Women in Gases: An interview with Maria Chruzander

The 27th annual UN Conference of the Parties, COP27, is now fully underway in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, with world leaders placing climate change at the forefront of discussions in a series of focused days.

Today (14th Nov), gender is one of two key focuses, alongside water. In recognition of the theme of the day, gasworld took some time to speak to one influential woman in the industry today, Maria Chruzander, CEO of Skandinaviska Gasprodukter.

© Skandinaviska Gasprodukter

Based in Sweden, Skandinaviska Gasprodukter provides a wide range of gases and mixtures for its clients, from argon, helium and nitrogen through to more specialist or rare gases and mixtures, synthetic air, and hydrogen.

Chruzander founded the company in 2009, along with her father, and has been in the industry ever since. Ten years later, in 2019, she became CEO and hasn’t looked back to any other industry since.

Here, in this exclusive interview in recognition of the gender-themed day of COP27, gasworld sits down with Chruzander to find out exactly what it means to be a woman in a predominately male dominated space.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today, Maria. Why don’t you tell us how you became involved in industrial gases and what is it like being a woman in this market?

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a lawyer but then something called life just came in between. I was only 21 years old when we started the company, and one reason was to learn how to run a company while figuring out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go.

The second reason was to spend more time with my father. He has been travelling a big part of my life. As a specialty gas manager in the big gas companies worldwide, I did not see him that often. So one day I asked him if he wanted to do this together and he said yes. Since specialty gas was what he knew we started to look for a gap on the market, which we found, and the company was to be a niche gas company focused on specialty gases. I had no idea that I would still be in the gas industry almost 14 years later.

My father was in the specialty gas industry for almost 50 years, so I got into it because of him. It was really just a coincidence and not planned at all, at least not that I would stay. I have realised after 14 years that this business suits me very well – every day is a new challenge, no day is like the previous one.

I think it’s great being in this market! It has not always been easy as a woman but, talking from where I am today, I don’t see this as a gender question any more. It’s a market where you have the possibility to learn about new products, new applications and meet amazing new people. If you are into problem-solving, the specialty gas industry is the place to be. Helping customers to find a solution to a problem that makes their job easier is very satisfying.

Let’s talk more about your role as CEO of Skandinaviska Gasprodukter. What is your favourite part about working for the company and what are your main duties?

My main responsibilities are to plan, organise and lead the company by having a helicopter view, doing my best to steer the company in the right direction to grow it at a comfortable pace. Other important work areas are to create, develop and maintain the company’s business plan. I help to develop goals, strategies, action plans and communicate these internally and to the board. And finally, everything points towards striving for increased revenues and good results.

I always want to improve, both as a person but also for my company, so one important responsibility as CEO is to develop and strengthen team spirit but also to see every individual and help to meet their needs. I’m also still very active in sales today, working and developing key accounts, but also as a sales manager by coaching and supporting our sales organisation.

Can you tell us about one woman who has positively impacted you in your career? What lesson did she teach you?

An easy one – my mother.

When you are younger you think that everything your mother does is her “job” and that’s normal. But being a grown up and a mother to a five-year-old myself, I understand that what my mother did was way beyond what you should expect from a mother of two. Since my father was travelling a lot when I was young (up to 300 days a year), my mother was the only one taking care of a house, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, driving back and forth, with two kids, having a full time job, coaching my football team andd – probably the most impressive and important part – doing all of this with so much love, support and joy.

What she taught me is that it might not always be the person that you see that always is the main character in the “movie” called life.

Can you share one challenge you’ve faced as a female in your sector? And how did you overcome it?

For me it was not one specific challenge. Coming into a business which is male-dominated is not a walk in the park. Especially not when you are in your mid-twenties, female and have no experience or knowledge in the business. I have been questioned, devalued, and made stupid.

My husband often tells me, “The only way out, is the way through it” – and it is very true. By working harder, learning more and having a determination others might lack it will get easier and you as a person will grow with confidence. You can’t decide what other people will think about you, but you can decide what you think of yourself.

Those first years gave me a lot of toughness. Being a young female coming into the industry at the age of just 21, and as a start-up enterprise, I’m very passionate about the opportunities and empowerment for females up and down the gases business.

In closing, if you could give one piece of advice to a woman looking to start her career in the industrial gases business, what would it be?

My advice would be to not see the gas industry as a male or female dominated industry, but instead look at yourself as a person – who you are, what do you like and what do you want to do. If you are, like I mentioned before, a curious person eager to learn new things every day and are passionate about problem solving – no matter your gender, your colour, your sexual orientation – then the specialty gas business is definitely something you should try.

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