in September 1971, 19-year-old Carl-Henric Svanberg jumped on his bicycle and set off for the site in Norrköping where the new district heating plant was being built. This was to be his first workday at his first permanent job, something he had long looked forward to during his three years at high school, the last of them at Haga School. Finally he was going to have a proper job and earn his own living.
Svanberg had already moved 15 times previously. His father came from Stockholm, his mother from Småland, and both were working during the early 1950s at Vattenfall’s major power station at Porjus in northern Sweden. While he was growing up they had moved again and again between different power stations in the north. Summers were spent at his mother’s parents’ farm in Småland.
One important event occurred when Svanberg was five. His sister, three years older than he was, was diagnosed with diabetes. Insulin had then been available for about 30 years but the quality was not as good as it is today. The long-term outlook was not positive.
“Eventually my sister lost her sight, needed a kidney transplant and then had to have both feet amputated. But in the midst of all these problems she was almost always happy and had a priceless sense of self-deprecating humor. Oddly enough, she was never bitter."
"The PC had not yet been invented when she became blind but she later learned to write using a word-processing program and continued to work as a secretary. She was strong and had a will of iron, but it still felt as if I had been dealt all the trumps and she had none. She was always proud of how well I was doing and in some way it has goaded me to work for the two of us.”
Much of Svanberg’s youth was spent outdoors: he was often in the mountains, canoeing and climbing, and he played a lot of ice hockey. He was an active member of the Scouting movement, eventually becoming one of its leaders, and was later responsible for various aspects of the Swedish Scout Association’s leadership development program.
“My time with the Scouts undoubtedly taught me a lot about leadership, not least about leading without the power to command. In an organization based on ideas, you can lead only through the strength of your ideas and capacity to persuade,” he says.
Svanberg spent a year as a fitter and welder at the district heating plant. “There were 70 workers from different subcontractors and about 10 site employees, almost all of them members of different local outfits, and then me and my good friend Kjell. We had both finished upper-secondary school and did not really fit in. It was not until we helped convert a washing machine to distill moonshine that we were totally accepted.”
Svanberg later described his year as a building worker as the one that taught him more than any other. “It was a great time and it taught me a lot about life and comradeship on the shop floor among the people who actually do the work.”
The next stage was a program in engineering physics at Linköping University from 1973 to 1977. He was involved in many different student activities and found a lot of scope for his interest in music.
“I played the guitar, and Bob Dylan was the big name right then, so I often had quite a few listeners. I learnt a great deal about making contact with the audience and creating a mood. I am sure this has been useful later when I have had to take the stage and communicate with people.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn