Global Conversations with: Jan Campbell-Westlind, Honorary Consul of Sweden in Pennsylvania

Kathleen Quigley, for GPA -- Jan Campbell-Westlind is the President and Founder of Campbell-Westlind & Associates. As a cross-cultural trainer, consultant and executive coach, Jan has assisted and facilitated the adjustment process to a new culture for a large number of corporate executives and their families from various countries. As a Foreign Service Officer, Jan has spent more than 25 years overseas in ten different countries on four continents.

With extended assignments in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, South Korea, the United States and Sweden he has, together with his family, acquired an intimate knowledge of the challenges that expatriates’ face in an overseas environment. He speaks English, Swedish and French, and has been the Honorary Consul of Sweden in Philadelphia since 2009.

Could you tell us about your Swedish-American background?

I came to the United States as a toddler. I was born in Stockholm. My family was a diplomatic family, and I grew up in the US and spent 10 years here until I was a teenager. We went back to Sweden, and I came back as an adult with my family in 1997. I had spent more than 20 years with the Swedish Foreign Service, and traveled around the world to different postings. Some were more difficult than others, one of them being Kuwait during the first Gulf War. When we returned to Sweden in 1995, we felt we wanted to test the waters here in the US, since my wife is also a US citizen.

I was asked by the Swedish Embassy in Washington DC whether I could take on the Swedish Consulship in 2009, and it was my pleasure to do so. I am also an entrepreneur, and have my own company called Campbell-Westlind Associates, and we do cross-cultural training for executives and individuals traveling overseas. We can do trainings for any country in the world. Most of the outgoing trainings have been to Sweden and various other countries, including India and the United Arab Emirates.

What is the history of the Swedish Consulate in the Philadelphia area?

In 1783, with the New Republic being born, Sweden and the United States signed a treaty of commerce and trade, and Sweden was one of the first countries to recognize the New Republic. The first Swedish Embassy in the United States was actually in Philadelphia. So there are very long and strong ties with the United States. There is a distinction between a "Career Consul" and an "Honorary Consul." An Honorary Consul is expected to assist Swedish Citizens in consular matters. We are also asked to promote diplomatic and economic relations between Sweden and Pennsylvania, and my jurisdiction as Honorary Consul of Sweden in Philadelphia is the state of Pennsylvania. For the past few years, I've been promoting trade ties between Pennsylvania and Sweden.

What kind of trade takes place between Pennsylvania and Sweden?

In the past, there had been trade delegations to Pennsylvania to Sweden. I've been trying to get a new delegation to come for the past couple of years. There are a lot of interesting incentives that the Department of Commerce and Economic Development in Harrisburg has to offer to foreign companies wishing to establish themselves in Pennsylvania. With the free trade zones, I've been trying to entice Swedish companies to look at the possibility of establishing themselves in Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2012, State Senator Mike Brubaker visited the Swedish Embassy in Washington D.C. He is interested in strengthening the ties between Pennsylvania and Sweden. He was part of a delegation consisting of the World Trade Center in York, the Pennsylvanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Peter O'Neill. Senator Brubaker met with the Ambassador and myself to talk about how we can strengthen the relationship between Pennsylvania and Sweden. We'll see where we go from there, so it is "to be continued."

It seems you wear several hats! Can you talk about the interactions you have with people from Sweden when they come to the Philadelphia area?

When a company contacts me as a cross-cultural specialist rather than as a Consul, they would like to get a "heads-up" on what to know as a newcomer or expat coming here for the first time to live. We put together a one-day program that consists of anything and everything from US history, to geography to demography, business culture, and what they call today "transition stress" and what was previously called "culture shock." That is always interesting to talk about. Usually, a program like this is for a family, sometimes involving their children.

Could you describe the distinction between a "Career Consul" and an "Honorary Consul"?

Career Consuls are employees of a government sent overseas to work for that government. Honorary Consuls are usually citizens of a country who take upon themselves, "gratis," if you will, to help fellow citizens of their home countries. In Philadelphia, there are five career consulates.

What is the presence of the Swedish people and their influence in Philadelphia?

We have a long history here. The American Swedish Historical Museum sits on land that was part of a land grant given to a Swedish farmer by then-Queen Christina in the 1660s. Then in 1683, William Penn, when he laid the foundation for Philadelphia, went to the farmer and asked whether he could sell it in order to establish Philadelphia. So, there was actually land purchased from the Swedes in order to lay the groundwork for Philadelphia. The neighborhood "Queen Village" was actually named for Queen Christina, so we have a long historical presence here. As far as present-day Philadelphia, in my estimate there are 500-600 people with Swedish heritage living in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey area.

There are also large Swedish companies that count Philadelphia as their headquarters, Ikea being one of them. I believe there are about 30 Swedish families living here, working as professionals for Ikea. I have been helping Ikea for 10 years, providing cross-cultural training. I've traveled all across the United States to meet with Ikea managers coming to US for new store expansion. That was primarily between 1995 and 2005, and they established 30 stores during that time in North America.

What are the other activities you are involved with as the Consul of Sweden?

The year 2012 was actually the centennial of a Swedish diplomat by the name of Raoul Wallenberg. There was a celebration that started with an exhibition in Budapest. He was a Swedish diplomat who saved probably about 100,000 Jewish people from extermination during the Holocaust. He provided a kind of passport to Jews so that they could take refuge in the Swedish Embassy in Hungary. The person working with Wallenberg was the father of one of my best friends. I met with the father several times, and he was nominated for the Wallenberg Award presented at the Swedish museum here in 2001. Last year, during the Wallenberg centennial, I was contacted by a synagogue in New Jersey that was holding a commemoration for Wallenberg, and they asked me to speak. This resulted in the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education asking me to speak at the State House in Trenton this April.

I have this very important personal connection to Raoul Wallenberg through my friend. And I feel I can relate to what he did for people, after experiencing a traumatic evacuation from Kuwait in the early 90s. It was a life and death situation there, as well, but not quite as bad as what Wallenberg faced.

Thank you for sharing that. Before we wrap up, what else would you like to add to our conversation?

The one thing I'd like to stress is that there are Swedish companies making in-roads here in Philadelphia. Not only is Ikea established here, but also a huge Swedish company called SKF that makes ball bearings. Also another company called SCA, which makes personal tissue paper. And another company, which makes software, is Qlik Technologies, Inc. There are also smaller companies which have relocated from larger cities to Philadelphia. One is a smaller firm called Specops. So as you can see, Swedish companies and entrepreneurs continue to come to Pennsylvania, and we would like to attract more of them.

Jan Campbell-Westlind biography courtesy of