Perstorp AB

From the coastline it's a 35 mile bike ride inland to Perstorp, a town of 10,000 people. What's the name of the company I'm here to visit? Perstorp AB, the world's largest manufacturer of laminated flooring. Perstorp's headquarters, located a mile from town, stands just outside the gate of a big company plant (an eight million square foot site). Built in 1960, the seven-story headquarters building is definitely looking its age.

Bengt Winnerljung, External Communications Manager, answers questions and give me a tour of the place. The reception area with its white walls, black furniture and black floor isn't very big but contains several interesting items. The enormous (four-foot tall) enameled stoneware jugs from 1895 catch my attention. Back then the company's main product was acetic acid (similar to vinegar) and the refined and concentrated acetic acid was stored in these jugs before being diluted with water and bottled. On a nearby wall are seven framed awards bestowed upon the company from various fairs in the 1890's for its acetic acid. Why did Wilhelm Wendt (1854-1924), who founded Perstorp in 1881, start his company here? Unlimited supplies of trees. Acetic acid is made from wood and this area was/is covered with massive tracts of forests. How important was this product to the community of Perstorp? Well, you know how many small towns have a statue of a famous soldier, statesman or someone of that nature in the middle of the Town Square? In Perstorp it's a 20-foot tall bottle of Perstorp acetic acid.

About 200 employees work in the head office and almost 1,600 in the adjacent plant. There's one cafeteria plus a snack bar in the plant named MacPerstorp. There's plenty of free parking, smoking is allowed in the building, no corporate art collection and no unusual employee perks. It's 20 miles to the nearest freeway and 35 miles to the nearest airport. Company revenues in 1998 were $1.3 billion.
After walking around several lower floors we make our way to the executive floor. You can always tell when you've entered the executive level in many companies because there's usually a dramatic change in the décor. Yep, here it's no different as we step off the elevator onto a fancy wood floor. After taking a few steps I realize something doesn't feel or sound right and stop for a closer look. Hey, I've been tricked! this isn't a wood floor but decorative laminated flooring-one of the company's own products.

CEO Ake Fredriksson's sits behind an oval-shaped table and among the items in his office: seven tombstones, photo of a dog, pictures of New York City and San Paulo, Brazil, two plants and a laptop. What's the view from his middle office? The adjacent plant. The elongated table in the boardroom seats 14 and pictures of past chairmen line the walls.