Ten days ago Dr. Gayle Allard and I wrapped up a 5 country tour of the Nordics in Reykjavik, and it was a productive final stop.  On the tour we met with over 100 candidates, alumni, and colleagues from partner organizations, and our meetings included interactive discussions around which countries to invest firm resources, given comparative economic indicators, and we also looked at the principles of corporate diplomacy.  And while we met many highly successful alumni along the way, one of the most interesting recent graduates we had the chance to meet was Sigurjon Karason who graduated from the International MBA in 2015 and is now leading product management for web solutions at Valitor HF, the global payment services company headquartered in Iceland.  As part of my activities while here in Reykjavik, I had the opportunity to do a tour of Valitor’s offices, and to sit down with Sigurjon to learn more about him, the company, and how leading companies from Iceland are punching above their weight.

It’s hard to believe that the worst of the financial crisis is now 9 years behind us, and even more difficult to imagine how this small island nation of 330.000 people played such a relevant role in the crisis.  But things have turned around in Iceland and with near 0% unemployment, Icelandic companies are competing hard for the country’s best talent, and IE graduates are a valuable commodity to be scooped up. Valitor, a FinTech firm that has been collaborating with Visa and Mastercard for the past 30 years and more recently with Apple Pay, is one company that has hired an IE alumni.  Valitor is an attractive company for IE graduates as it is not only a key player here in Iceland), but a payments player that’s active globally (and they’re aim is to get to 1 billion transactions by 2020), working with key players like San Francisco-based Stripe, a company that “handles billions of dollars every year for forward-thinking businesses around the world”.  In fact, half of Sigurjon’s team is not even based in Iceland, but instead in Serbia.  One of the big draws of working at Valitor is that it has an entrepreneurial culture, something that also attracted Sigurjon to IE Business School.

A Bachelor of Science (First Class) graduate of the prestigious University of Iceland, Sigurjon has long had a real interest in the financial sector and in creating new ventures.  In fact, before joining IE Business School’s International MBA program – ranked 3rd worldwide by the Financial Times for Entrepreneurship, he started a venture called Tour Desk, which he sold before going to work for Infosys in Bangalore, India, in their strategic global sourcing area. His entrepreneurial and corporate experience served him well, as did his extracurricular involvement at IE, where he participated both in the IE Rugby Club and the IE Consulting Club while on campus.  And it wasn’t an easy decision to move to Madrid, as his partner had to decide what to do as she was at the time studying her master degree in law.  Luckily, her university had an exchange partnership with the University of Pontificia Comillas ICAI also in Madrid, so both were able to advance their careers while in Southern Europe, before moving back to attractive positions at leading organizations in Reykjavik.

Finally, and an additional reason as to why Sigurjon both chose to pursue his MBA degree at IE Business School, and then take a position with Valitor, was the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): In addition to learning about how being a force for good in the markets where organizations do business while at IE, Sigurjon chose to work at Valitor given their commitment to social initiatives such as supporting single mothers, teaching basic financial skills to young Icelanders, and a serious commitment to going green.  In fact, after we completed our visit, we jumped in one of Valitor’s fleet of electric VW Golfs and sped off to our meeting with Start-Up Iceland’s founder Mr. Bala  Kamallakharan at Ocean Cluster House, where we grabbed lunch and toured this innovative workspace for startups dedicated to launching new products and services around another key industry in Iceland: the fishing industry.

Getting to reconnect with IE alumni across Europe is really a pleasure, and because the International Development team for Europe and Central Asia is constantly on the go across the region, if you’d like to be featured in a similar interview, please do get in touch with the team! Email us a europe@ie.edu

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