On February 6, 2003, it was announced that Carl-Henric Svanberg was going to be Ericsson’s new CEO and president. The takeover was planned to take place in connection with the Annual General Meeting on April 8. The new CEO was going to buy shares in Ericsson for SEK 100 million.
The press conference about the new head of Ericsson at the Opera Terrace in Stockholm was packed to the rafters. Treschow, Svanberg and Hellström smiled in unison at the cameras. For many journalists, this was the first time for several years that they had seen Hellström happy. In fact, he was radiant.
He commented on his past three-and-a-half years as CEO. “I have to level with you and say that if feels more like seven years. I do not think many people understand the burden of leading a major company during a crisis like this.”
Svanberg repeatedly told the media that Ericsson was going to get back into the black and that the company’s future prospects were good. He also declared his purchase of Ericsson stock. “I believe that my personal commitment will offer greater credibility, both inside the company and in the market.”
The appointment was received positively in almost every quarter. The commentators cited Svanberg’s expert leadership and the fact that he had shown he could run a large, global organization. Before the end of the day, Ericsson’s share price had risen by 5 percent on the stock exchange and Assa Abloy’s had dropped by 15 percent.
The TT news agency found one critical voice, however. Håkan Wranne, telecommunications analyst at Fischer Partners: “It is unfortunate that neither the CEO nor the chairman of the board know a great deal about the telecommunications industry. There will not be a lot of know-how at the top.”
Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet wrote: “The change of CEO can be viewed as the exit of the closed circle that has been leading Investor’s companies in the wrong direction. The choice of Carl-Henric Svanberg shows that the Wallenberg cousins are in the process of abandoning the dinosaurs that were in control during the confrontation with the government and the trade unions. But those who are leaving now drove the companies into the ground and then rewarded themselves with golden handshakes and gigantic pensions.”
Prime Minister Göran Persson told TT that Svanberg was “definitely the right kind of man for the job”.
In the weeks after the announcement it was easy to gain the impression that Ericsson had found its savior. In his first major interview in Contact magazine – three weeks after the announcement – Svanberg tried to present a more nuanced image:
“If you put together everything that has been written into one picture, you get the impression that I can almost walk on water but that, thank God, is not true ... You cannot get anywhere without working hard and as the leader of a major company you always have ideas and questions nagging at your mind."
"If the day comes when you buy the media’s collective picture and believe you have an innate capacity that automatically generates success, you really are in trouble.”
He made it clear what kind of leader he wanted to be: “I would rather win people over, and I know that we become stronger when everyone is behind the same visions and strategies. But I am not afraid of making decisions when necessary."
“I was a leader in the Scouting Association when I was younger. Voluntary organizations often demand a great deal from their leaders, and the people in them do not listen to you if they have no confidence in you. I feel uncomfortable about using my powers as CEO. Having to order someone to do something means failure to me.”
What he wanted to achieve as leader was to take the energy that existed in the organization and make sure that it was directed in one single direction. That would require teamwork and tough discussions in which not everyone would agree:
“It simply makes me nervous when people do not criticize my suggestions. I feel much more reassured when I hear criticism. When people dare to object and discuss things critically, that’s when a company has life.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn