"I always have the ambition to be better"
The interview below is from when Johan Torgeby assumed the role of President and CEO of SEB in 2017.
With great passion and a humble yet ambitious mindset – this is how Johan Torgeby, SEB’s CEO since March, wants to lead the Bank. “The pace of change is very high,” he says. “But even in a digital world, it is relationships and advice that make the difference. The path forward is about service – and it has to be world-class.”
He could have been a professional drummer, but chose economics instead. He could have wound up in London and worked only for himself, but he wanted to create more and also lead others. Johan Torgeby has always had his sights set on one profession, and in fact also on one bank.
To be sure, this determination has had its intended result: On 28 March 2017 Johan Torgeby took office as the CEO of SEB. “I accept this position with great passion and a humble yet ambitious mindset.”
Johan Torgeby joined SEB in Stockholm in 2008 after spending a few years with Morgan Stanley, among other things as head of Financial Sponsors Group Private Equity in London.
“For me it was a clear choice between staying in London and improving in a specific area, or moving home and embarking on a broader career,” he says. “I have always been interested in leadership, and there is no better platform for SEB to develop in this area. I was clearly of this belief during all of my years in London.”
So his choice was actually not that hard.
Johan Torgeby’s youth, however, was far from the world of banking, attending traditional eel parties (Ålegillen) and roaming the vast sandy beaches in Kristianstad and Åhus on Sweden’s southeast coast in Skåne, where his dad was a pastor and his mother worked as a midwife.
“Of course, my father being a pastor required a certain measure of decorum. You had to be on good behaviour, go to church on Sundays, and so on. But when I was 14 he left and started a travel agency instead, so I experienced my teen years in a different context.”
Music and a large circle of friends also left their mark on SEB’s newly installed CEO, who became a passionate drummer at a young age. “It must be genetic – I was banging on my mother’s pots and pans from a very young age!”
But music was relegated to a recreational interest, despite the fact that he was accepted into the prestigious music high school in Malmö. After instead choosing to major in economics, he acquired an even keener interest in national economics at the university in Lund. Continuing in the academic world was one option, but a job offer from Robur pushed his career development in another direction.
“Being a portfolio manager was a dream. In the late ’90s there weren’t many jobs that attracted me more, with the coupling between entrepreneurship, the stock market, and national economics in general.”
Johan Torgeby is a self-described leader who thinks it is important to foster an open and discussion-friendly climate. He believes in building teams and thinks working should be fun, “even though it can’t be hullabaloo every day.” And he is also aware of his weaknesses.
“Sometimes I want too much, and things can move too quickly, which can clash with certain personalities. So I have worked to be more careful in this regard.”
What is it about leadership that attracts you?
“It is very rewarding to get someone to feel something positive. I think this is at the core of all human relationships, and in the business world this also has an intrinsic value since it gets people to develop. I am also strongly driven by a will to contribute – to always strive to be better, to do better.”
Do you have high demands? On yourself and on others?
“For sure. I think you have to. I always have the ambition to be better. There are a lot of things that I’m not good at. But I always want to be better, and I don’t give up until I do get better.”
Johan Torgeby has served on SEB’s Group Executive Committee since 2014 and has played an instrumental role in drafting the Bank’s long-term strategy based on the challenges and opportunities that await going forward.
In previous interviews he has said that he does not intend to make any major changes, but wants to follow the vision charted out by the Bank for 2025.
Looking a few years into the future, what are the Bank’s biggest challenges?
“The traditional business model for banks is currently undergoing a transformation. Owing to digitalisation, much is being done differently, and on top of this, a new regulatory landscape is driving a number of changes.
“This is the big challenge, combined with an undermining of the public’s trust in banks. Added to this are a number of subtexts, such as that since the financial crisis there is an image that banks may pose harm for society, and that banks are rumoured to be over-exposed in their lending, which poses a latent risk. And in the midst of this we must keep pace with technical developments that are taking place throughout society.”
Johan Torgeby identifies two main areas in which efforts need to be made to meet these challenges. These are digitalisation and advisory services, which each on their own must be world-class in addition to working in a close concert with each other.
“Advisory is crucial. Our ambition, to be sure, is that we are absolutely trustworthy in this respect. Customers put high demands on us – with all right – and when we meet with them and even exceed their expectations then we have reached a level that is right for the entire Bank. Our digital offering must also match this level of ambition.”
Where will the Bank stand in ten years?
“My goal and my driving force is that we will take the position as the undisputed leader. This is something I want to be a part of. Sure, we can say already today that we are a leader in many areas, but being “undisputed” is key. In strictly objective terms, we aspire to be the leading business bank, and we will achieve this if we are perceived as providing world-class service.”