Doting parents will always tell their children they can be anything or anyone they want to be—a pilot, a superstar, a doctor or even an astronaut.
But as little ones lose their naiveté and realize the world’s realities, they often forgo their dreams and settle for whatever card life deals them. But then again, there are a lucky few who end up being far greater than what they ever dreamed.
Carl-Erik Leek—head of the newly opened Philippine office of Saab, a Swedish military defence and civil security products, services and solutions provider—is one such fortunate man.
Into the military
“I have always been interested in military stuff and military history. I think I had some childish dreams about being a race car driver and thoughts on being a teacher, but my final decision was that I wanted to be in the military service,” Leek recalled in this interview with The Sunday Times Magazine.
Asked whether there was anyone—perhaps from his family—who influenced his choice, Leek replied in the negative, and shared that his parents actually worked in totally different fields. His father was a project manager for a construction company, while his mother worked as a civil servant.
“I think my interest in the military became stronger when I was roughly 15 years old,” the Swedish expatriate continued. His opportunity to pursue this path came three years later when he went on conscription—the mandatory one-year military service all 18-year old male Swedes undergo.
“After the year of conscription, there was no longer a doubt that I wanted to continue in the officer’s academy. Two years later, I graduated as a Second Lieutenant and stayed in the military service for 20 years,” Leek proudly recalled.
As part of the Swedish Air Force, he worked in the command and control system, which he described, connects all information from radars to command and controlled aircrafts, among others.
From then on, the devoted military man became deeply involved in the development of his country’s modern Air Force.
“We had a completely new system for the Swedish Air Force with a Gripen fighter, with the Airborne Early Warning radar, with the new command and control system, and the tactical and digital data link system. We had the most modern air force in the world developed during the 90s,” Leek proudly conveyed.
Having given his all in his capacity as Major Leek, two decades into his storied career in the military, he decided it was time explore a related profession that will further his passion for military technology.
“I had done a lot of nice things in the Air Force, and I was ready for a new challenge after 20 years. I am now happy to be working with the same products that I’ve been a user of while I was in the Air Force—to develop them, to market them and to be a part of the Saab Organization.”
As an Aerospace and Defence company, Saab offers a wide array of products in five key business areas, namely: Aeronautics, which works with aircrafts; Nautics, with submarines and surface ships; Surveillance, with radars and other sensors and command and control systems; Dynamics, with different kinds of missiles and other products; and IPS, which is mainly focused on business to business as a sub supplier.
Leek started his career in Saab as a Project Manager that required him to lead product management at the company’s unit outside Stockholm, Sweden. Later on, he worked with command and control systems, much like how he worked for the Air Force, and became head of Marketing and Sales from 2011 until 2014.
Thereafter, Leek moved to Bangkok, Saab’s headquarters for Asia Pacific Market Area where he stayed for two and a half years.
It was during that time that he saw business potential in the neighboring country of the Philippines, and went from there to set up shop as Saab’s Executive Vice President.
“This office will be the marketing hub for Saab’s activities in order to market and try to win business for the Philippines Armed Forces and other agencies,” Leek intimated at the company’s brand new office at Bonifacio Global City.
“I think we can contribute a lot to the Philippines with a strong technology and affordable prices, among others. We have a very broad portfolio with hundreds of products, but of course we will focus on certain areas where we believe we have the best chances to win business,” Saab Philippines’ main man explained when asked what they can do for the country.
“Saab also offers civilian products like air traffic management for airports and coastal surveillance systems for surveillance of sea traffic,” he added.
One particular business that they have been closely eyeing has to do with the modernization of the Philippine Air Force.
“I think we have been looking at the Philippines for a number of years now and following especially one business case—the multi-role fighter case, or the procurement of a Fighter for the Philippine Air Force,” Leek revealed.
In terms of military modernization, Leek admitted that the Philippines—especially its Air Force—is currently behind other comparable countries.
“If this business opportunity will be a success, Saab will be providing a multi-role fighter for the Philippines,” he explained. “A multi-role fighter aircraft can execute various missions like reconnaissance over sea and land, the Air Defense task to protect the territory from aggressors in the air and also strike enemies on the ground and sea.”
According to Leek, their initial study shows they are the preferred supplier for the Philippine Army’s multi-role fighters and attributes the choice to Sweden and the Philippines’ similar geographic circumstances.
“We have built an aircraft that is adaptive to similar circumstances as we have in Sweden. You see, our countries both have a very large coastline and the Philippines is almost about the same size. We can land on very short runways with that aircraft—we only need to have about 400 to 500 meters. Moreover, our Gripen fighter is specially designed to leave and land on a normal road,” Leek shared.
Additionally, the executive said their company can provide the Philippines with aircrafts from an independent country. Under Sweden’s regulations, Saab must first seek the approval of their government for any products or services they will provide another country. Sweden is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) signatory signifying independence from any alliance to any specific country.
“At the end of the day, I think every country has its right to protect their borders and territory,” Leek declared.
A new home
Having satisfied himself in explaining the business of Saab, Leek went on to share with The Sunday Times Magazine how he feels about making a home in the Philippines.
Currently flying in and out of country in setting up the office, Leek happily divulged that come January, he and his wife will finally get settled to make the Philippines their home for the next three years.
Moving constantly from place to place and country to country is something not uncommon for Leek. As a child, and later on in his military career, he had lived in about seven different places in Sweden owing to the nature of his father’s job, and later his career. To date, Manila will be the ninth city he will call home.
“I’m quite used to moving with my background. I like Asia very much. I like the warm weather. Now we probably have some snow in Sweden but I prefer warm weather, to go to the pool and swim. I think it’s great,” Leek enthused.
Prior to moving here, he said he already had the chance to experience Filipino culture when they celebrated Christmas in Boracay in 2015.
“Most of the people living in Bangkok, they travel around Thailand or somewhere nearby for the holidays, but my wife and I decided to go to Boracay for Christmas, and we don’t regret it. It was a great experience and it allowed me to learn more about the Philippines, since my next visit here was devoted to finding out and preparing for a decision to open an office here.”
From what he saw during their holiday, Leek surmised Filipinos to be extremely friendly, helpful and polite. These three qualities, and the hospitality Filipinos had been known for, make the former military man excited to start his full tenure in the country.
“I am overwhelmed be all this hospitality I’ve been met with in this beautiful country. What I have seen is that people are very open—they want to discuss a lot and like to ask a lot of things. It’s a fantastic,” Leek noted, as he looks forward to a new year in a new home.