What is the common denominator of regional quality and regulatory affairs manager Erika Sundstrom and co-owner Elena Prokopchuk from Russia?

Apart from starting their career paths with Nordic AGA they both find variation of industrial sectors fascinating.

Interestingly, however, the Nordic subsidiary of Linde offered both women the opportunity to enter the industry. For Sundstrom it was a move away from the pharmaceutical industry\\$quot;s process engineering, project management and production of medicine.

The Swede explained: "When I graduated the pharmaceutical industry was expanding in the country and many of my fellow colleagues and I were recruited by this sector. This industry was a good option but after five years I started to look for new experiences, and when AGA in 1995 advertised I decided to apply."

According to Sundstrom during this period AGA began to discover differences between medical and industrial gases and started a purely pharmaceutical development project in Europe. She continued: "I was one of the people with competences in this area so they chose me. However, the decision to leave the pharmaceutical industry was a suprise to my colleagues who did not understand why I wanted to work for the industrial gas industry when I could work for the pharmaceutical one."

Elena Prokopchuk


\\$quot;I have to deal with a lot of men who want to cherish their world.\\$quot;


Nevertheless, Linde according to Sundstrom, has changed a lot over recent years and achieved a reputation in this area. "The company developed a brand and also developed further its healthcare business,which was identifi ed as a growth area. In 1997 AGA was reorganised into three business divisions, healthcare being one of them. I became the quality manager on a global level."

So far Sundstrom has travelled the world, held a position in Brazil and returned back to Europe, this time around to Linde Gas head offi ce in Munich, Germany.
Today she is responsible for the quality and regulatory affairs function in western Europe.

Elena Prokopchuk, Co-owner of Uralkid, Russia///

In the same year (1995) another woman, Elena Prokopchuk, joined AGA, this time in Russia. AGA had bought an air separation plant in Moscow where Prokopchuk started to work. She said: "Joining the AGA sales team was a big challenge for me because CO2 didn\\$quot;t have a commercial market at the time but by the time I left the company, we had built a market worth of $3m in sales.

"In 1998 Russia experienced a serious crisis and the economic diffi culties in the country were enormous. This time Linde had also reached an agreement with AGA so I left to establish my own company, Uralkid."

Today Prokopchuk is one of the three owners of Uralkid, a company dedicate to supplying CO2. Prokopchuk and her business partners have successfully managed to grow their business that delivered last year 42,000 tonnes of the application, operates 22 semi trailers, has approximately €6m turnover and employs some 33 people in the country. Uralkid operates in the European part of Russia and aims to grow about 20 per cent a year.

So why exactly did these two women choose the industry? For Sundstrom it was initially the AGA brand and the industry\\$quot;s long traditions. She explained: "The
industry covers a lot of different areas. Although sometimes this can be complicated as there\\$quot;s a difference in how to fill a medical oxygen compared to an industrial."

Prokopchuk continued: \\$quot;Indeed, the variation of industrial sectors is fascinating. From CO2\\$quot;s point of view it\\$quot;s interesting for ladies because this application is used in medical, dry cleaning and beauty sectors.

"It\\$quot;s also interesting as its \\$quot;˜real life\\$quot;. I have to deal with a lot of men who want to cherish their world and who are reluctant to give ladies a chance. Russia, however, is unique as it is located at the cross roads of Asia and Europe. Our mentality towards ladies is different and I believe the opportunities for women are better here compared Europe."

However, both women agree that a mix is good.

Drivers of the industry
Both Sundstrom and Prokopchuk feel the industry and the market is full of new opportunities to be discovered. For Sundstrom it means becoming more innovative and making the conscious effort to stay at the forefront more than before.

She also thinks there is room for improvement. "Linde has realised that and we have a lot of new projects. This has been particularly important in healthcare, as we have had to come up with innovative products and services. On the other hand that also requires change in the company and the way we have been looking at new investments. Yes you need a lot of money to make a plant investment but the day you start the plant you start getting your money back, so the risks are not that high. The industry should take bigger risks, move faster and not always play safe.

"Linde and BOC will also make Linde BOC truly international. Furthermore there\\$quot;s no women on the board but I am optimistic with the acquisition of BOC that may change, which I think would send a good message."

Prokopchuk on the other hand has hopes that the Russian market would attract more big players. She said: "Some big companies have already entered our market and I feel interest lies in here. As the industry grows, the market becomes more interesting, develops and companies will have big opportunities here.

"Russian\\$quot;s economical climate is improving so it\\$quot;s good time to come here and look for new possibilities," she concludes.

Additional Articles:
Women in industry - glass ceiling, does it exist? - June 2006
Women in industry - August 2006