European Leading Women
Name: Helena Bergstroem Pilo
Title: Vice president industrial vehicle line, 40 series
Company: Volvo Car Group
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Age: 53
Family: Husband, Ulf
Born: Gothenburg, Sweden
Nationality: Swedish
Languages: Swedish, English, some German
Education: Master's degree in physics engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

Helena Bergstroem Pilo

What attracted you to the auto industry?

I like cars because they are interesting, complex products that everyone has an opinion about. They engage people. Cars are a fantastic combination of technology and design and I just love driving them. 

First automotive job:

I started in 1988 as a trainee in Volvo’s engineering department and had the opportunity to work at several facilities in my first year. My first job was as a design engineer for seats. I was responsible for latches and folding mechanisms for our foldable rear seat that launched in the Volvo 740.

What was your big break?

I see my career as a series of steps. All of them have been important but a few really stick out. When I took on my first management position it helped me realize that I really wanted to be in this area of the business. Another big step was when I became a department manager in engineering. Not many women had done that before.

What is the major challenge you have faced in your career?

Playing an important role in the new-generation Volvo XC90 from its conception to Job No. 1. I was responsible for the engineering of the complete body, closures, exterior, interior and climate systems. While doing my work I had to take into consideration that the XC90 would have a completely new architecture, a completely new top hat and a lot of new technologies. 

Otherwise most of my challenges have been of a technical nature such as solving complex issues under tight deadlines. As a manager you often face issues and concerns that deal with people, organizations and programs. However, none of that has ever seemed insurmountable to me. 

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

That would have to be my current and former bosses. All of them have challenged me and supported me.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry?

It is important to visit schools and universities to talk about the fantastic and exiting technology developments that are happening in the auto industry. There are so many different jobs and areas to work in. That needs to be communicated. Role models on every level are also important and they need to be visible and given the chance to talk about this interesting business.

What’s your favorite weekend activity?

I have several. I enjoy sailing during the spring and summer. I also like photography, spending time with family and friends, flying hot air balloons, driving, bicycling and much more.

What keeps you awake at night?

Nothing in particular. I sleep like a log.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

One thing many people don’t realize is that even though I’m left-handed I still use both of my hands to do many things. I also fly hot air balloons even though I am somewhat afraid of heights.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Albert Einstein. His theories fascinate me and it would be interesting to hear how he reached his conclusions.

If I had it to do all over again, I would ...

Have taken one year off to travel the world at some time.

When and where was your last vacation?

In January of this year I went to Filzmoos, Austria, during the hot air balloon festival. I planned to go ballooning and skiing. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t good enough for flying. 

Name one talent you wish you had.

I would like to be really good at drawing, painting and writing. 

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Do your job the best you can, be good at it and tell people about your aspirations, interests and dreams. 

What advice would you give your child?

Get a good education and follow your dreams.

If you were a car, what car would you be?

A Volvo C70 convertible for happiness and flexibility and a Volvo V40 for playfulness and agility. 

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