On The Road in Sweden


My introduction to Sweden
Heading north from Tampere, Finland I make my way around the Gulf of Bothnia, which separates most of Sweden from Finland. From Tampere to the top of the gulf it's roughly 350 miles and coming down the Swedish side it's over 500 miles to Stockholm. I mention all this because it starts snowing when I leave Tampere and continues snowing on and off for a week. It's the middle of May and the locals say it hasn't snowed this late for at least 60 years.


Sandvik AB

I'm a 100 miles north of Stockholm in Sandviken, a nice cozy town of 30,000 people. This is a case where the company came first, then the town. Sandvik, a materials-technology firm, opened a steelworks shop here in 1862 and has called it home ever since.

It's raining hard as I spot a tall building in the distant with the name "Sandvik" atop it so, I head for it. Turns out it's the head office for AB Sandvik, not Sandvik AB-which is several blocks away up on a hill. I'm given a map directing me to HQ and pointing out locations of various Sandvik operations around town. Jeez, the town is ringed with company buildings and plants. The map points out several Sandvik guesthouses. In my seven years of traveling around the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand visiting over 1,700 companies, dozens had "guest or visitor accommodations" and not once did I ever get an invite to spend the night. I wonder what criteria companies use in offering accommodations to visitors. Is it done by how far one travels?, how high on the company totem pole the visitor sits? or are offers of accommodations dependent on who you know in the company? Hmmm, I wonder if my perfect record will continue through Europe?

Built in 1931, the four-story headquarters reminds me of a high school building. After spending the whole morning riding in the cold rain to get here, the last thing I want to hear from the receptionist is "I'm sorry, all the executives are in Stockholm for a meeting and there's no one else around to meet with you". But, that's the earful I get.

While being told the bad news I notice people stepping off a bus, entering the building and streaming past the reception area toward the west wing. "What's going on here?", I ask. Turns out that several weeks ago Sandvik opened up a brand new, product display exhibition and it's become a stop for bus tours.

Trying to salvage something out of this visit I talk Carl-Erik Carlson, a retired former Sandvik employee who runs the exhibit, into answering questions and guiding me around the exhibit area.

The displays show real-use examples of Sandvik's products. For instance: Sandvik manufactures steel bake oven belts and a display shows cookies going along a conveyor belt. Sandvik is the world's largest supplier of carbide-tipped tools for mining and so what has the company done? They've impressively re-created a mineshaft in the room. Follow a spiral staircase downstairs and it deposits you in a dark room who's black paper-mache walls are nicely done up to resemble the interior of a mine. Lighted displays in the "shaft" show various Sandvik products in action.

Besides being the world's largest manufacturer of saws and saw blades, Sandvik is a biggie in producing tubes, strip, wire and bars in stainless and high-alloy steel-which explains the re-creation of a hospital operating room in the exhibit. Sandvik metals are used in many of high-tech machines used in hospitals.

Carlson says about 80 corporate people work in the building and over 5,000 Sandvik employees work in the area. He readily agrees with my assessment of Sandviken being a "company-town".

The nearest airport is 100 miles away in Stockholm. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 25 billion (roughly US$3.6 billion). (For more information: SANDA)


Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken

With a name like Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken I can understand why Christer Bjork, Corporate Information, says the bank uses S-E-Banken for short. Going by 1994 revenues of SEK 17 billion S-E-Banken is the biggest bank in Sweden. Assets total SEK 411 billion.

S-E-Banken, founded in 1857, occupies two beautiful connecting four-story structures in downtown Stockholm. The first building, designed by Swedish architect Ivar Tengbom and constructed in 1915, was specifically built to house the bank's offices. The connecting building (though not as grand), was built in 1875 to house the Iron Masters Guild. The guild, founded in 1747 by the Swedish iron works to promote iron industry by means of scholarship and technical research, also served as a bank. In the early 1960's S-E-Banken bought the guild building.

The second floor houses the executives and rich wood occupies the walls, ceilings, and floors--practically everywhere you look. In olden days the big shots could look out over the large banking hall which has the feel of a large open courtyard. Nowadays the hall has been transformed into open offices.

The second floor boardroom is a beaut. Oil portraits of past Chairmen hang on walls of light reddish mahogany panel and seem to complement the red leather upholstery of the chairs surrounding the elongated diamond-shaped boardroom table. A large Replogle (32-inch) globe (made in the USA) occupies a corner of the room while a long bookcase runs almost the length of the room. What fills the three-book high shelves? Bound issues of The Bankers Magazine dating back to 1905 and the Journal Des Economistes from 1880 to 1916.

