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Pontus Sirén ’89 on Perseverance, Generalism, and the True Meaning of Success


TASIS alumnus Pontus Sirén '89, a partner at the growth strategy consulting firm Innosight, delivered a keynote address in the Palmer Center on the evening of March 7, marking the third installment of the 2021–2022 TASIS Speaker Series. Mr. Sirén, who previously served as CEO of the biotech company Bioneris and as an across-industries consultant for the renowned Boston Consulting Group, also spent two days visiting with High School students in biology and economics classes.

In his address to the senior class, which be viewed in full above, Mr. Sirén discussed his time at TASIS—he arrived from Finland at the age of 11 and graduated at age 16!—and traced his journey from Hamilton College to Glasgow University to Cambridge University to the workforce, where he has spent time as an EU bureaucrat, navigated the intense pressure of working for a high-powered consulting group, completed military service in Finland, founded a biotech company and learned to love scientific research, published articles on topics ranging from business innovation to cancer cancer cachexia and sudden infant death syndrome, and focused on transformations taking place in the legal industry, among other pursuits.

Mr. Sirén encouraged students to have broad experiences and to acquire a range of skills instead of being fixated on one discipline and being in a rush to build the perfect CV, noting that we’re entering the age of the generalist. “You can do a lot more than you think,” he said. “You’re capable of a lot more. Even things that you think are ultra-ultra-difficult.”

He acknowledged that the path to academic and professional success is often a rocky one and emphasized the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity, noting that the value of tenacity cannot be overstated and imploring students to not be derailed by the challenges that life will inevitably bring. He closed his address by asking students to think carefully about the very nature of “success” itself. Upon mentioning his own family for the first time, he suggested that true success is not defined by achieving fancy degrees or acquiring material wealth but by the quality of the relationships we’re able to form with others. “Life is about this,” he said. “It’s about other people and how you treat them, and how you spend time together.”

After taking a few questions from the audience, Mr. Sirén and a smaller group of students and faculty members moved to the living room of historic Casa Fleming to continue the conversation. 

Over the course of his two days on campus, Mr. Sirén spoke with students in Mr. Brett Foster’s Biology and AP Biology classes, Mr. Noah Clarke’s AP Microeconomics class, and Mr. Michael Clardy’s IB Economics class while also enjoying a few meals with the student members of the TASIS Speaker Series (TSS) Committee. During these classroom visits and informal gatherings, he provided more insight into this career path and answered questions about entrepreneurship, business strategy, biotechnology, and a variety of other topics.

Dr. Christopher Love, who has chaired the TASIS Speaker Series Committee since 2019, noted that Mr. Sirén’s broad range of expertise enabled him to connect with students on a number of different levels. “It was so nice to have a TASIS alumnus offer a perspective on life and work that draws on such depth and breadth of experience,” he said. “Pontus advocated general over specific knowledge and was not afraid to base this advocacy on hard truths rather than easy appeal. Unsurprisingly, the students felt this approach was refreshing and very helpful.” 

Mr. Sirén’s artistry as a storyteller, combined with the fact that his journey began at TASIS, helped his key messages resonate with his audience. “As a trained historian with three master’s degrees, Pontus was able to tell a story of his life that reinforced and illustrated the advice he gave,” said Dr. Love. “What was his advice? To read broadly, constantly, and actively. To embrace experiences beyond the confines of academia. To embrace failure as the inevitable condition for a life well lived. And to ski as much as you possibly can. And of course, I loved that Pontus remembered his days at TASIS so fondly.”


Mr. Sirén was based in Singapore for the first nine years of his role as a partner at Innosight and recently transitioned to the firm’s Swiss office. During his tenure he has worked across a broad range of industries in the Asia Pacific region and most recently focused on the transformation that is taking place in the legal industry. He advises senior managers on the topics of transformation, innovation, growth strategies, and innovation capabilities and culture and has worked across a range of markets, particularly in India, Singapore, Australia, China, the Philippines, the UK, and Thailand. 

Mr. Sirén speaks and writes regularly on the topic of innovation, and he is the co-author of the Harvard Business Review article “Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days” (2014) and the MIT Sloan Management Review article “The Next Wave of Business Models in Asia” (2016). He has a keen interest in digital transformation and disruption and their impact on businesses across the world.

Prior to joining Innosight, Mr. Sirén was the CEO of a biotech company that was founded together with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He has published numerous articles on cancer cachexia and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in The British Journal of Cancer, Experimental Cell Research, and Frontier in Neurology, among others. He is also a co-author on a patent on the treatment of cancer cachexia. 

Before his biotech career, Mr. Sirén worked for The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Hamburg. During his five-year career at BCG, he worked across multiple industries, including industrial and consumer goods, healthcare, logistics, banking, and retail.

Mr. Sirén earned a BA in History from Hamilton College, an MPhil (Honors) from Glasgow University in Russian and East European Studies, an MPhil (Honors) from Cambridge University in International Relations, and an MBA (Honors) from the Helsinki School of Economics.

TASIS Speaker Series

The TASIS Speaker Series, formerly known as the Senior Humanities Program and renamed in the fall of 2018 year to more accurately reflect its present purpose, draws from five fundamental elements of the TASIS identity—truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action—to provide TASIS students with a signature educational experience. 

The TASIS Speaker Series Committee selects four speakers each year who embody the pillars of the program. The Committee strives for a variety of voices, backgrounds, and professions represented in each year’s group but ultimately selects speakers on the basis of their ability to enhance the intellectual and moral experience of the outgoing seniors and the community as a whole. Prior to Mr. Sirén’s visit, Dartmouth College Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and 2019 Templeton Prize Laureate Dr. Marcelo Gleiser opened the 2021–2022 series in October, and CNN congressional reporter Daniella Diaz visited campus on February 7–8

Although the TASIS Speaker Series focuses on students near the end of their TASIS careers, the program aspires to serve as an educative instrument for the entire division, creating opportunities for all High School students to interact with people and ideas of significance that are concerned with the world beyond the TASIS campus. Students enhance their intellectual experience through discussions, lectures, class visits, and film screenings centered on some combination of truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action. Above all else, the program conveys a clear message to students about what the School hopes for and expects from them after they leave TASIS.

The influential program was initially made possible by a CHF 100,000 donation from TASIS parents Michael and Jane Grindfors to The M. Crist Fleming Endowment for International Understanding and Leadership in 2008. It remains an integral part of a TASIS education thanks to ongoing support from the TASIS Board of Directors and the excellent behind-the-scenes work done by a dedicated group of students and faculty members.

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