On the evening of June 13, 2009, Ericsson CFO Hans Vestberg was driving home from Djurö in Stockholm’s archipelago to Djursholm. He was responsible for organizing this year’s GMC and had spent the day making preparations for the event.

Suddenly Michael Treschow was on the phone: “Would you be interested in becoming the new CEO for Ericsson?”

“Is Carl-Henric leaving?” 

“Yes, Carl-Henric has found something else to do,” Treschow explained.

Vestberg has been asked hundreds of times about how he felt. “I just felt happy, I think. I was moved emotionally. After all, I have never worked anywhere but Ericsson.

“I had not been walking around thinking about becoming CEO. When you hardly have the time to do the job you already have, there is no scope for that kind of thought.” But he was not totally surprised. There is always some sort of speculation about Ericsson’s CEO and he had not failed to notice that he was being named regularly as a strong candidate to succeed Svanberg.

Treschow offered Vestberg 24 hours to think things over. Vestberg talked to his wife – and to her alone. “We lined up the arguments for and against. The pros pretty soon outweighed the cons,” he says.

“We phrased the question like this: What would it take for me to say no? We were talking about an incredibly difficult job. There are going to be bad times. The pressure from the media is going to be unpleasant now and then. But I had not got where I was by saying no.”

Vestberg had spent six-and-a-half years in the Ericsson group management team, working closely with Svanberg as CFO for almost two years. “We work really well together as a team. So from that point of view, taking over as CEO was not that dramatic,” Vestberg says.

“But of course the rest of the world will notice that I am a different kind of person. Carl-Henric has a lot of experience of management and listed companies; I have slogged my way to the top. And we have made an amazing number of decisions over the past six or seven years. Things are happening so quickly. That is the kind of business we are in.”

DREAMS OF PROFESSIONAL HANDBALL

As Vestberg grew up in Hudiksvall in the north of Sweden, he wanted to be head of finance at Ericsson’s factory in his hometown. But his dream – well into his adult years – was to become a professional handball player.

He played in Sweden’s top national league. While working abroad for Ericsson, he played for a league team in Brazil and for a Chilean championship-winning team.

“But even though I practiced like a maniac twice a day for a long time, I never really made it to the top,” he says. “I was quite simply not good enough. But I was a good team player.”

Vestberg began with Ericsson straight after graduating in Economics in 1991 from Uppsala, the university closest to Hudiksvall. He has since been stationed in eight countries on four continents and has held leading positions in China, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, the US and elsewhere.

On June 25, 2009, Ericsson announced that Vestberg was going to take over as CEO from January 1, 2010. At the same time it was made known that Svanberg would become chairman of BP (formerly British Petroleum) from the same date.

There was no dramatic response to the announcement of Vestberg’s appointment – not even the share price was affected visibly. As Svanberg put it: “It was an obvious and popular choice.” 

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

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