The most impressive room (now a meeting room) was originally intended for the Annual General Meetings for the shareholders of the bank. The dark-stained, smoked oak walls surround a large U-shaped table. Green velour chairs ring the table but, to me the spiffiest part of the room are the three large cut-glass chandeliers with heavy drops hanging from the ceiling. Oil portraits of nine past Managing Directors line the walls. (For more information: SEBAF)


Investor AB

I'm not surprised to find Investor, an investment company, headquartered around the block from S-E-Banken. Investor was "spun off" from the bank in 1916 because a law was initiated making it difficult for banks to own stocks.

The company owns and occupies a downtown turn-of-the-century eight-story building fronting a cobblestone street. No problem finding the place on my bike because the street is closed to vehicular traffics and is a designated bikeway. Several antique stores line the street as well as an office for Sotheby's, the upper-crust auction house. A small discreet plaque outside the door identifies the place as Investor's. Stepping off the elevator on the fourth floor I approach the receptionist and explain who I am and what I'm doing. Normal procedure usually means my standing there while a phone call(s) is made to track down my contact person. Not here. Within 10 seconds of my arrival I'm whisked into a nearby waiting room by the receptionist and told to have a seat while she returns to her desk to place a call to the president's secretary. On the way out the door is shut. A few minutes later Ulla Boye, secretary to Claes Dahlback, President, steps into the room and asks if it's possible to come back in the afternoon. "No problem", I answer.

Coming back later, it's the same procedure: I no sooner walk into the reception area than I'm immediately placed in a waiting room with the door closed. Several minutes later Adine Grate Axen-Investor Relations Manager, comes in and proceeds to answer my questions. Of course, me being me, I immediately ask why I'm so quickly placed in a room with the door closed. Turns out it's nothing personal and is done with everyone to prevent guests from seeing who else is visiting.

The decor is very formal and traditional with wood floors throughout. Axen says homemade cookies are baked fresh everyday in the break room. I don't know if the cookies are good or not because I'm not offered any.

About 80 employees work in the building which has been home to the company since 1972. To help with those long, dark winters, employees have use of a tanning booth.

Whose Investor's largest shareholder with 37.1% of the voting rights? The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. Mention the Wallenberg name in Sweden and it has the same connotation as the Rockefeller name in the USA: BIG MONEY. Peter Wallenberg, the 69-year old Chairman of Investor and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, reportedly ranks as one of the world's richest men. 1994 revenues were SEK 32.7 billion, pre-tax income SEK 3.3 billion and assets of almost SEK 60 billion.

Investor doesn't have a CEO but, Axen walks me DOWN from the fourth floor reception to the third floor to check out Claes Dahlback's office, who's been President since 1978. Axen says I'm very fortunate to see Dahlback's office because visitors are NEVER allowed on the third floor. "Oh come on now, you're just kidding", I reply and ask Ulla Boye (secretary to Dahlback) if it's true. "Yes, you're very lucky" she confirms.

First thing I notice is the Bloomberg Magazine sitting prominently on Dahlback's desk. Then it's the large collection of tombstones (15) near the window and a scale model of a sailing ship. An eight-foot tall grandfather clock sits in one corner. I get Boye to open the door on the front of the clock in order to see if any information on its age can be found. We're in luck, a note dates the clock all the way back to 1752. I'm not quite finished looking at the timepiece when Dahlback quickly enters his office to take a phone call. Having experienced first hand the company's quest for privacy, I take that as my cue to exit. (For more information: INVSFB)


Svenska Handelsbanken

With assets of SEK 400 billion and 1994 revenues of SEK 12.7 billion, Svenska Handelsbanken is one of Sweden's largest banks. Headquarters is right next door to their biggest rival; S-E-Banken.

CEO Arne Martensson answers questions and shows me around the complex of connecting buildings which houses over 1,000 employees. Though you can't tell from the exterior, the block-long six-story main building is actually three separate turn-of-the-century mansions connected together. Behind the main building and across an alley are several other buildings connected via several skywalks.

Looking around Martensson's office I find the secret for his slimness. The 44-year old CEO is an avid runner with a hankering for marathons. Hanging on a wall behind his desk are several framed certificates of completion from the Berlin and Stockholm marathons plus, the 1994 New York Marathon. Another framed certificate stamped by the government of Argentina, verifies he spent this past New Year's Eve on an island near Cape Horn. Martensson, an avid sailor, was on a sailing ship which made the trip around the famous cape. Before reading the certificate I already knew he liked the high seas because upon entering his office you can't help but notice the three-foot high scale model of his sailboat.

There's a bowl of fruit (pears and apple), pictures of family, no plants and a computer on his desk.

It's a great view from Martensson's third floor office though, it's not a corner office because his conference room occupies that space. He can look out over the water and see ferries loading and unloading passenger but, better yet, diagonal across the street from him is the 608-room Royal Palace. Formerly the residence of the King of Sweden, it's now where the King of Sweden goes during the week to do his paperwork. The King resides several miles away on an island estate. NOTE* Over the weekend I rode over to the island and checked out the King's home (Drottningholm Palace). You could probably fit three White Houses inside of it and the grounds are about the size of a golf course.

Very impressive boardroom on the fourth floor. The thirty-foot high ceiling gives the large room a grand appearance. Intricate woodcarvings on the walls and ceiling add formality. Two life-size oil paintings (one at each end) of former CEO's loom over the room and the small chandeliers add a touch of grandeur. It's rooms like this where I definitely feel underdressed in my present attire of rugby shorts, Bloomberg T-shirt and Top-siders. (For more information: SHBAF)


Electrolux AB

The city of Stockholm encompasses quite a few islands and headquarters for giant Electrolux lies two islands or several miles from downtown.

Site of a former company factory, large signs atop and aside brick buildings makes locating the place easy as I ride across a bridge. A freestanding visitors center greets guests entering the complex and I make note of the ample bike racks.

We no sooner shake hands when Jan Van Rooij, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, whisks me to the product display showroom to watch an eight-minute video on the company. Normally these are dreadfully dull but, surprisingly this one keeps my interest.

On display in the room are Electrolux products through the years including the company's first vacuum, which was produced on-site in the factory back in 1912. The company has been located on the island since 1908. Electrolux is the result of a merger between two companies (Elektromekaniska and Lux) back in 1919.

With sales in 1994 of SEK 108 billion (roughly US$15.4 billion), net income SEK 4.8 billion, Electrolux is Sweden's second largest company after Volvo. The company is the world's largest home appliance manufacturer (Frigidaire, Gibson, Kelvinator and White-Westinghouse in the USA) and the world's largest or second largest manufacturer of floor care products, food-service and industrial laundry equipment and, forestry and garden equipment.

Meetings are going on which means I don't get to see CEO Ander Scharp's second floor office or the boardroom in the old five-story brick structure. (For more information: ELUXA)


Ericsson

Riding two miles south of Electrolux (or four miles from downtown Stockholm) to Ericsson's headquarters I'm expecting to find a big complex. Why? The company's street address is simply; Telefonplan. Yep, I'm right, it's a big complex with a separate building to register visitors.

Another sure sign you're in a sprawling complex: being handed a map by the security guard/receptionist, complete with hand drawn lines detailing the way to your building. The map shows 15 buildings and I only have to walk through three of them to arrive at my destination: an 11-story structure.

Ericsson, an international manufacturer of telecommunication systems and products, traces its roots back to 1876 and there was a Mr. Ericsson. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 84 billion, net income SEK 3.9 billion.

Nothing exciting to report here as Nils Ingvar Lundin, Senior vice President-Corporate Relations, answers questions. About 300 employees work in the blah-looking structure with the late 60's early 70's look to it. (For more information: ERICFA)


Securitas AB

I'm standing right outside the entrance to Securitas's headquarters pondering whether to leave my bike locked up with the others at the bike racks. The street's busy with pedestrians walking by and I'm always uneasy leaving my trusty steed out in the open. Oh what the heck, it'll be safe, after all I'm visiting Securitas, the largest security company in Europe (guard services, alarm systems, transferring of funds in armored vehicles).

The airy, whitewashed lobby area with five bright red leather chairs looks brand new and indeed it is according to Ingvor Farinotte, Information department. Formerly a car dealership, the newly built two-story structure connects with the rest of the Securitas's block-long, nine-story headquarters which recently received a face-lift.

A good-sized, employee-only company store shares the lobby area. I don't understand why they've placed the shop with its various displays of uniforms near the front windows. I'm sure pedestrians walking past mistake the place for a clothing store and attempt to go inside.
I receive quite an extensive tour of the 350,000 square-foot (leased) facility which undoubtedly contains the most security card readers I've ever encountered. Going from one section of a building to another (they call them security zones) involves Farinotee putting her I.D. card into a card reader which control the burglarproof doors. They have over 100 of these card readers in the place. Making our way to the subterranean basement we don ear protectors to watch Securitas guards practice their shooting in the pistol range. On the way up I note the dartboards, Ping-Pong, aerobics rooms and tanning salon.

Conference rooms are named after countries the company does business in. There's no cafeteria but, a very large self-service kitchen area with quite a few microwaves. Because CEO Thomas Berglund is traveling, I can't see his office.

During my walkaround, I ask a half-dozen employees if they were familiar with Wackenhut, the world's largest security company based in Florida. Not one said yes. (For more information: STASF)


Skandia Insurance Company Ltd.

This insurance company's roots goes way back to 1855 when Skandia was granted a concession by King Oscar I to become Sweden's first life assurance company and nationwide fire insurance company. It's the oldest company listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange (1863).

With 1994 revenues of SEK 44 billion, loss SEK 187 million, Skandia easily wears the crown as the biggest insurer in Scandanavia.

Located on a main drag in downtown Stockholm, the company-owned, block-long, eight-story yellow structure looks fairly new. Oops, I take that back. Looking for a place to lock up my bike I ride around to the backside and find the neglected rear easily dates the building another 20 years. * Sidenote: I also check the backside of a restaurant before frequenting the establishment. Why? If the rear area is dirty, strewn with trash and debris it figures the same degree of cleanliness is used in the kitchen.
Ah Ha! Anders Lundblad, Manager-Public Relations, says the 383,000 square foot structure was built in 1940. That phony front didn't fool me for a second. Over 800 employees work in this building and another located across the street.

Why does CEO Bjoern Wolrath have a middle office on the sixth floor with a crummy view of the street? The eighth floor houses the cafeteria and the 7th contains conference rooms.

The 0-shaped boardroom table covered with green felt isn't very big and the room contains nothing on the walls, no plants or flags. Oh, and of course I peek under the green felt to find out the type of wood; it's good-looking birch wood.

Ann-Christine Gutzkow, secretary to CEO Wolrath, grabs her keys and walks me down the long hall to a large locked antique cabinet. Opening the cabinet doors reveals a display of 33 4x4 watercolors of past CEO's from the 1800's and early 1900's.


Industrivarden AB

It's REAL gold-leaf trim on the exterior of the handsome five-story, turn-of-the-century building housing Industrivarden's corporate offices in downtown Stockholm. Entering, I walk up a marble circular stairway to the reception area on the second floor--passing a stained-glass window along the way. Actually, if I were in the USA this would be the third floor but in Sweden things are done differently. What we in the USA call the first floor, Swedes refer to as the GROUND floor. The next floor up for Swedes would be the first floor while in the USA I'd be on the second floor.

Waiting for Carl-Olof By, Chief Financial Officer, in the small reception area I notice the bowl of fruit for visitors. There's bananas, apples, pears, kiwis and oranges. When By arrives I say, "I don't know about this bowl of fruit, are visitors really suppose to help themselves to it while they wait? It would seem awkward and messy to me to be peeling and eating an orange, banana or kiwi and then have you come in and shake my gooey hand." By laughs and says it hasn't been a problem.

Industrivarden is an industrial holding company that owns listed stocks and stock in wholly owned subsidiaries. An industrial holding company is an organizational form that carries special tax status. Biggest benefits: exemptions from capital gains taxes on sales of stock and the right to deduct dividend payments.

Industrivarden has clout in several of Sweden's biggest companies: it's the largest stockholder in Ericsson (telecommunications giant), largest stockholder in AGA (one of the world's largest supplier's of gas), third largest stockholder in Handelsbanken (bank), largest stockholder in SCA (Europe's largest forest products company), largest stockholder in SSAB (one of Scandinavia's largest producer of steel) and the second largest stockholder in Skanska (one of Europe's 10 largest construction companies). Revenues in 1994 were SEK 13.7 billion, net income SEK 1.5 billion.

Built in 1905, it's been home for Industrivarden since 1993-when it bought the building. Fifteen employees work in elegantly furnished surroundings.

The boardroom on the fifth floor, oops, I mean fourth is shaped like a large letter "C" with the wallpaper matching the boardroom table. The design of the chairs looks strangely familiar and distinctive. By clears it up by saying they're Frank Lloyd Wright-designed chairs.

The aquarium in CEO Clas Reuterskiold's third floor corner office puts him in very select company. It's only the third time I can recall seeing one in a CEO's office (AST Research and Gallery of History were the others). The fish look to be of the run-of-the-mill variety, but then again with my limited knowledge on the subject they could be champion show fish for all I know.

