Passing the Torch: A New Generation of Nordic Entrepreneurs

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Mr. Peter Wallenberg addresses the class about next genreation education

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.

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Mr. Peter Wallenberg
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CBS Team presents their findings on next generation education case studies around the world

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.

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Mr. Wallenberg with two memebers from the 6th generation

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.

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GIP Nordic Family Enterprise class with Mr. Peter Wallenberg
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Typical Swedish lunch special with the GIP Nordics
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Tour outside the Nobel Peace Prize Museum

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.

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Ms. Korina Papadopoulou talking about her shared values with her father
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Ms. Annika Hall, family business consultant to Fontana

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.

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Final company visit photo with Fontana

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Inspiring Swedish Family Businesses with Legacy of Values

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Students enter the Hästens factory and headquarters

Our second day in Sweden took us to the town an hour outside Stockholm where the group met with the owner and fifth generation family member of Hästens, Jan Ryde. For those unfamiliar with the brand, Hästens is a Swedish family-owned producer of luxury mattresses, bed linens, and lifestyle accessories. The company prides themselves on use of raw materials such as cotton, horse hair, wool, and flax. Established in 1852, the now 166 year old company has gone a long way from its sole offering of horse saddles, when they decided during the later part of their second generation to diversify to mattresses, with the decline of transportation via horse.

Today, Jan Ryde continues his family legacy into the 21st century, expanding the brand overseas, as far as Los Angeles and China. Hästens mattresses can be found in many households in Sweden, including that of the Royal Family, for whom Hästens has already produced over 60. As CEO, Jan Ryde brings a culture of family into the organization, with beautifully photographed and mounted photos of all their employees on the factory walls, and very informal interpersonal relationships between management and employees.

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Students are introduced to the management team at Hästens
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Students present their findings on how to brand a family business

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After the visit, the group stopped by a small town on the way back to Stockholm for a quick meal featuring a traditional Swedish take of Goulash, before hiking to see some of the oldest Viking graves in the area. During this time, three of our CBS team also finalized preparations for final presentations to the Grant Thorton Group, and several Swedish family businesses. Grant Thorton is one of the world’s leading independent audit, tax and advisory firms, leading business advising to dynamic organizations.

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Professor Angus delivers opening remarks
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Some of the presenting team with Grant Thorton
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CBS Group photo with Grant Thorton team

Grant Thorton had organized an event for small family businesses interested in advisory and networking opportunities. During the event, Columbia Business School was invited to present topics to certain family businesses who were interested in either expanding operations or learning more about structural procedures to better and grow their respective businesses. There were three groups that presented and consulted for three family businesses, including:

  • Spiltan investment firm, who wanted to learn more about active and engaged ownership. The CBS group informed that company about the importance of communicating values to family members, and including an outside board to challenge internal board members, and engage them to innovate.
  • Lexington Clothing Company is a New England inspired clothing and lifestyle brand that was interested in expanding their international operations around the globe. One of the members who is herself a New England native, spoke about the local trends and preferences for logo-less clothing, in contrast to brands with larger logos in the Nordic regions.
  • Rejler is an engineering construction business in their third-generation that inspires the family members and employees with their core values of passion, empowerment, and health. During this event, the CBS team presented their findings on Family Offices, and how this would be relevant to family businesses in the Nordic region who have to yet created one.  We soon found out that not many Swedish family business recognize or understand the importance of a family business and were pleasantly surprised to learn more about this from our team.

Around 100 family business members attended along with Grant Thorton members and the group from Columbia Business School. Speaking to some of the family business members during the networking event, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the research and presentations from yesterday were very valuable in setting the informational foundation and groundwork to begin planning their family offices, as well as finding ways to keep owners active and engaged in the company.

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Some students with Grant Thorton associates

The CBS group ended the night with some of the young associates from Grant Thorton at a restaurant called Miss Clara, in the trendy area of Stockholm. Students were able to not only reflect on the day’s presentations with the associates, but also find out more about Swedish culture and look for common threads between their different cultures. Today, the team will meet with Peter Wallenberg of the Wallenberg Foundation to present their findings on next generation education.

-Marty Lopez’18

Off to the Happiest Country on Earth!

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That’s right— The United Nation’s World Happiness Report had ranked Denmark the Happiest Country on Earth between 2013 to 2015, with Sweden rounding off the Top 10. 

Before starting off the MBA at Columbia Business School, I had been told by several students in the Family Business Club that the Global Immersion Tour to the Nordic countries was definitely going to be a trip that couldn’t be missed. With everyone’s glowing recommendations in mind, I knew that this was going to be one of the immersive CBS experiences that I would have to most definitely have to be a part of. Finally, after five weeks of in-depth learnings into Nordic Family Business Enterprises, our group of 26 Columbia Business School students, will finally begin our Global Immersion Tour to the Nordic region. The week-long tour will kick off in Copenhagen, Denmark, and will continue on to Stockholm, Sweden.

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Over the past few weeks, our class has had the opportunity to learn everything from political, economical, and family business trends in the Nordic region, to various aspects of Multi-generational Nordic Family Enterprises.  With guest speakers such as Anna Throne-Holst (granddaughter of Marabou founder) and CBS alumnus Nikolai Jensen (from the Jensen group), the class was also able to gain in depth insights into family politics in Nordic family enterprises, and how the region’s culture had affected certain aspects of the business, such as governance and succession.

