One serious complication soon emerged. How could the right people be persuaded to move to Lund and start working for ERA?
“To begin with, we made the mistake of importing volunteers to Lund, not those who had the right qualifications,” Johansson says. When he saw how things were going, he was ready at first to close the new operation down. Åke Lundqvist refused, and together they traveled to ERA’s unit in Gävle, 150 kilometers north of Stockholm, where about 20 employees were working on development.
“We presented the good news – the company was going to invest in developing mobile phones. The major quality problems had led to doubts about whether manufacture could continue. Then we gave them the bad news: we were offering all of them the chance to move to Lund. That was not popular.”
Lundqvist and Johansson chartered a plane and invited everyone, together with their wives or husbands, to come down and get to know the new city. Everything was fine until we landed at Sturup [airport] and got on the bus to take us to Lund. The first comment was: ‘Hell, there aren’t any trees here’. We couldn’t get any of them to move,” Johansson says.
A determined boss was also needed to develop the Lund laboratory. Johansson’s preference was Nils Rydbeck, who he had come to know during their national service. “Nils had a PhD in engineering from Lund and came from the area himself. In fact he was the nephew of Baron Gyllenkrok, but above all he was a really gifted engineer.” Among his achievements, Rydbeck had developed SRA’s military radio division in Stockholm and was proficient in designing products with a focus on miniaturization.
This was to be Rydbeck’s guiding principle in his new role too. In 1985 he took over as head of development at Lund. “We established the operation around Nils. Without him and his technical expertise and entrepreneurial skills, Ericsson would never have been able to develop a viable business area for mobile phones,” says Johansson.
Mats Lindoff, later the head of technology at Sony Ericsson, offers this description of his first meeting with Rydbeck while Lindoff was a young researcher: “I was working in the computer department at the Lund Engineering faculty and would probably have stayed on there. But then Nils Rydbeck came to see me and a number of other young engineers and showed us the new mobile phone that ERA had developed. It looked like a police radio and was pretty large and cumbersome. ‘In 10 years it will all fit into a matchbox,’ he said. I went in to my professor’s office and said goodbye and thanks for everything. Then I started working in a shed at Ideon along with 25 others.”
The university’s focus on integrated circuits was important. “Praise is due to Professor Lars Filipsson at the Engineering faculty, who started a course on how to manufacture them at the end of the 1980s. The university could see the need before industry did,” Lindoff says.
Ericsson’s management was extremely skeptical about the venture in Lund. Johansson says: “During every one of the strategic reviews with Ericsson’s management from 1984–1988, we were basically told to shut down the mobile phone business, including the development unit in Lund, because it was not part of Ericsson’s core operation.
“Our constant objection was that without telephones we would be unable to develop new calibration technologies and convince customers that we could guarantee system performance. We maintained that if we could stay at the forefront of this technology, we could charge prices that would offer good margins even with small volumes. And that is still a relevant argument anyway.”
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn