Telia AB

Four years ago Telia was on the list of companies to visit in Stockholm. However, my tight schedule required crossing off a few companies and visiting Sweden's state-owned phone company didn't sound too exciting.

Riding eight miles from Stockholm's city center and a hundred yards from a passing freeway brings me to Telia's unusual head office complex. It's similar to a campus-type setting with various buildings scattered about but instead of grassy landscape you've got brick walkways and brick streets giving the place the intentional feel of a small village.

Entering the five-story head office building it's quickly obvious this might not be such a bland place. I mean, how many head offices have MTV blaring away on a 10 foot by 10-foot screen when you walk in the front doors? I check in with the receptionist, calls are made and I'm given some news, both good and bad. The good news being they received the introductory letter sent to the CEO. The bad news? It's the introductory letter I sent way back in 1995! The receptionist says to hang on and they'll try and find someone to meet with me. Jeez, this means I'll get a lousy reception because whoever it is has no background information on me and worse yet I'm dealing with a government-owned and operated business which as we all know means inflexible, bureaucratic people. I plop down on one of the six red sofas and await my fate. I barely gloss over the six Swedish newspapers lying around (of course since the papers are all in Swedish it actually means just glossing over the pictures).

Boy, I like the unexpected and that's what I get from nice guy Hans-Eric Ekelund, whose business card reads "Director-Relations International" (as opposed to Director-International Relations). When stepping out to greet me he hasn't a clue as to who I am or what I do but I'm most impressed with his flexibility as I end up receiving a fantastic reception including an extensive tour of the facility.
Built in 1968, about 200 people work here. There's plenty of free parking for cars & bicycles and smoking is allowed in designated smoking rooms. Meeting rooms are named after past directors and everyone (including executives) eat in the cafeteria. How's the food? The moussaka I have for lunch is great. Arriving visitors can usually expect to see their country's flag waving in the breeze on a flagpole. Though as we all know a visitor's level of importance is very subjective. In other words, even if Telia had received my introductory letter (the one from 1999 not 1995) it's questionable whether they'd consider a globetrotting bicyclist an important enough visitor to run the US flag up the flagpole.

The fitness facility with indoor swimming pool, sauna, tennis court, three badminton courts and full gymnasium is quite nice. We also pay a visit to the Meditation Room. Set up by a church, it's a quiet room where employees can meditate and/or pray. Though this is the first company in Europe I've come across with such a room on company property, it's not that unusual at USA companies--especially those having large headquarters complexes in isolated suburban areas. Any employee perks? Yes, 200 kroners a month deducted off their phone bills plus 50% off Internet hook-up charges.

Ekelund says big doings are brewing with Telia in merger talks with Telenor, Norway's state-owned phone company. Though it makes sense on paper, I tell Ekelund it could be tricky because I found out first-hand Norway's lack of openness and friendliness to outsiders. Telia, with 51 billion kroners in revenues and over 30,000 employees, is much bigger than Telenor.

CEO Jan-Ake Kark occupies a third floor middle office. Walking on his wood floor (pretty much standard fare here in Sweden) I count five real plants, a bowl of fresh fruit, a bowl of candy, a desktop computer, several scenic pictures of Stockholm and a view of a fountain outside.

The boardroom, located on the top floor, features a wood floor along with a nice outside deck (wood). A painting of Carl Akrell, Telia's first general director hangs on a wall (Telia was founded back in 1853). The boardroom table seats 22 and is actually several tables pushed together. I come upon an antique phone from 1894 and check out the name of the maker-it's a Telia product.

My Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines telecommunications as "communications at a distance". But I've graded the following phone companies on their performance close-up. What score would I give my reception?

Here's the grading system:

Now here are grades for selected telecommunication companies visited:

AT&T (USA)-------------------------------------------------------------B
BCE (Canada)------------------------------------------------------------A
Bell South (USA)---------------------------------------------------------F
British Telecommunications (England)-------------------------------B
Cable & Wireless (England)--------------------------------------------F
Deutsche Telecom (Germany)------------------------------------------D
France Telecom (France) -----------------------------------------------F
KPN (Netherlands)-------------------------------------------------------F
MobilCom (Germany)---------------------------------------------------A
New Zealand Telecom (New Zealand)--------------------------------F
Nippon Telephone & Telegraph (Japan)------------------------------A
Sprint (USA)--------------------------------------------------------------A
TeleDanmark (Denmark)------------------------------------------------A
Telia (Sweden)------------------------------------------------------------A
Telefonica de Espana (Spain)-------------------------------------------C
Telefones de Lisboe Porto (Portugal)----------------------------------F