Björn Lundvall, 1920-1980
He always had a watch but never a pen. This was Ericsson's tenth president in a nutshell. Björn Lundvall was an engineer in all respects. There were always stacks of technical journals on his desk.
During Lundvall's 13 years as president, technology was also the area in which Ericsson made its greatest strides. The company's first computer controlled, automated switching system, the AKE, was launched in 1968, and just a few years later, work began in earnest on the AXE system, which would be a huge success in the world market.
Björn Lundvall was not only interested in technology, however. He was also an administrator, salesman and negotiator, qualities that Lundvall had developed during his employment at Ericsson, where he was first employed in 1943 as a newly graduate engineer from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
His first responsibilities were design and development work in the transmission department, which was focused on transmission between different stations in the network. In 1957, Lundvall became sales manager, and four years later, he was appointed as manager of the transmission department and made an Ericsson director. Before becoming president, he completed a management course in Lusanne, Switzerland, where his leadership skills were enhanced. He was appointed president of Ericsson in May 1964.
Björn Lundvall also became an expert in financial matters. Initially, he lacked experience in finance and accounting, but Ericsson's accountants found him an able student. Lundvall had no problem listening to and learning from others.
- Björn Lundvall was a modest person. He was never aloof. He was very friendly, even towards those who had much lower positions in the organization, relates Hans Flinck, who was marketing and product planning manager at Ericsson's division for telephone stations at that time.
Technology advanced rapidly in the 1960s. Lundvall made sure that there were always sufficient resources for Ericsson's technical development and also took an active part in introductory negotiations with customers. Ericsson should not just keep up with development, the company should lead it, according to Lundvall.
Although he had devoted many years to technical development work, Lundvall himself was not an inventive person. His strength was systematically studying prerequisites and requirements for the product to be designed.
- Björn Lundvall always immersed himself in details. When he traveled, for example, he always produced long and very detailed reports, relates Hans Flinck.
Lundvall's thoroughness was also noted by his predecessor, Björn Svedberg.
- When I was completely new as president, he could phone me on a Sunday evening to discuss something that had come up. Then he never finished the conversation, but instead turned every issue inside out.
- I might be in a hurry; perhaps one of the children was going to bed. But I had such respect for him in the beginning that I couldn't tell him that I had to go. I only learned to do so after some time, recalls Björn Svedberg.
The thoroughness that was typical of Björn Lundvall yielded results. He usually found the right solution when problems arose. However, even though Ericsson scored decisive victories during his time as president, there were complicating factors.
- Achieving profitability in international undertakings is difficult and requires effort. Above all, it takes longer than expected, but it is possible, wrote Lundvall in a document from 1974.
One example of a protracted effort began in 1969. After losing a major order in Australia, Björn Lundvall began to be concerned about the AKE systems capability, while others within Ericsson considered that the relatively new system was more than adequate. Nonetheless, Lundvall took the initiative in starting a joint development effort with the Swedish public operator Televerket, which was a competitor in this area. A joint venture, Ellemtel, was established to develop the AXE system.
Ellemtel's development of the AXE systems was questioned on several occasions. Certain people within Ericsson considered that technical development should be kept within the company and that it was also too early to start developing a new system. Lundvall fully supported the AXE project, however, even though he took the time to listen to other opinions. With the benefit of hindsight, Björn Lundvalls decision to invest in AXE was extremely foresighted. Ericsson gained a tremendous head start on its competitors.
In 1977, the same year that the first AXE station was completely installed, Björn Lundvall resigned as president and instead succeeded Marcus Wallenberg as chairman of the board. In his acceptance speech in taking over from Wallenberg, Lundvall characterized their working relationship as "Never a dull moment."
During his long tenure as president, Björn Lundvall had built up a very extensive network of international contacts, which he now turned over to Björn Svedberg.
- He transferred contact to me very skillfully. We traveled around the world for a year, after which time I had the contacts I needed, recalls Björn Svedberg.
Lundvall was loyal to Ericsson throughout his professional life, from the time he was employed at the age of 23 until his death in 1980. On the way home from their country home in Gryts archipelago in the province of Östergötland, the Lundvall familys Saab 900 hit a deer, and Björn Lundvall, who was sitting in the passenger seat reading interim reports, was killed instantly.
Author: Katarina Reinius