On April 8, 2003, Svanberg drove to Telefonplan for his first day at work. He had never been there before so he did not know where to park. He was not sure if he had chosen the right place but then forgot all about his car until he returned in the evening and saw a parking ticket on it. A little embarrassed, he paid and vowed to park in the right place next time.

Svanberg did not even have a briefcase with him. He stood for a moment in the main entrance reflecting on his situation. “What do you do when you start a new job. You go to the reception, of course, and say who you are. ‘Hello, I am starting work here. Can you show me to my office?’”

“I thought I had been given the best job in Sweden. But I met 50,000 bruised spirits. Most of them were graduates. They were used to asking questions and being involved and understanding where the company was going. I knew I had to get them behind me. And I could not delegate that to anyone else.”

CORE POINTS

Svanberg formed some ideas about Ericsson based on four core points. To begin with it was a matter of: 

• Maintaining tight control of the figures 

• Creating a comprehensible organization

• Establishing harmonious, sound management 

• Creating unity about the vision, the strategy and core values.

Not everybody was delighted about having a new CEO brought in from outside. Calle Leinar describes how, after the announcement of Hellström’s resignation, he could see “how the alpha males began to posture so that they could take over”. The news that the new CEO was going to be an outsider was an “incredible culture shock”.

Svanberg launched his regime cautiously, Leinar says. “He gave a lot of credit to Sandström, who had been in charge of cleaning things up, and the rest of the old team. To begin with, he kept the large executive team and quickly created his own large network. It was an adroit transition, and a slow one.”

Svanberg received advice from many quarters. He was told that he should get rid of the hundred top bosses straight away and put an end to the predominance of older men. But that was not his style. “The old team, the old boys’ network, knew a great deal and had strong feelings for the company. This was something we should be using, not getting rid of.”

EMPHASIS ON LEADERSHIP

Svanberg’s consistent focus on leadership and communication attracted a lot of comment in the organization. He began meeting after meeting by describing how the role of the leader is constantly to communicate goals and methods in every context.

Per Zetterquist, head of internal communication until the autumn of 2006, says: “We were not used to new bosses introducing themselves like that. Our bosses normally began with technology, details and figures, and with all the problems we faced.”

Again and again, Svanberg had to reiterate that the foundation of his philosophy of leadership is faith in the individual. People want to succeed. And if they are given clear objectives and good circumstances, they will succeed – a positive view of humanity, if you like. That is why every leader has the responsibility of making individuals understand that they are important. 

Participation is a critical factor. As many people as possible should know as much as possible. 

Svanberg explains: “People listen to you because they trust you. And you have to earn that trust. Your ideas have to be very convincing. A leader has to be able to persuade.

“Leaders cannot base their positions on old achievements. You have to earn your position every day.”  

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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