It's also the first time I've come across a three-foot long stuffed alligator (crocodile?) in a CEO's office. It sounds like Reuterskiold has a great sense of humor and I'm sure there's a definite story behind the 'gator. By doesn't know the significance of the little beast but, I'm not shy about spewing forth a list of possibilities: alligators are thick-skinned, are known to eat their young and they're predators.
Occupying the same window ledge as the alligator are several tombstones. I've seen literally thousands of see-through tombstones so what's the big deal? These tombstones have their particulars printed on beverage cans! PLM, a subsidiary, manufacturers beverage cans-lots of 'em. Over five BILLION last year. To celebrate a successful offering, Industrivarden's did away with the normal tombstones and used beverage cans. Picking up a can I notice it's filled with some kind of liquid. "Water?", I ask. "No, real beer", By answers. (For more information: INDVAF)


Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Foundation is a private foundation established in 1900 on the basis of the will of Alfred Nobel. The will, a document of less than 300 words, stipulated that a major part of his estate should be converted into a fund and invested. The income from the investments was to be "distributed annually in the form of prizes to those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." The five fields outlined in the will: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and fraternity among nations (peace).

Starting with 31 million Swedish kroner in 1900, the assets of the foundation now totals over 2.2 billion kroners (roughly US$300 million). How did Nobel accumulate his wealth? Among his 355 patents, he invented dynamite.

Built in 1922, the foundation's five-story building blends in with other similar-looking structures lining a street across from a park housing the Royal Library. What separates this from the others though is the granite bust of Alfred Nobel and words "Nobel Foundation" above the outside doorway. The charming Kristina Fallenius, executive assistant, answers questions while we sit in the board of directors room. As expected plenty of memorabilia concerning Nobel abounds. A glass display case in the boardroom contains Nobel's medical bag he was never without. I note all the containers and flasks in the bag are solid silver.

Eight employees work on the second and third floors, while the top two floors contain apartments rented out to tenants.

Best story told by Fallenius involves the theft of a hologram of Alfred Nobel which currently hangs on a wall. Evidently whoever stole it, ran outside the front door into the sunlight, took another gander at the picture and saw nothing then just tossed it away. The thief obviously didn't know a special light needs to be fixed on the hologram to make it visible.


Mo och Domsjo AB

Evidently Mo och Domsjo (MoDo) has been happy with it's waterfront location because its been renting two floors in the six story, turn-of-the-century structure since 1912. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 20.3 billion, income SEK 1.8 billion for MoDo, a forests products company,

The reception area is on the 3rd floor (that would be the 4th floor in the USA) and since the elevator is out of order I hoof it up the marbled circular staircase. I then have to pass muster with whoever's looking at me through a security camera before being buzzed into the reception area.

Christer Lewell, VP-Group Public Relations Director, answers questions and gives a tour. A total of thirty employees work on the two floors. Lining the hallways are paintings by Swedish artists from the 1930's and 1940's. By far the largest painting is a Swedish landscape done by Helmer Osslund in 1935.

Generally, boardroom tables at forest products companies are made of unusual wood. This one is, but Lewell isn't sure about the type of wood. It's a long table with the dark wood matching the chairs.

Of course since I'm visiting a forest products company it's mandatory to touchy-feel the plants in CEO Bengt Pettersson's third floor computerless office to make sure they're the real thing. Yep, they're real. (For more information: MODOA)


KF Group

Kooperative forbundent (KF), with 1994 revenues of SEK 33 billion, operates over 1,500 retail food stores. Who owns KF? Over 102 cooperative societies with more than 2.2 million members.

The nine-story headquarters building sits atop a bluff affording it a commanding view of the downtown and surrounding area. Checking in with the receptionist I'm directed up to floor "I" to meet with Gunilla Dahlqvist, Press chief. Yes you heard me right, the floors go by letters instead of numbers.

Between 600-700 employees work in the building, which is actually two separate structures connected together. The first was built in 1910 and the second in the mid-1970's.

CEO Roland Svensson has a great view from his top floor perch but, his office is REALLY dinky. Nothing on the walls and his secretary (sitting next to his cubicle) does her work sitting at a desk bigger than his.


Trygg-Hansa

While waiting to meet with Per Mossberg, Senior VP-Corporate Communications, I thumb through insurer Trygg-Hansa's annual report and find the answer to why I keep seeing the company's name on life buoy's around Sweden. Forty years ago one of Trygg-Hansa's predecessors, Svenska Lif, placed an ad with a life buoy beside the company name and the slogan "sound life insurance has helped many". The ads were followed by a claims-prevention campaign in which the company distributed life buoys free of charge to public beaches and boat clubs. Over 60,000 life buoys have been placed along Sweden's coasts, lakes and waterways. Today, the company's logo is the distinctive red and white life buoy. Sure enough, when Mossberg hands me his business card the space between the words Trygg and Hansa is filled with a red and white life buoy.

