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Thunderbird at ASU alum Halla Tómasdóttir elected president of Iceland

Foundation at Thunderbird propels Tómasdóttir — global entrepreneur, investor and business leader — to the highest elected office


Halla Tomasdottir addresses supporters in Reykjavik [Halldor Kolbeins/AFP]

Halla Tómasdóttir, an esteemed alumna of Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has been elected the next president of Iceland. Tómasdóttir takes office on Aug. 1. Here she addresses supporters in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Photo credit Halldor Kolbeins/AFP

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June 04, 2024

Halla Tómasdóttir, an esteemed alumna of Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has been elected as the next president of Iceland.

Tómasdóttir, who earned her master’s degree in international management from Thunderbird in 1995, brings a wealth of experience and a legacy of leadership to her new role as her country’s highest-ranking official.

On June 1, Tomasdottir was elected as the country’s president in a victory over former Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, with 34.3% of the votes, outpacing the 25.2% for Jakobsdóttir. This election marks her second time running for office, as she campaigned and subsequently lost in 2016 despite garnering nearly 30% of the vote as an independent candidate with no prior political experience.

Iceland has had a history of supporting women leaders as the Nordic country was the world’s first to democratically elect a woman as its head of state in 1980 with Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. 

In an interview with The Reykavík Grapevine last month, Tómasdóttir references Finnbogadóttir as a leader she aspires to emulate: “She has been such a role model and influence, not least through my formative years as a girl and young woman. She has inspired me and my leadership all along, and I admire how she promoted gender equality.” 

With Tómasdóttir’s election, she now becomes the second woman to hold the title, marking another historic moment for Iceland. Known for her dynamic leadership and unwavering commitment to ethical business practices, Tómasdóttir has made significant contributions across various sectors throughout her career.

“Arizona State University is proud to congratulate Halla Tómasdóttir on her successful election and honored to count her among our extended family,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “As an accomplished and broadly talented leader, Halla Tómasdóttir’s career reflects her deep commitment to advancing higher education and to building a better future for all — priorities we share.”

Following her graduation from Thunderbird, Tómasdóttir embarked on a distinguished career in international business and finance. She co-founded Audur Capital, a financial services firm with a focus on sustainable and responsible investment, which successfully navigated the Icelandic financial crisis with minimal losses. Her innovative approach and dedication to gender equality in business have earned her international acclaim.

Tómasdóttir’s professional journey has been marked by numerous notable accomplishments. She served as the chief executive officer and chief change catalyst of The B Team, a global nonprofit initiative and collective of business and civil society leaders — including co-founder Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz — working to catalyze better business practices for a better world. Under her leadership, the organization advanced significant initiatives in climate action, inclusive economies and responsible governance.

She also held roles as an early founder of Reykjavik University, as the director of executive education and founder of women’s entrepreneurship programs; she has worked in human relations at PepsiCola and at Mars Incorporated, in addition to many other professional positions.

“I have long been on a quest to inspire and empower leaders to embrace purpose-driven, gender-balanced and principled leadership," said Tómasdóttir in her LinkedIn profile. "I have passionately pursued this purpose as a business leader in corporate America with M&M and Pepsi Cola, as the first female CEO of Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce and as an executive and nonexecutive director for diverse businesses.

“An entrepreneur at heart, I joined the founding team of Reykjavik University, where I founded the Executive Education department and led a successful initiative focused on empowering women and girls as entrepreneurs, leaders and investors.”

Tómasdóttir has maintained a strong connection with Thunderbird. She has been a frequent guest speaker at student events, including those organized by the Thunderbird Women in Business student organization.

“We are incredibly proud of Halla's achievements and her recent election as president of Iceland,” said Charla Griffy-Brown, acting director general and dean of Thunderbird.  “Her leadership journey is a testament to the values we strive to instill in our students — integrity, global perspective and a commitment to making a positive impact.

“We look forward to witnessing the continued positive change she will bring to Iceland and the international community. Watching her champion women’s initiatives and now ascend to this incredible position within her country’s government landscape will undoubtedly serve as an inspirational example to our current T-birds and alumni, exemplifying what it truly means to advocate for a more sustainable, equitable future.”

When the Reykavík Grapevine asked Tómasdóttir about why she wanted to run for president, she answered: “I believe that Iceland can be an impressive role model regarding peace, prosperity and the well-being of people and the planet. A small nation can have influence far beyond its size. I would like to take part in that process.”

Iceland has been ranked the best country in the world for gender equality for the last 14 years, according to the World Economic Forum.

Tómasdóttir takes office on Aug. 1, 2024.

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