Entrepreneur, Husband, Father
PJ co-founded Vaimo, a global digital commerce agency 12 years ago and moved to the United States two years ago with his family to expand the business. Vaimo means “heart” in Sami. Sami are the indigenous people of Scandinavia. PJ’s first language was Sami: “I present myself first as a Swede, and then I quickly excuse myself and say that I am not really a Swede or that I am a real Swede. . . There is a lack of knowledge about the Sami people even in Sweden.” One of the things PJ takes from his heritage is a “multi-identity I am a Swede, and I am a Sami.”
He speaks Sami with his family, children and even his dog, “I fight to keep the language alive. It is my mother tongue.” Historically in Scandinavian countries the Sami languages were banned, Sami religion was banned and people were forced to move and give up more and more of their indigenous homelands. PJ’s own family in Sápmi (Sweden and Norway) has been forcefully migrated between countries due to geopolitics and then forcefully displaced again locally due to hydropower dam projects. These things were still happening in the not so recent past. “There is a whole wave of young Sami who are rediscovering their roots and heritage, a small wave of a generation rediscovering that their grandparents spoke Sami, but they don’t because their parents were banned from speaking the language in school.” PJ points out similar histories of colonization of native people in many parts of the world and a grown awareness and activism. He compares the ongoing protests against the Line 3 pipeline project in the United States in Minnesota as “practically identical to similar situations in Sápmi right now.”
PJ comes from a Reindeer herder family: “My brother is still a reindeer herder, many of my cousins and uncles were reindeer herders on both sides . . . Reindeer herding is a total entrepreneurial endeavor. Sure, it is herding animals, but you have to be able to do a bit of finance, mechanical engineering, a bit of ecology, a bit of biology, to be able to fix a broken motorcycle or build a hut . . . interpret the weather . . .” These days you cannot rely on reindeer herding alone and many of PJ’s family are hunters and artists as well.
When asked how this entrepreneurial spirit exists for him he said. ”I carry with me [the idea] of being your own man, forming your own endeavor . . .not being afraid of testing new things, a sense of freedom, that instinct of freedom.”
One of the things that speaks to PJ is a responsibility to the environment.
“I am super passionate about saving mother earth or contributing to saving mother earth. [This is one] of the things that I bring as a Swede, Swedes are pretty well oriented environmentalism and sustainability, but especially as a Sami. If you have grown and lived off the land you understand how important it is. You understand what it is if you spill oil into your only source of freshwater.”
This consciousness comes not only from being Swedish but also Sami. “It is innate, it is built into the Sami people. The Sami have a much longer perspective on living, you think about the next generation and the generation there after, at least I do. It is one of the things that drives me. I think a lot about previous generations and what has happened to put me in the place that I am now. What I can do to honor that and what I can do for the next generation that comes after me.”
“There is an increased awareness about sustainability and that we know more. The other thing that I find hope as technocrat, an engineer and entrepreneur is that the market will solve something for us. That someone will come up with something … fusion power … clean energy.”
“I also find hope in the Sami being better known” and “new people and new ideas.” “Sweden is not as blue and yellow and white as it used to be. It is a tough balance between how much do you preserve the idea of a nation and of a people and how much do you mix it up with borders being erased and the movement of people, cultures and ideas.”
One of the ways to say thank you in my mother tongue is “giitu eatnat” – it means “thanks a lot” but the word “eatnan” also means “earth” and you could use it after for example a meal – everything comes from mother earth after all.
Something that PJ enjoys to eat is Suovasbiergu and gáhkku, which is reindeer meat and a traditional Swedish flatbread that originated from the Sami. His favorite way to serve this meal is to lightly smoke the meat and add a pinch of salt. These treats can be enjoyed separately, but together they are heavenly.
When asked what art he appreciated, PJ had noted “it’s impossible to choose without narrowing things down.” So adding the parameters of only movies and relating to his heritage, his top choices are Avatar by James Cameron and Disney’s Frozen 2. The plots of these films seem to progress in a way that PJ feels relates to his people and their stories. When it came to discussing Avatar, the message “resonates on so many levels of indigenous people and colonialism” due to the geopolitics that forced his family to migrate between Sapmi (Sweden and Norway) continuously as a result of the hydropower dam projects. Spotting similarities also occurred when his family watched Frozen 2, since there was an issue with the dam built for the Northuldra peoples. Throughout that movie, it was easy to spot the inspiration of the narrative; PJ noting that he “really appreciated that it was based to a large extent on the Sami people.”
In available free time, PJ enjoys exploring the unknown. But that means more than just visiting new places with his family. He also likes to experience new books, music, and especially movies. Most recently, PJ and his family were making the most of their trip in the USA; “so many different things to experience here on all levels and scales!”
It’s important to keep in mind that inspiration for PJ can be found everywhere! Sometimes, PJ draws energy from the activities happening around him when it comes to business, sports, and his competitive nature. More commonly, PJ finds his inspiration from his family and the desire “to be a good husband, father, and general role model” in his day to day life. He also works to honor his family legacy, since he comes from such a rich background, showing true respect for those who have “laid the groundwork” for him.