It's tough writing down Mossberg's answers because he elects to talk and walk while I ask questions. Trygg in Swedish means "safety" and Hansa means "trade".

Built in 1978 and located about a mile from the downtown core, over 1,400 employees work in the building.

Recreation perks in the basement includes a swimming pool, full-size gym and tennis court. Conference rooms are unimaginatively labeled by numbers except for one called the Hockey room which features a hockey rink design painted atop the table. During the last Olympics the company sponsored the Swedish national hockey team.

CEO Lars Thunell may have a top floor office but he can't see a darn thing out his window because his view is smothered by a garden terrace containing thick shrubbery.

Revenues in 1994 were SEK 12 billion, loss SEK 194 million. (For more information: TRYGPBF)


Pharmacia AB

The six-story building housing Pharmacia, a pharmaceutical company, used to be headquarters for a government military regiment back in the 1920's. Situated four miles north of Stockholm in a heavily wooded area in suburban Solna, the building was renovated by a private developer and has been home to Pharmacia since 1991. The reception area features a small six-foot tall glass display of Pharmacia's products and a heavy Financial Times Atlas of the World on a coffee table.

Klas Rasater, Director-Internal Communication, gives me the tour. Carpet must be a bad word here because all the floors are wood. Landscape oil paintings from the early 1900's line the hallway walls. The largest being a 20-foot long painting done by Johan Krouthien in 1905.

It's the Monday after a four-day holiday weekend which explains the overripe (almost black) bananas in CEO Jan Ekberg's 5th floor corner office. I like his roll-top desk. Looking out his windows there's a thick forest on one side and the other---hey wait a minute!, that's an eye-level look into my hotel room 15 yards away. I forgot to mention a six-story, 300 room SAS/Radisson hotel was built on the backside-separated by a open courtyard area. When checking into the hotel room the night before I pulled out my binoculars and was trying to figure out whose offices I was peering into. I wrongly assumed the executives would be on the top floor. I ask Rasater why the executives aren't on the top floor and he says it's probably because the tall, open wood-beam attic-like ceiling would be difficult to enclose for offices. (For more information: PHARAF)


SAS

Fronting a freeway and less than three football fields away from Pharmacia's offices lies the modernistic 640,000 square foot, glass headquarters complex of SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System). According to Lena Hoglund, Press Officer-Corporate Communications, the seven inter-connecting, seven-story buildings are suppose to resemble an airline terminal. Entering the place brings you to one end of "Main Street", a block long atrium from which the various buildings veer off on either side. By placing joint facilities like reception, conference facilities, fitness center, restaurants along a main street the idea is create a community rather than an office. The key word in describing the complex is; glass, it's everywhere! which gives the place a very open feeling.

Built in 1987, over 1,400 employees work in the company-owned facility. Every employee (including secretaries) get their own office, which features 1,450 rooms of equal size. The jagged ends of the long slim buildings creates another bonus; 150 corner offices.

Conference rooms are named after birds such as the Sparrow room, Swan room, BullFinch room. Besides two large spacious cafeterias, there's a full service sit-down restaurant. I spot a gas fireplace and even a piano.

Lots of recreational perks to help keep your sanity during the long winters. Tennis, indoor swimming pool, Ping-Pong, full-size gymnasium for playing floor hockey, badminton and volleyball. Plus, an aerobics room with 14 speakers.

CEO Jan Stenberg isn't in but his assistant, Lisbeth Lowmark invites me in for a look around. His four plants have placards with numbers on them, there's no computer, four model SAS airplanes line shelves and there's a nifty looking Syrian ceremonial sword standing in the corner. Lowmark allows me to unsheathe the sword to check its sharpness. Yep, it's definitely ready for action.

Revenues in 1994 were SEK 37 billion, income SEK 723 million. Stockholm Airport is 25 minutes away-a straight shot down the runway oops, I mean freeway-fronting headquarters.

Before getting the tour, Hoglund introduced me to her colleagues in the corporate communications department. One of the fellows said he'd just read an article about me. Sorting through a batch of newspapers he pulls out the article which includes a picture. It's from Finnair's employee monthly newsletter. "Hey", I inquire, "what are you guys doing with your competitor's employee newsletter?" "We all get each others" answers Hoglund.


Tiny Tidbits

Some visits in the Stockholm area were uneventful, a few companies weren't very accommodating and several gave me the runaround.

