From the forest in Sweden, Nellie Wartoft is turning education on its head in the Asian markets.
What’s your story?
I grew up in a small town right in the middle of the forest in southern Sweden. Being obsessed with Asia since my early teens due to the rapid economic growth, sheer market size and the opportunities in this region, I booked a one-way flight at age 18 and I have never looked back.
Since arriving in Singapore I’ve spent four years in recruitment, and started two companies. The business I’m running now, Sapio, is to a large extent founded to solve the problems of economic mobility and employability – common issues I witnessed first-hand every day as a recruiter.
What excites you most about your industry?
The fact that knowledge is the foundation of everything, and with it you can do anything! “Knowledge is king” has overtaken the popular “cash is king” as a universal truth – because with the right knowledge, you can get cash! Whether it is starting your own business, shifting industries, learning a new language, saving for your pension, building new relationships or running for president – it all starts with increasing your understanding and knowledge of the area. The education industry is also exciting right now because it is yet to be disrupted – it hasn’t changed a bit in the past 200 years!
What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve spent all my adult years in Asia. I went to university in Singapore and South Korea, have worked in Singapore, and have travelled to all countries in the region except three (on my list for this year!). My friends and team are from all across Asia – Singapore, India, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Japan and so on – and I speak conversational Mandarin.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – that’s why I’m here! The high concentration of APAC HQs and decision makers on the ground makes it a place where you can get things done and decisions made in a shorter period of time. The international talent pool, English being the business language, and the well-connected airport also adds to the list of attractive factors.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Motivation comes and goes – discipline is what will get you through the lows.”
Whether it’s starting your own business, sticking to a new fitness routine or working for that promotion – the above motto is what has got me through a lot of lows. Never rely on your motivation. Motivation is a fragile thing and requires a lot of work to manage and keep at a productive level. It is also part of the puzzle in life that you won’t feel great all the time and it won’t be easy – but that doesn’t mean you should stop working towards your goals. Discipline is your best friend through anything, because it’s the friend that turns those goals into reality.
Who inspires you?
My co-founder Ben for his ability to always think big, be crazy and never lose sight of the greater plan; Meryl Streep for using her global recognition and public voice to inspire and be a wise role model for all of us; and my mother for her patience, tolerance and showing me that there are always two sides of each coin – the world isn’t black and white.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That only 91 % of what we learn in university is applicable in our careers. I had a feeling it was a majority, but 91 % is just mind blowing. Sure – it’s good to learn for intellectual reasons too, but the majority of graduates are studying in order to get a job post-graduation. They’re hoping that all the hours and money they poured into their education will one day pay off. Turns out it doesn’t!
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have started studying Mandarin earlier. At age 1 if I could have! I’m jealous of people in Singapore who grew up with both Mandarin and English as their first languages. I’ve been learning for the past five years and I’m still just a 6 out of 10 at best.
How do you unwind?
I read a lot of non-fiction books. Somehow, it seems to me that books are the only medium that can make sense out of this world! Through books I can travel and experience worlds and eras I otherwise couldn’t. I also consider it to be a luxury to be able to step inside the minds of people like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Jack Ma and Lee Kuan Yew for a few hours for just $20!
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Ubud for its fantastic range of vegan food! It’s also a great place to be close to the tropical jungle and live a simple life under the palm trees. It’s a great contrast to the concrete jungle of Singapore.
Everyone in business should read this book:
“Wealth Secrets of the 1%” by the economist Sam Wilkin. It’s an economic explanation of the stories of the greatest companies and most successful business people. It goes beyond the usual soft talk of motivation, risk-taking and resilience, and looks at hard facts and theories involving governments, laws and economic factors during the lifetimes of wealthy people – from the ancient Romans to John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates.
Shameless plug for your business:
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Whether it be a private mentoring session with a top investment banker, an evening class with an influential blogger, or a podcast with a successful entrepreneur, we connect hungry learners and subject matter experts on topics that get you ahead in life. Through content that is aspirational, accessible and actionable, you can access knowledge straight from leading experts and practitioners across the four categories: Business, Careers, Personal Finance and Entrepreneurship. We’re everything you wish you’d learnt in school!
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.