One of the classical oppositions in drama is that between hero and villain, and the media eventually decided to allot the latter role to Lars Ramqvist. He hit the headlines in the spring of 1998 when he had been summoned to a hearing at the Swedish Riksdag and offered a unique opportunity to talk to the country’s politicians: “Soon our sales will amount to a billion every day so I really do not have the time to be here,” he said.

Commentator Per-Anders Holkers’ reaction in the Dala-Demokraten newspaper was unhesitating:

“The joke only barely concealed his arrogance. What had been intended as a hearing by the parliamentary committee turned into a diatribe from Ramqvist. The government refused to understand that profitability alone determined the actions of the business world. What was striking was his tone. [...] Sweden is a small country with enormous companies –17 of them are listed among the 500 largest in the world. The trend is for our economy to become totally dependent on multinational behemoths. If we do not adapt to them, they threaten to shift production abroad. Adapting production conditions totally to their requirements would in the long run turn Sweden into a banana republic (or a banana monarchy?).”

The previous year Ramqvist had been one of 102 directors who had written to Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter to complain about the business climate. But this debate did not work out as the directors wanted either. Åsgård & Ellgren describe Ericsson “as one of the companies that have continually failed to explain what they are doing to the world around them”. There was no longer any mutual understanding with Sweden.

"WE HAD DEVALUED OUR WAY"

Yet there is no harm in counteracting the media’s claims with some of your own. 

Ramqvist: “When I appeared in front of the Riksdag in 1998, I was representing the Federation of Swedish Industries. I appealed to the politicians to help to ensure that the business world would be offered conditions as good as those in other countries. Sweden needed to improve its competitiveness vis à vis the rest of the world. We had devalued our way out of repeated crises. In the business world we were critical of this. I remember that one Social Democrat member of the Riksdag, Vidar Andersson, wrote to me in positive terms and expressed gratitude for my straightforward opinions.

“It is true that I was an emphatic advocate of the business world in my contacts with politicians. I had a great deal of contact with them and was for many years a member of Ingvar Carlsson’s commercial advisory board when he was prime minister. Ingvar was no stranger to our family; for many years he had been a friend of my uncle Erik. I also met Carl Bildt personally for many years, even when he was prime minister. We also met socially.”

Another conflict concerned the closure of the Norrköping factory. This produced AXE exchanges and in 1996 employed about 2,300 staff. There was, however, rapid miniaturization of these exchanges, fewer hands were needed and in 1997 Ericsson reduced the workforce to 1,700. Anders Igel, head of Ericsson’s fixed telephony division, pushed these cuts through and became unpopular with the trade unions. In her speech to the Labor Day demonstration in Norrköping in the same year, Social Democrat party secretary Ingela Thalén more or less urged a boycott of Ericsson products. This gave rise to hard feelings within the company.

Åsgård & Ellgren say it is reasonable to place some of the blame on Ericsson “for the meltdown in communication between the company and the community in Sweden that occurred towards the end of the 1990s”.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

MANIFESTATION

Manifestation of close to a thousand people against large downsizings at the Ericsson plant in Norrköping.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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