in Florida to obtain emergency passports, renewal of regular passports, coordination numbers for children, notarization of life certificates and other Swedish documents. We assist Swedish citizens in emergency situations. We also assist citizens of other countries who wish to visit or migrate to Sweden.
We work closely with Swedish organizations in Florida, such as the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce (SACC), the Swedish Church, The Swedish School in Fort Lauderdale & Miami, and SWEA.
I’m appreciative of my job and proud to be Swedish. I have so much to be thankful for: a great education and solid morals – foundations that have always made me feel like I can take on the world. I am lucky to have been born in Sweden and feel fortunate that I can give a little bit back to the “old country” by serving as an honorary consul.
Speaking of “the old country” – in which areas do you feel Sweden contributes most globally?
Living in South Florida, I see the effects of climate change first-hand. Sweden has done a lot to address the challenges and opportunities of climate change. If given the opportunity, Sweden could contribute globally with climate-related collaborations and knowledge-sharing by highlighting Stockholm’s efforts. Another area in which Sweden could be a steward is through sustainable living and its goal to be the world’s first fossil fuel-free nation. I have publicly made the commitment that my company, which includes our 27 plants aroundthe globe, will be CO2-free by 2025. Effective immediately, all company cars will be at least hybrids.
How do you think the image of Sweden is changing and developing internationally?
The image of Sweden is changing for the better. There are now many affordable direct flights between the US and Sweden, giving Americans easy access to our wonderful country. Additionally, many Swedish stores such as IKEA and H&M are very popular among Americans.
How do you think Sweden has achieved the success it has despite being such a small country, population-wise?
In terms of area, Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe, but in terms of population (about 10 million) it is a small country, even within the European Union. Swedes are pragmatic and tough-minded, but not closed-minded. We are open to innovations and new solutions and take pride in honesty and transparency. Sweden invests in its people and its communities, and promotes a sustainable living approach that clearly involves policies addressing the need to protect the environment.
What does the Swedish community look like in Florida?
Historically, Swedish settlements in Florida started as early as the 1870s. New Upsala (located north of Orlando) was the first and largest of the early Swedish settlements in the state. In the following years, a growing number of Swedes found their way to central Florida, attracted by glowing reports of the citrus industry. There is actually a rumor that a Swede was the first to grow oranges in Florida! The Swedish-Floridians of today are mainly attracted by the sub-tropical weather lifestyle.
Today there are about 150,000 Floridians with Swedish ancestry. About 40,000 of those have single Swedish ancestry and about 7000 were born in Sweden. Swedish-Floridians are spread out all over the state of Florida from Key West in the south to Pensacola in the north-west. Many are active within the many Swedish organizations along the east and west coasts, such as the Swedish Church, SWEA, SACC, Swedish Club of Sarasota, and the Swedish School in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Florida receives about 200,000 visitors from Sweden each year. Our estimate is that this number is on the rise, considering the new airline connections. Many Swedes choose to fly directly between Stockholm and Fort Lauderdale with Norwegian Air. In addition, SAS now has direct flights between Miami-Copenhagen and Miami-Oslo.
So what should a person visiting Florida for the first time not miss?
An early morning jog along one of the many beautiful beaches, Wynwood Art District in Miami, St. Augustine in north Florida which claims to be the oldest city in the U.S, and one of the many theme parks in Orlando. Swedes would most likely also enjoy an airboat ride in the Everglades National Park known as “the swamp.” In reality it’s a slow flowing river with alligators and beautiful flora and fauna.
What can we look forward to at the Consulate this holiday season?
December will be a busy month, featuring Lucia concerts and Christmas smorgasbords across the state. Our Consulate also hosts art and movie events a few times a year. We are hoping to bring some Swedish exhibitions to south Florida. For more information visit our website: www.consulateofsweden-fortlauderdale.org.