Svanberg could not, of course, avoid noticing the turbulence surrounding Ericsson. In the autumn of 2002, he began to realize that Kurt Hellström’s successor would be appointed externally.
“In the summer of 2002, when I had been at Assa Abloy for eight years, I was beginning to feel that I was not going to spend another 10 years there. I was starting to complete what I had set out to do. During my years at Assa Abloy I had been approached about other jobs but had always turned a deaf ear. Now I was more receptive. I wondered who the candidates were and if I was on the list. I thought: If I get the offer, what will my answer be? At the same time I didn’t want to set my heart on it. I did not want to be disappointed.”
Just before Christmas, Svanberg heard a rumor that he might be asked. He rang SEB and asked to see Ericsson’s past three annual reports.
“There were two things I saw that fascinated me. Each report began with a declaration that Ericsson had now adopted the right course ... It struck me that things could not have been easy for the people working there. I also noticed that there were no pictures of the group executive. Why not? I enjoy looking at pictures like that. Are they setting the world on fire or staring down at the pavement? But the annual reports also revealed that everything was ordered and clear, and I had no uncertainty about what they communicated.”
"DO YOU HAVE TIME?"
Treschow rang somewhere around January 10, 2003: “Do you have time for brief discussion?”
Svanberg had spoken to his family over the Christmas break. If the question arose, he wanted more than 48 hours to think about it. “The kids said they agreed as long as they got mobile phones. We had a discussion about all the attention a job like that would attract, and about security issues. So when Michael asked me if I was interested, I was prepared and said yes straight away.”
Svanberg made this decision before he knew about Ericsson’s results for 2002.
“I knew the situation was very difficult, and in such a case, income statements are not very informative. On the other hand I assumed that telecommunications must be a growth area and that Ericsson with its global leadership position would be able to recover. The challenge was more in the cutbacks, reorganization and leadership, and these were areas where I felt at home.”
Treschow then showed him the income statement, which was catastrophic. Among those Svanberg met were board members Sverker Martin-Löf and Marcus Wallen¬berg, who presented some analyses made by external banking companies. Ericsson’s figures were going to the dogs.
Preparations took three weeks: one week to settle the terms and arrange how to switch CEO, two weeks to plan how to announce it.
The question of whether Svanberg should invest his own money in Ericsson also took some time. There was no tradition of executive investment among the main stockholders. In the Douglas sphere, the opposite had been true. “For me it was simple: I want to be part of what I am working with,” Svanberg says. “If my investments went totally wrong, it was not my speculating that would be the problem, it would be my philosophy of life.
“From the moment Michael rang I was never worried. Or perhaps I was worried, but never afraid. The question that nagged at my mind was: How quickly can we bring some inspiration and positive energy to Ericsson?”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn