Urban Edenström, civic-minded property management magnate and YPO member, has been named Sweden’s EY Entrepreneur Of The Year. He’ll represent his country in the competition for the world’s top EY Entrepreneur Of The Year in June at the annual awards show in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Three other YPO members from Mexico, South Africa and the United States will compete in the global finals as well.
EY’s World Entrepreneur Awards Program is considered the most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs across the globe. It celebrates those who are building and leading successful businesses and inspiring others with their vision and leadership.
Edenström has enjoyed a long career as an executive and owner of international property management companies. He’s embraced and capitalized on digital disruption, and his businesses have an impressive record of financial success. He also has a passion for nurturing livable communities and sustainable cities, working to make Stockholm the most attractive capital city for business in Europe.
CEO at age 27
Edenström grew up in Ronneby, a small, economically challenged village in the south of Sweden. He left for Stockholm at the age of 16 and studied technology and construction at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where he received a Master of Science in Engineering.
“Very early on, I learned the hard way to take care of myself,” he says. “I had no one else to rely on.”
He soon became active in the Stockholm real estate market, buying and selling properties in the 1980s. Edenström became a CEO at 27 and began his first company at 29. While he lacked executive experience, he was open to smart advice and he learned quickly.
“I had a trick,” he explains. “I used to call each one of my board members separately and ask for advice. They didn’t know and didn’t realize that they were the ones making decisions.”
Edenström worked for the Wallenberg family (which has holdings in multiple industries throughout Europe) for years, then started a business with them.
“We agreed to start a new service company, Newsec, in the real estate sector. After the economy went bad, we agreed on a deal so I could buy them out for almost nothing,” he reveals. “I built that into the company I have today.”
Vertical integration leads to market domination
Newsec is now one of three major subsidiaries operating under the umbrella of Stronghold Invest, along with Niam and Datscha. Edenström is the CEO of Stronghold, which employs approximately 2,000 in nine countries. Stronghold is the leading asset management, property advisory, fund management and property technology (proptech) company in Northern Europe. Proptech broadly includes technologies that help individuals and companies research, buy, sell and manage real estate.
Newsec offers property owners, investors and tenants a range of services and has EUR40 billion in commercial real estate under management. Niam is northern Europe’s largest private equity firm in real estate with assets exceeding EUR3.5 billion. Datscha is a leading provider of information and analysis for commercial real estate, serving more than 900 business clients in Sweden, Finland and the U.K.
“My companies have mainly grown organically and generated a fantastic return,” says Edenström. “Since 1999, we’ve had a return of 40 percent per year. We double the net value of the company almost every second year.”
Disrupting his own companies in the “Innovation Lab”
What excites Edenström most these days is innovation: creating new products, cultivating disruptive ideas for his companies and nurturing startups. This takes place primarily in Stronghold’s “Innovation Lab,” and most of the companies and projects are in the proptech category.
“We are running 25 projects at a time and everything is related to real estate,” Edenström explains. “All the players in northern Europe know us. They ask if we’re interested in a company or startup and they pitch to join the lab. These are early-stage concepts created by people who see a problem in our industry. More than half of those ideas come internally!”
In fact, out of 2,000 employees at Stronghold, 300 have spent time in the lab. “It’s a real honor,” he says. “If selected, employees get one day a week in the lab, so in reality, they have two jobs. I think every CEO realizes digitization is a big threat and is wondering how to get their organizations to try new techniques and new ways of working. For us, the lab is the method.”
Edenström adds, “Outside of Silicon Valley, Stockholm has the highest number of tech and unicorn companies per capita, and the greater Stockholm area has the highest percentage of programmers.”
Boosting Stockholm and bidding for the Olympics
Digitization is also top of mind for Edenström in his role as chairman of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. “We just negotiated with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston to create a digital lab in partnership with KTH Royal Institute of Technology. It’s all about the digitalization of cities,” he says.
Edenström believes there is nothing more important for the real estate industry than to create attractive cities with potential for long-term and sustainable growth. To that end, he pushed for an expanded subway system with 17 new metro stations and a new train to nearby Uppsala. “Stockholm and Uppsala are growing together,” he explains.
His biggest goal now is to make sure Stockholm is chosen as the site for the 2026 Winter Olympics. “We are one of two cities left, so we’re fighting day and night,” he says. “We have the best odds to win!”
When asked how he plans to make that happen, he reiterates how competitive he is and says he can’t reveal any secrets. But it’s obvious that shining a huge spotlight on his adopted city thrills Edenström as much as winning in business.
“We have fantastic CEOs on the committee,” he shares enthusiastically. “I’m only the chairman of the Chamber. We have a lot of talented, good people and it’s fun. Really fun!