Riding 30 miles south to Sodertalje to visit Astra, a pharmaceutical company, proves a waste of time. The sharp-looking, off-yellow, four-story, half-circle headquarters fronts the river and looks brand-new. Behind it along a hillside looms a sprawling complex of Astra facilities. Talking to Eva Fredin, secretary to CEO Hakan Mogren, via the lobby phone I'm told to come back another day. Connected to the rear of headquarters is a new conference facility which, according to the security guard/receptionist, used to be a brewery. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 28 billion, net income SEK 6.8 billion.

The 10th floor of a plain-looking 10-story building in downtown Stockholm is headquarters for Hennes & Mauritz AB, one of Scandinavia's largest clothing retailers. 1994 revenues were SEK 11.5 billion, income SEK 1.7 billion. Talking face to face in the tiny no-frills reception area, Ulla Brenning, secretary to CEO S. Persson, says Persson wanted to meet with me but,"he just returned from an overseas trip and is very busy". I ask if someone else in the company could meet with me and the answer is "no". Oh well, at least Brenning told me face to face instead via the phone or an underling.

Three attempts visiting food wholesaler ICA Handlarna (1994 revenues SEK 42 billion, income SEK 468 million) proves futile. Offices are on the upper echelon of a blah-looking, 30-year old building.

If you plopped the 25-story, company-owned headquarters of Marieberg Tidnings AB downtown instead of two miles away on an island, it would easily be the tallest building in Stockholm. Leif Borin, Vice President-Finance, answers my questions while sitting in a lobby area. Built in 1964, the company isn't superstitious because there's a marked 13th floor. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 8.8 billion, income SEK 356 million, with half the revenues coming from various newspapers published and the other half from its Duni subsidiary-which manufactures fancy paper napkins.

SIDEBAR: Companies are always telling me to drop by the local newspaper because they'll probably want to do a story about my quirky odyssey. Since Borin's company's publishes one of the two dailies in Stockholm and their offices are below us in the same building I ask if he could refer me to someone. He isn't interested in helping so, I make contact with the business editor of the newspaper myself. I'm given a "we'll call you if we're interested" line. Boy, that brush-off doesn't sit well with me so, I walk to the building RIGHT NEXT DOOR. What's next door? The other competing daily which immediately jumps at the chance to do a story. I mention this to point out the power and tough job newspaper editors have in selecting what THEY deem worthy of a story and what isn't--especially in one newspaper towns.

Drop by the brick headquarters of engineering company Atlas Copco AB several times but can't seem to connect with my contact person Tina Areskoug, information department. Don't think I missed much because the seven-story blah-looking red brick building located several miles from downtown Stockholm in a light industrial office park has the 1960's look to it. A big sign with the company's name sits atop the structure. Revenues in 1994 were SEK 20.9 billion, income SEK 1.9 billion.

Three visits to Esselte, an office products company, leaves me in the cold. Located in suburban Solna, Esselte (1994 revenues SEK 12 billion, income SEK 413 million) shares a three building complex with other tenants. The company's name in big letters is atop one of the nine-story buildings, which all have the 1970's-look. On the third visit, the secretary to Carin Maximainen (who's in corporate communications), does a tacky number by having the receptionist inform me "everyone's busy".

Pretty uneventful visit to Sparbanken Sverige AB (or Swedbank) (1994 revenues SEK 16 billion, assets over SEK 480 billion). Built in 1977, the company-owned, 12-story, block-long building has no personality. Over 1,800 employees work in the place which is connected to the Galleria-a big downtown shopping mall. I have a great cheeseburger and fries for lunch in the company cafeteria and Inger Nordlind, special projects, gives me a warm welcome. I'm surprised by the size of CEO Rheinhold Geijer's 12th floor, middle office--it's really small.

I'm somewhat amazed by the brush-off received each time during my four visits to Ratos, an investment holding company. Owning Scandic Hotels, the largest hotel chain in Scandinavia, one would think they'd know how to be more hospitable. Located in a turn-of-the-century building, it's only a short hike across a walkway to the Parliament building and the Royal Palace. Besides owning Scandic Hotel, there's Dahl (heating and plumbing/water and sewage wholesaler) and InterForward (transport). Revenues in 1994 were SEK 14.8 billion, income SEK 203 million.

Forest products giant SCA (1994 revenues SEK 33.6 billion, income SEK 2.2 billion) leases three floors in a five-story downtown building. Four visits and each time I'm told everyone's busy.


