AIESEC was founded 66 years ago and Bud Saxberg had the opportunity to experience AIESEC at its beginning. Originally from Helsinki, Finland, Bud was attending “Hanken” School of Business and Economics, with a major in Accounting and Economics, when he heard about AIESEC. He attended the first meetings in 1948 and 1949 which established AIESEC and how it would work. He then went to the first AIESEC exchange meeting in 1950. There, he learned about and later went on a traineeship in Paris at an oil distribution firm, Shell Toneline. Bud had the following to say about AIESEC’s inception.
“What we had in Scandinavia before AIESEC was something called Praxis, which was a cooperative program between business schools in the Scandinavian countries. However, after WWII, there was a feeling of coming out of isolation, of not having had contact with anyone else for 5 years. That’s why it had some real importance to get internships abroad, gain a language competence by working in other European countries. We knew that we needed to go beyond the Scandinavian countries. So, in 1948, we had a first preliminary meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, where the Stockholm Business School provided leadership. In 1949, we went officially to another meeting with the presidents of our respective student associations as delegates with authorization to negotiate how we might set up the organization. The French acronym for “Association International des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commercials” reflected the fact that the French group was very strong. There were delegates from Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Norway and Switzerland who became the founding group which officially established AIESEC as an organization. Arrangements were made for an exchange mechanism, where we would collect job opportunities from our respective home countries and match the jobs that we had with students from other countries who were interested in traineeships in Scandinavia. That was how we got ready for 1950, where the first exchanges were organized. We had a wonderful location in Paris. AIESEC has always been about fun in addition to being serious. I still remember dances and dinners and meeting interesting people. It was something special after WWII, which in our memories was an awkward time.”
While completing his traineeship in Paris, Bud received word that he had been granted a scholarship at Oregon State in Corvallis. As Oregon State didn’t have a master’s program, he got a bachelor’s degree in business with a technical minor in Forest Technology because he was thinking of returning to Finland. He then went on to get a Master’s degree at the University of Illinois in Champagne, Urbana, where he stayed on to work for his Ph.D in Business. While in Champagne, Bud met and married his wife, Margrethe, who was from Norway, and they had their first child, Bo. When it came time to decide where they would settle down, Bud said that Norway wasn’t right for him and his wife said that Finland wasn’t right for her, so they decided to make Seattle their home, in 1957.
After establishing themselves in Seattle, Bud got a postdoctoral fellowship from The Ford Foundation for Cornell where he studied sociology, social psychology, and anthropology. When he came back to the University of Washington, he dedicated himself to management and organization. In addition to his academic work of research and teaching, he had the opportunity to work as a senior management consultant to a number of organizations, including Boeing and Rolls Royce over a 15-year period. He also consulted with corporate executives regarding local and international management developments, with service on the Board of Directors of the School Employees Credit Union of Washington, and Pemco Insurance Co. His interest in entrepreneurship and innovation led to the creation of a local TV program, which reached audiences in the US and beyond. Within the University of Washington, Bud has twice been Chairman of the Department of Management and Organization. He was also the Associate Dean for the Foster School of Business graduate programs as well as Chairman of the University of Washington Faculty Senate and an Ex Officio member of the University of Washington Board of Regents.
When asked how AIESEC impacted him, Bud had the following to say:
“AIESEC provided me with an exposure to languages. It also reestablished the international dimension in my career at the University of Washington. I have been the faculty advisor for students interested in German area study and I have held the same position for students interested in French. Since my retirement in 2010, I fill the function of Faculty Director for International Exchange Alliances. This involves contacts with other business schools with an interest in student and faculty exchanges with the Foster School of Business. Two sabbatical years included a stay in France, with one year with the entire family, including our two boys, Bo and Bror, who were enrolled in a French high school in Tours, France. ”
Even after 66 years and with all the changes that have happened with international travel, the Internet and an increasingly global world, Bud still believes that AIESEC is relevant and valuable.
“It is a fact that anyone can travel, go off to another country, be a tourist, and come back and have great pictures. But to be an AIESEC trainee is to really have a base in a country, have the chance to become involved, get to know people, and to see how they live and how they think. That is a different experience from being a tourist. When I think of my own traineeship in Paris, it was a fantastic experience. I was able to improve my fluency in French and I was able to look at different ways of dealing with a business organization. In the final analysis, AIESEC has tended to help get competency in languages, familiarization with foreign business practices, and observe the values of other cultures—a great preparation for becoming active in international business. AIESEC has continued to create friendships and relationships. It has also had a role to play in emphasizing peace keeping around the world through personal relationships.”
As a professor of management and organizations for 53 years, Bud knows a thing or two about what makes someone successful in the real world. He had the following to say about what skills or traits are necessary to be successful in navigating the business world.
“It has to do with having patience and recognizing that your career is going to be dependent upon how you establish your relationships. Because even though you may have a very strong competence in a special area, and have a lot of proof of that, it still turns out that in an organizational context it is like living in a tribal community. Your success will depend on how successful you are in gaining the support of other people willing to help you reach your goal. We are frequently impatient and we believe that the world is rational, that people should recognize what we are capable of. However, the real question hinges on whose rationality is governing. In that context, relationships become very important.”
What advice does Bud have to students and recent graduates about getting into the workforce?
“I think that it is worthwhile to strive to reach the sun. Even if you miss it, you may still have done better than you would have by keeping your goals and aspirations low. I feel that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well and you should try your best. Then of course you hope the environment is willing to say thank you. That is frequently forgotten in our society and it can make you feel that you are not valued as you had hoped to be. But I think that doing your best, being responsible, and being counted on to deliver, is the type of people that are really needed everywhere. It can open up opportunities that you just never asked for.”
We can see that Bud and the other founders of AIESEC strove to reach the sun when they created AIESEC, as it still stands strong 66 years later.
Thank you Bud for your help in establishing AIESEC, for all the work that you have done as a professor and teacher to develop global leaders, and for the work that you have done as a researcher and consultant to improve business. We are indebted to you.
If you would like to ask Bud more questions about the founding of AIESEC, or about his career, you can reach him at email@example.com.