ELISABET WENZLAFF, CV AND BIOGRAPHY
Present position: General counsel. Senior Vice President, Volvo Car Corporation (Member of Volvo Cars executive management). Succeeded to position on 1 September 2006.
Born: 19 September 1955 in Ydre, Östergötland province, Sweden
Education: Bachelor of Laws, University of Stockholm, Sweden
Master of Law, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Joined Volvo Cars: 1 September 2006
2000-2006 Chief Legal Officer and CEO, Akzo Nobel AB, Stockholm, Sweden
1998-2000 Legal Officer, Celsius AB, Stockholm, Sweden
1989-1998 Legal Officer, Fläkt AB and ABB AB, Växjö and Stockholm, Sweden
1984-1989 Assistant counsel, White & Case Advokat AB, Stockholm, Sweden
1982-1984 Court practice, Solna District Court, Stockholm, Sweden
Languages: English fluent, German moderately fluent, French and Spanish limited
Civil status: Married to Karl-Axel (sea captain). Two teenage children.
Leisure pursuits: Keen sports enthusiast, marathon runner, Vasa Ski Race competitor, skater, and dedicated sailor and canoeist
Elisabet Wenzlaff is a corporate lawyer whose aim is to sell more cars. Nothing less.
“Legal is a service function that supports the business. So we obviously share the company’s goals,” says Elisabet Wenzlaff.
She believes that good judgement is a corporate lawyer’s most important asset. Others include mastery of legal complexities, high analytical capacity and integrity.
“I want to demystify the law,” says Elisabet. “Many corporate lawyers have extensive experience of business and should be fully integrated in the commercial scene. The law is not hocus-pocus.”
Elisabet Wenzlaff has been General Counsel, Senior Vice President of Volvo Car Corporation and a member of its executive management since 1 September 2006. She is also secretary to the board of Volvo Cars.
She has followed a more or less straight career path to reach her present position. So how did this come about?
Because as she herself puts it: “I’m very much a country girl”.
Elisabet was born and raised on a farm on an island in Lake Sommen in the Swedish province of Östergötland. The farm is still in the family.
“My grandfather always had time for us children and paid great attention to us,” she says. “In fact, I believe that Astrid Lindgren herself would have been envious of my upbringing.”
It may have been her incredibly secure childhood that made Elisabet a woman who loves adventure and challenge. She enjoys everything from sea kayaking and sailing to cross-country skiing and running. She has competed in the famous Swedish Vasa Ski Race and in several marathons. Not a spectator, she is very much an active sportswoman.
So it was not so strange that she left her childhood home to explore the world. Although she had originally intended to become a physiotherapist, she ended up studying law ‘by accident’ when she obtained the loan of a flat in Stockholm.
Like the city itself, the choice of career suited Elisabet perfectly.
An ambitious student, she became a Fulbright scholar and went to study in the USA.
However, she found time for adventure before starting her Master of Law studies in Philadelphia.
Together with five friends, she took off on a canoe trip along the Yukon River and its tributaries in Canada. Lasting two months, part of the journey took them through completely uninhabited territory.
“It was fabulous,” she exclaims several times, with a real air of excitement.
She met her sea captain husband somewhere along the line before leaving for Canada and the USA. Another adventurer, he shares his love of sailing with her.
Elisabet returned to Sweden and her husband after her year in the USA, and started her court practice in Solna working with the Stockholm police force.
“Getting to travel in police cars and helicopters was a terrific experience,” she recalls.
She then joined the American law firm White & Case, and worked with them from 1984 to 1989 on cases relating to the construction industry and various company disposals.
Following the birth of their children, her husband forsook the seven seas and joined a shipping company in Växjö, while Elisabet Wenzlaff began work as legal officer with Fläkt Industri in the same town.
“I was the only corporate lawyer at Fläktfabriken and it was there I learned everything that I know,” she says half-jokingly.
Fläkt Industri was later acquired by ABB and Elisabet spent ten years as a legal officer with them. This involved a great deal of international travel and the family became familiar with child care of all kinds during that time.
Elisabet has been used to being a lone woman and working in male-dominated industries since the start of her career:
“I am used to working with men and I don’t feel uncomfortable in that situation. In fact, it is often the men who feel strange,” she comments. “I also had a great boss who supported me when I became the first woman and the first legal officer at Fläktfabriken,” she adds.
At Volvo Cars, Elisabet aims to work proactively and integrate the legal aspect in the company’s everyday activities. The legal staff needs to get involved at an early stage in various situations and contribute to the company’s goals.
Elisabet Wenzlaff is supported by a first-class network which she has built up in her various roles, including chairperson of the Swedish Association of Corporate Lawyers and membership of various industrial reference groups.
So how does she find time for everything?
“I hate cooking and I don’t play golf,” she explains. “And my belief is that you have to be active to feel good. I hope I have proved that.”
Other trivia about Elisabet: She has always driven a Volvo. Her company car is an XC70 since “you can’t get a kayak on the roof an XC90”. At the moment, she is spending time running with her 25-year-old nephew.