Manuela Zerega Westin | 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023
Manuela Zerega Westin is an entrepreneur in one of the world’s most gender-equal countries, Sweden. It is also home to the 2022 Think Global People Relocate Award-winning serviced apartments company, Beautiful Apartments Sweden, which she co-founded. We talk to Manuela about her route to success.
Independent serviced apartment operator, Beautiful Apartments Sweden, prides itself on offering a bespoke truly client-focused service. With her service leadership ethos, Manuela Zerega Westin leads her tight-knit team to go all-out to make relocating employees feel at home from day one.
Manuela’s hospitality entrepreneurship journey is inspired by a cross-border upbringing and generations of strong female role models. “The service sector has always been my life and working hard comes from my Italian-Polish roots,” says Manuela.
“I love to work with service and to help people. I’ve always worked in the travel and tourism industry and during a period of hotel management in Stockholm the idea of starting something on my own grew from day to day.
“I wanted to offer a better product than our competitors. For me, it was about being more ‘out-of-the-box’ and flexible, which is one of our core words.
“I know that many companies use the word flexibility in their marketing, but for us, it’s more than just a word,” Manuela continues, explaining how Beautiful Apartments Sweden puts such flexibility into action. “When clients ask, ‘can you remove furniture and rent partly furnished?’ Or ‘I know you’re fully booked, but I know you can solve the problem’, our clients know there is never a problem, and we never say no.
“My employees know that there’s always something we can do,” says Manuela, “because we are not only selling apartments; it’s how we sell the apartments, our service and how responsive we are.”
Feeling at home at work
Hard work and passion are fundamental to building an award-winning business that has positively impacted relocating assignees from around the world. “To be successful, it is important to have passion. If you’re not passionate, if you don’t love your Monday mornings, then you’re not at the right place,” says Manuela.
“I also believe you must share that passion with your employees; it’s the only way they will share your same feelings. It’s very important for Beautiful Apartments Sweden, for me, to share all these important steps and lead by example; am I living and breathing my business? Perhaps I am.”
Providing a positive environment for clients relies on having a great workplace culture where people not only share a passion for the service they provide, but also have integrity and trust each other. “We are quite a small team of 20 and we’re like family.”
Celebrating small steps as well as the big successes is also part of Beautiful Apartments Sweden’s workplace culture. “You have to stop sometimes and just think about the work we are executing and celebrate all the hard work that leads to good results, but most of all happy clients.”
“Sometimes, being a woman, when you are at a management level, you can feel quite alone. It’s therefore wonderful to have this network of women who support you and give you the spirit to work further.”
Manuela Zerega Westin, Co-Founder Beautiful Apartment Sweden
Surrounding yourself with strong women
Despite the always-on, 24-7 nature of running a business, downtime with family and friends, as well as colleagues, is also very much valued by Manuela. She credits the women in her family for normalising this self-starting mindset and the supportive environment in which passions and ambition can be achieved.
“I come from a family of very strong women, all having made a new career after having immigrated to a new country,” says Manuela. “My mother moved from Poland to Italy as a young adult and many years later to Sweden with me and my sister. She worked hard, studying into late evening while working as CFO in different international companies. I am very proud of her because of all that she did for me and my sister. I can see a little bit of myself now in her, raising a 17-year-old daughter.”
Similarly, Manuela’s maternal grandmother and aunt normalised balancing successful careers with family life. “It starts with my grandmother, who was the strongest woman I know. My grandmother emigrated to Sweden together with my grandfather from Poland in 1969. She worked at the Swedish Nobel Library and with the Swedish Nobel Academy where she introduced Polish writers such as Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1980. Then you have my aunt, who immigrated from Poland to the US, worked as bank director at Citibank and many years later moved back to Poland where she managed Poland’s daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.
“Passion and hard work run in our blood and although all women in the family were very hard-working family has always come first.”
Today Manuela continues to draw strength and inspiration from the women in her social and professional networks. “They are all entrepreneurs working hard. I am surrounded by all these strong entrepreneurial women. It’s wonderful to have that network where we meet from time to time, have never-ending lunches where we speak business, give each other feedback and ideas.”
Despite Sweden being home to one of the most equal societies in the world, “sometimes, being a woman, when you are at a management level, you can feel quite alone. It’s therefore wonderful to have this network of women who support you and give you the spirit to work further.
“Sweden is a good place to do business as a woman,” continues Manuela. “There are still areas that could be improved, around salaries for example, but it’s improving. When I started ten years ago, I was really scared of building a business and leaving a full-time job while having a family.
“I believe it is very important to be surrounded by people who support and push you in a positive way. Make sure to have the support and network around you and trust in yourself, because if I can, you can do it too.”