For some of the students in the class, this would not only be their first time in the Nordic region, but also their first time to have taken or been exposed to a family business course during the MBA. Professor Patricia Angus had stressed the importance of understanding ideas such as the Three-Circle Model, to better understand the dynamics in a family business, as well as certain inheritance laws, and stakeholder theories that make doing family business in the Nordic region so unique to other countries. All of which will be extremely valuable when visiting and learning from various Nordic companies, and meeting influential individuals from family business such as Peter Wallenberg, who was recently at CBS’ Family Business Conference, which was held at Columbia University last February 9th.

Our extensive five-week preparation, and exploration into Nordic heritage will surely be an asset to all of us, as we gear up for a week of intense immersion into the region’s culture, which should allow all of us the chance to exchange our ideas and insights on the highly innovative Nordic countries, and how they have uplifted the entire region to an aspirational status.

I’m excited to share all our new experiences and learnings from our 2018 Nordic Tour!

-Marty Lopez ‘18

Nordic GIP Part 1: A Swift Summit in Stockholm, Sweden

Kit O’Connor ’17

STOCKHOLM (or at least begun on a train from STOCKHOLM to COPENHAGEN) – Hej again, reader(s? one can dream!). My upmost apologies for the lateness of this post; I’ve been quite waylaid with a combination of seemingly every non-lethal upper respiratory infection possible. For those of you keeping track at home, countries I’ve visited during CBS when I haven’t had to spend an entire day floating in and out of consciousness in a hotel bed: Dominican Republic, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Curacao, Mexcio (twice!), and Vietnam. Countries where I’ve missed seeing the assembly of the most expensive bed in the world: Sweden. Go figure.

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Mike Conway ’17 hanging out in a FAR more luxurious bed than I was in that day.

 

ANYWAY. The meatballs. You want to know about the meatballs, not my health. They’re great! We did have to wait until the second day to taste them, however, as the first night included an even more unique Swedish dish: reindeer!

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Not quite Instagram-worthy, but Dasher tasted wonderful. There was a very Christmas-y vibe.

 

A couple observations about life/business in Sweden. First, gender equality is extremely important – we saw just as many men pushing around strollers as we did women, and, even at our nicest meals, there was no order to the service (i.e., both men and women were served according to seat position, not gender).

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One of our nicest dinners was at Bread & Table, generously sponsored by CBS alumnus Per Börjesson.*

Second, consensus is critical in corporate governance. As opposed to a more hierarchical system, where a manager decides the best course of action, it’s much more likely to be a group decision at every stage of the corporate ladder. Though this necessarily can slow down the pace of action, it creates a more cohesive environment where everyone in the organization is more aligned with the overall goals (in theory, at least).

I’ll leave you for now with this picture of the oldest church in Sweden, Storkyrkan. Besides being visually stunning, it’s also ancient – on a board listing events in the building’s history, there was a gap of 292 years, which one student noted was longer than the history of the entire United States!

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“On this site from 1600-1892…nothing happened. Check elsewhere on the map.”

Next stop, Copenhagen!

*When visiting Per’s company, Spiltan Fonder, we were treated to rather unique decorations in the restroom: rejection letters from every firm he had applied to from CBS. I can relate to him on at least one level!

Nordic GIP Part 0: Relatively Speaking

IMG_7915This sign in our hotel lobby was CLEARLY added to welcome the CBS group.

Kit O’Connor ’17

NEW YORK – Hej! Kit O’Connor ’17 checking in again – you might remember me from my travels earlier this year in Vietnam  – and no, I didn’t make a typo on my very first word, it’s just the way that we’ll say hello at my next destinations with the Chazen Institute: Sweden and Denmark!

Let’s start with a quick quiz: what do The New York Times, Volkswagen, Walmart, and Ikea have in common (other than what I suspect would be a very weird Sunday op-ed)? They’re all family businesses! One of the really cool things about this Global Immersion Program (GIP) is the dual focus on both family businesses and the way that those firms are run in the Nordic region. And yes, Ikea is indeed on the itinerary, though no word yet on whether we’ll have to assemble the conference room ourselves.

A little refresher for those readers who aren’t based out of Uris Hall (hi mom!): GIPs, unlike other Chazen programs, involve classwork and projects before and after the in-country experience and provide the same academic credit as a full-semester class. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have Professor Patricia Angus, a recognized expert on family-run firms, guide us in our classroom experiences over the last six weeks. I’ll be sharing some of the lessons we’ve covered over the next week of blogs, but for now, two quick facts that astounded me: did you know that family businesses make up more than 80% of companies in the world? And that despite that concentration, it’s incredibly rare for a family business to survive more than three generations? One of our most highly anticipated meetings will be with The Wallenberg Foundations, which are run by a family currently grooming the sixth generation to take the reins, so hopefully we’ll hear the secret to longevity.

I’ll wrap this up for now – my next report will cover the arrival into Stockholm and opening dinner (future spoiler alert: I bet the meatballs are awesome). See you across the pond!