Ericsson’s enormous success during the 1990s was not the product of calculated and harmonious evolution. Both the market and the organization itself displayed features of a culture of chaos. Every year the growth of GSM was underestimated and every year the radio side of Ericsson gained ground on the fixed telephony side, which, as we have seen, led to internal dissension.
As the 1990s ran their course, this success also led to some degree of presumption and hubris. Peter Wallenberg, a member of Ericsson’s board from 1976 to 1996, says: “The executive team at that time explained that Ericsson was ahead of the competitors in technology ... at least four years ahead of anyone else is what was said at board meetings. This judgment had an impact on the way the company acted. Later it turned out to have been an exaggeration.”
More level-headed opinions were largely obscured by the general euphoria around IT and the fact that the volatility of Ericsson’s share price was more often upwards than downwards. During Ramqvist’s time as CEO from 1990–1998, Ericsson increased its market value ninefold, the lowest listing being SEK 1.60 (during the Gulf War) and the highest SEK 139 per share.
On the other hand, the mutual agreement between Ericsson and Swedish politicians had eroded. After the deregulations of the 1980s and 1990s, and the emphasis on market values, the company and the government no longer found themselves in the same boat.
Marcus Wallenberg, Hans Werthén, Björn Lundvall and Björn Svedberg had all maintained close and trusted contacts with leading politicians, Social Democrats and others. Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, CEO and chairman of Volvo, met both prime minister Olof Palme and finance minister Kjell-Olof Feldt in private, and it was often said that what was good for Volvo was good for Sweden as well.
LACK OF POLITICAL CORECTNESS
Ramqvist’s lack of political correctness was seen by many as provocative and this became a popular topic in the media, with its growing focus on the business world. The days when journalists treated company directors with respect were past.
During the 1990s, the business daily Dagens Industri in particular made a name for itself using tabloid tactics. “We are writing about the business world, not for the business world. We have 500,000 readers and for them we do not represent the business world but we follow it closely. Our package is black and white, somewhat vulgar, not pretty to look at but available,” to use the words of its editor-in-chief Peter Fellman.
One ideological starting point was the diversification of stock ownership. “Business executives in fact hold the purse strings of people saving for their retirement. One primary task for the media is to monitor developments and see if directors live by their words,” according to Johan Lindén, head of social affairs at Swedish Television. One prevalent method involved personification. “It becomes overwhelmingly easier to get a message across if it is personified and dramaturgical devices are used. And personification makes it easier to call people to account,” says Lindén.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn