The time has come, today marks the final day for the GIP Nordic Family Enterprise trip. We cap off our week here at Stockholm, visiting Mr. Peter Wallenberg, from the prominent Swedish business family, who have given back to their country as bankers, industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, and philanthropists. Today was definitely a highlight for the entire class, as Mr. Wallenberg shared with his stories about his humble beginnings as a busboy from their family owned “Grand Hôtel” here in Sweden, which is worth mentioning was the only five star hotel when it was founded in Sweden. Mr. Wallenberg had told us about how despite his family’s wishes for him to work on the business side of their enterprise, he decided to start off working at the Grand Hôtel. This experience ignited a flame that lead him to study hotel management in the University of Denver. Eventually, Mr. Wallenberg went back to work in a variety of management roles for the Grand Hôtel, after eventually becoming the CEO for 12 years in 2006.
There is no doubt that Mr. Wallenberg’s colorful and insightful story had the class enthralled and engaged in his history, but what he seemed to speak most fondly about was his work with the Wallenberg Foundation, and his efforts to educate and bring together the sixth generation of Wallenbergs. He has hopes to create a culture of active owners, who are not only responsible citizens, but who are educated on the family companies as well as their goals and aspirations.
Mr. Wallenberg also spoke about the importance of exposing the succeeding generation to other family businesses in order for them to see how they function within the organization. Some of Mr. Wallenberg’s nieces had also shared how because of the opportunities to meet other family members, that those from their generation had themselves organized to see each other more informally outside of such activities. Mr. Wallenberg had shared how much closer the next generation has become because of the efforts to educate and integrate family members with one another. On a larger scale, the family also gets together once a year on “Amalia Day,” to celebrate the life of one of their founders. Here, heads of family share updates within the business and family; it is also an opportunity for the rest of the family to get to know one another. “Parents Day” is another event that allows communication with parents of those within the sixth generation of Wallenbergs.
Despite all the efforts to get the next generation involved in the business, Mr. Wallenberg stressed it was important that the will of the sixth generation to become a part of the business would need to come from them, and not to be dictated by others within the family.
After this, we met with Korina Papadopoulou, a second generation communications manager for her family company “Fontana.” Fontana is a food company that imports and packages fresh ingredients such as juices, olives, and cheese from Cyprus, to be sold to the Swedish market. Coming to Sweden as refugees in 1975, Korina’s father started the company soon after in 1978, it is today the leading brand in Sweden of green food from Cyprus and Greek. Joining the session was Annika Hall, who is a family business consultant, and has also written a book about the family’s rich history. Annika had shared about the inspiring story of the family, building a business from the ground up despite their inability to get help from the Swedish banks and government. Korina spoke about how her father’s hard work, together with his passion for sustainability, has built the company to what it is today.
Korina’s passions however, did not align with that of her family’s company. She had studied in the UK to become a journalist, and worked as a producer and director for MTV for most of her professional career. She had never really expressed interest in the family business, nor was she pressured to work for it, and she felt after years away from the family, that it was time to move back to Sweden and see how she could help the family. Today, her brother Loizos has taken over as CEO of the company, while Korina serves as the communications manager, focusing on PR and product development. Korina spoke fondly of working with her brother, which she has said made it a joy to come to work for the family. There is without a doubt, a unique chemistry with their relationship that is definitely unique, and something that the class felt as extremely genuine.
Looking back at the Nordic Family Enterprise program trip, I can say with certainly for the whole class, that this was most definitely a memorable and worthwhile trip that has changed some of our perspectives of family businesses. With about half the class having little to no exposure to family business, we had learned not only about structures to help govern and improve the efficiency of family businesses, but also about the importance of values and love within the family to create harmony and lessen conflict to between family and management, but also within the family. Many of us learned that a family business is unique from other businesses, in the sense that not only are you dealing with the growth of the company, and the wellbeing of shareholders, but also with the desires of family and legacy of the company’s founder, which are apparent through the values that are passed on from generation to generation.