Axel Johnson AB

Who says persistence doesn't pay? Things were looking pretty bleak as I show up for the third time at privately held Axel Johnson's three-story mansion headquarters. The first two visits ended quickly with my being told they were "too busy" and "just aren't interested in participating". Three reasons made me try again: (1). The mansion looks to be a beaut and I'd love to get a tour. (2). With over SEK 28 billion in revenues in 1994, it's one of the largest privately held companies in Sweden (3). the head honcho of the company is a woman.

Dropping in at high-noon (lunchtime) proves lucky as Elisabeth Hichens-Bergstrom, Public Relations Manager, agrees to meet with me even though she's on a deadline to finish the company's 1994 annual report. "You're a privately-held company, why do you put out an annual report?" I ask. "We're such a large company with over 17,000 employees in 30 countries-we like our employees to know how and what we're doing", she answers. Large is right, its Dagab subsidiary is the largest independent wholesale company in Sweden, Axel Johnson operates 72 departments stores and over 800 convenience stores in Sweden. Axel Johnson Inc., its USA-based subsidiary has almost US$1 billion in revenues conducting operations in environmental products, energy and industrial products.

The house was a private residence from 1879 (when it was built) up until 1960 when it was bought by the Johnson family. Other than a very discreet small metal plaque near the driveway entrance, you'd never know this was a place of business. Similar elegant turn-of-the-century mansions fill the rest of the block.

Finding the reception area entails walking down the driveway past the house and then entering through the rear via a courtyard. I mentioned previously about Stockholm companies being unusual in regards to having fresh bowls of fruit for visitors (apples, pears, oranges, kiwis and bananas) and how awkward it would be to be eating a gooey banana or orange and then having to shake hands. In the reception area at Axel Johnson there's a dish of Gummi bears along with a large bowl of ripe Bing cherries-with a small platter next to it for spitting out the seeds.

Grabbing the bowl of cherries and the spittoon-like bowl, Hichens-Bergstrom leads me upstairs to a sumptuous sittingroom containing a large fireplace where between intervals of asking and answering questions we do a good job of reducing the pile of cherries. "Why do you have bing cherries in the reception area", I ask. "We have fresh fruit year round because we're the largest importer and distributor of fruit, vegetables and flowers in Scandinavia", she answers. This room is neat! The fire surround is made of polished limestone and the wall behind it is paneled in dark oak. The plaster ceiling, which is vault-shaped, is decorated with Filip Mansson's murals.

Touring the place feels like being in a museum. The 30 employees who work here have a built-in early warning radar system when someone approaches their desk because the floors throughout the second and third floors creak. Ditto for the stairway. The stairs are the only way to go since it's sans elevator.

CEO Goran Ennerfelt's second floor corner office with a view of the street contains a fireplace, no computer, seven family pictures, a grandfather clock and in addition to his regular desk; a stand-up desk.

Down the hall in a middle office sits Antonia Ax:son Johnson, Chairman of the Board and sole owner of the company (the ":"--is part of her name). Axel Johnson founded the company back in 1873, then his son named Axel took over and eventually his son ALSO named Axel took over before giving the reins to his daughter in 1982 (she's now in her 50's). Jeez, to avoid confusion you'd think they would have at least added a Jr., Sr. or Axel the 2nd or 3rd to their names to makes things simpler.

So, what does the office of one of the world's wealthiest women look like? Very homey. I count nine pictures of family members scattered about the room. In one corner sits a 10-foot tall antique porcelain heater. Quite a few pieces of modern art line the walls. Her oval-shaped table isn't very large and, other than the light blue curtains giving the room a soft look, her office is on par with hundreds of other executives offices I've visited.
Besides serving as corporate offices, the mansion also doubles as a place to entertain. Down we go to the main floor and off to the dark wood-paneled library done in renaissance. Next is the drawingroom done in Louis XV and the dining room in baroque. The furnishings in all three rooms are spectacular! The library contains, among many other items, shelf after shelf of bound books from the 18th century, two globes dated 1766, 12 miniature ivory elephants, a piano and, an oil portrait of founder Axel Johnson over the fireplace.

The wood in the house is unbelievable. Take the oak parapet in the central area of the first floor. Its cornerposts, sculptured in East Indies teak by Carl Milles, shows allegoric scenes of hunting and fishing. The ceiling in the wine cellar, now used as an employee lunchroom, contains more murals painted by Filip Mansson.

The small boardroom table seats eight, with landscape oil paintings lining the walls. Art is everywhere in the mansion and it's mixed: running the gamut from modern to Russian to Old Masters.

Employees park in a lot down the street. Until recently, Antonia Ax:son Johnson used to park there but, for security reasons she now parks in the little courtyard behind the mansion. Across the courtyard, the former horse stables have been turned into additional offices.