When Marie Westrin
started school at the age of seven, one lesson involved learning how to write a capital “H”. Nothing easier, she thought, and used her ruler and pencil to draw six vertical and two horizontal lines. Then she used an eraser to rub out all that was not needed. And quick as a flash, she had six neat capital “Hs”. Easy as pie.
But the girl at the next desk thought this was cheating and told the teacher. She became angry and the young Marie had to stay on for an hour after school practicing writing capital “H” the way her teacher thought it should be done.
Westrin grew up in Söderhamn with her grandmother, Svea, who ran a small shop. The girl often helped out there, not because she had to but because she enjoyed it. This meant that later in life she never needed to attend courses to realize that satisfied customers are essential for success in business.
She soon made it clear that she had an eye for how to make things simpler, what she was told later on in life was called rationalization. “Granny had another employee working in the shop. I watched how she worked. She would notice that three bars of milk chocolate had been sold so she went to the storeroom and got three new bars to put on the counter. Then she would notice that she needed four chocolate toffee bars, so she went back to the storeroom to get them. And that’s how she went on.
“But there was a quicker way of doing it. I checked all the shelves and made a note that we needed three bars of milk chocolate, four chocolate toffee bars, three packets of licorice, six boxes of sweets … and so on. Then I went to the storeroom and got everything at the same time.”
Westrin was interested in technology and her favorite school subject was mathematics. When she started at upper-secondary school, computers had already become important. An internship at what was then a government-owned computing company called Dafa made her decide finally that her future career would be in technology and in computers in particular.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
One of the many gifts her grandmother Svea gave to her grandchildren was the knowledge that one could never say: “That’s impossible”. “I cannot remember ever hearing the words,” Westrin recalls. “There was quite simply no room in her frame of reference for the idea that anything could be impossible.”
So when Westrin decided she was going to be an engineer, there was never any doubt that she would succeed. And of course, she would do her studies at the leading facility for computer studies, the Institute of Technology in Linköping.
She had never visited the city before. She told her friends jokingly that she was moving there to get an education and find a husband – and she did both. In 1982 she was awarded her Master’s degree in engineering physics and electronics, and was hired immediately by Ericsson Information Systems. Her first job was in data communication for an operative system aimed at banks and the business world. From then on, her work was devoted to GSM.
“It is fantastic to have lived through the entire GSM period. Not even in our wildest dreams could any of us there at the start imagine how big GSM was going to be,” she says.
In the autumn of 2005, Westrin became head of GSM development at Ericsson; two years later, she was given responsibility for all the group’s radio networks and radio development work. Over the years she and her colleagues have made many forecasts of the growth of GSM; so far, they have never been over optimistic.
Like Jan Uddenfeldt, Westrin is tasked with ensuring that Ericsson is developing the right products for the future. But while Uddenfeldt takes a long-term view, of three to ten years, Westrin is looking ahead only from the present to three years down the road.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn
Marie Westrin became head of GSM development at Ericsson in 2005.