was eight years old when he was sent out into the forest for the first time to strip bark from logs. His mother made him sandwiches and a bottle of fruit drink. Ulf cycled four kilometers to the logging site and managed to bark a respectable number of logs before he headed home for dinner. Raised on a farm in central Sweden, he learned everything he needed to know and earned his allowance stripping bark and doing other jobs.

In the future, he was to take over the farm – at least that was his father’s plan. But things did not turn out like that. When young Ulf was awarded his school-leaving certificate after seven years of compulsory schooling, his teacher was determined that his gifted pupil had to go on to upper school in Gränna. And there his teachers came to the same conclusion: the boy had to go on to college. A battle of wills between father and son ended with the boy’s application to the technical college in Linköping.

“I was 16; starting high school meant having to leave home and I realized that I would never go home to live again. It was a parting that was to haunt me for many years.”

New worlds opened for Johansson in Linköping. He spent his first summer vacation as a trainee at the Telecommunications Board in Stockholm, the second summer working for L.M. Ericsson. During the second summer, he also managed six weeks of intensive study in mathematics, physics and chemistry in Lund. Johansson was one of the outstanding high-school students selected by the National Board of Education for a national scholarship program.

With eight A+ and A grades in his high school subjects, applying to the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm seemed the obvious thing to do. The choice was made easier by the fact that his girlfriend, who had left school in Linköping the previous year, had already started to study in Stockholm.

LARS ZETTERBERG AN IMPORTANT FIGURE

The professor of telecommunications at KTH, Lars Zetterberg (generally known as ”Z”), became an important figure for Johansson and an entire generation of students. Zetterberg had previously come into contact with digital communication theory in the US; he brought his knowledge back with him and extended it, first at FOA, the Swedish defense research organization, and then, after an interlude in California and elsewhere, for the next 25 years at the institute.

“Z established academic exploration of telecommunications theory and signal management in Sweden,” Johansson recalls. “Many of his students have since become professors at various departments of technology around Sweden. He gave a number of young people the opportunity to develop their creative capacity; he was generous and forgiving, and made you feel that you could make an important contribution to teaching and research, and have fun at the same time.”

And Johansson would know: in 1975, he became one of Zetterberg’s PhDs. He also worked during his years of study at the institute. In his first year he was taken on by L.M. Ericsson’s transmission division, and encouraged to continuing studying and take his doctorate even though this inevitably encroached on his work.
“Ericsson was a generous employer and developed a culture where loyalty to the company was very strong,” he says.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

ULF J. JOHANSSON

Ulf J. Johansson on the podium after winning the 400 meters for boys aged 16 and under at the Småland championship.

ULF J. JOHANSSON

Ulf J. Johansson moonlighting as a teacher in mathematics and electromagnetism at the Västberga upper secondary technical school.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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