Antonia Ax:son Johnson is the fourth generation owner to lead the worldwide group of enterprises launched in Stockholm in 1873 by her great-grandfather, Axel Johnson. In her leadership and in her life, Antonia our owner provides the moral compass that guides every member of the Axel Johnson Group.
A Letter from Our Owner
The Family Company
There is something very special about a family company. In a family company the dreams, the commitment and the determination of the family and entrepreneur go hand-in-hand with the professionalism, rationality and objectivity of the modern corporation. I believe that this is a combination that guarantees persistence and the ability to do business with a long-term perspective – and with a touch of passion.
In our family company, the businesses have changed shape over our more than 140-year history, but not our belief in these values. It all began in Jönköping in the middle of the 19th century, with the birth of my great-grandfather, Axel Johnson, who was the son of a saddle maker.
He became an entrepreneur at an early age. He made his way to Stockholm, where he took up employment with a firm of silk drapers; when he was 29 years old he started his own trading company, A. Johnson & Co. That was in 1873.
If the first generation was characterized by the word “entrepreneurship,” I would say that the second Johnson generation was characterized by “industrialism.” My grandfather took over from my great-grandfather, and during the years from 1910 to 1958 he built a large industrial group with interests ranging from shipping and stainless steel to engineering services. My grandfather, the industrialist, was eventually followed by the third-generation Axel Johnson. I would like to call my father’s generation, and my father, the “internationalists,” who built up the family company outside Sweden, with operations in more than 50 countries.
I have often thought about the women in this story of three generations of men. All three women were foreigners – my great-grandmother was German, my grandmother was an English-American born in Shanghai, and my mother was Brazilian. I think that they played an extremely important role. They brought an international dimension to the family table, with discussions and vision that took the business out into other countries.
I have also thought often about the driving forces that lay behind these three generations of family businessmen. I have found some basic values.
I would like to call the first one pleasure – the pleasure and joy of creating, developing and changing. Long-term perspective was a key ideology – perseverance and willingness to stick to the business even if it took a long time to build. There was also a very strong interest in people and a conviction in abilities and the capacity to learn. And finally, in these three generations, I can see a high standard of business ethics. My father once said to me that with a Johnson, a handshake is enough.
My Turn to Take Over the Family Business
With this story of three generations of family business entrepreneurs behind me, I took over the helm from my father when I was just thirty-something.
We soon decided that trade should be our task. I was fascinated by the direct, magical meeting with customers. And so we started a transformation, once again, of the old family company, which took shape when we acquired the Saba group of companies in 1988. This was to become the platform for a new era in the Axel Johnson Group.
Why We Do Business?
People often ask, why do we continue to do business? Are profits and financial achievement the main driving forces, or are there other dimensions behind the scene that are not immediately obvious?
My conclusion is that companies are the greatest force for change in society. What we do, and the products and services that we sell, take a place in the everyday lives of many, many people. What responsibility should we take for our products? What should our attitude to quality be? What about our commitment to health? How do we view the environment? How do we see the intrinsic values of what we are selling?
This way of viewing business as a vehicle of change is what makes up our basic values and defines all our businesses in the Axel Johnson Group.
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