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Scandinavian Ownership

– a competitive advantage?

During the last century, business schools were created as a result of the separation between management and ownership (Berle & Means 1932). The separation was in itself a consequence of the new corporate ownership structure of limited companies, where the private wealth of the owners was separated from the wealth of the company. This resulted in a new profession of managers who became the operative leaders of businesses. Scholars ever since the years of Taylor (1921) focussed the effects of scientific management securing a proper division of labour. Professional managers were educated at special schools (business schools) and were brought in to manage companies instead of the owners. Chandler argued that this transition from owner managers to hired managers led to a development from personal capitalism to professional capitalism. Meritocracy was the criteria for selection (the best man for the job), not nepotism (the relatives of the owner) according to the German sociologist Weber.

At the end of the twentieth century, the concept of Scandinavian management has made an impression in literature and knowledge of management and leadership. The success of many Scandinavian multinationals has been explained by the development of an informal management style, where management to meet goals instead of direct orders, decentralization and cooperation have been in focus.

The last five-ten years, we have seen a development were the agency-control issue has been discussed in the aftermath of corporate scandals such as Enron, WorldCom and in Sweden the case of Skandia. Corporate governance has called for owners and directors on the board that are competent and active in controlling and directing the executive management. In order to execute the control in order to ensure accountability for the actions of the company, systems and structures of control, information flow, nomination and evaluation have been put in place by corporate governance codes. In that sense, the insight of Adam Smith has proven to be true: hired managers cannot be expected to watch over other people’s money with the same anxious vigilance as the owners themselves. On the contrary, managers have used corporate assets to build their own fortunes and brands (e.g. the managers at Tycon in the US and also the managers at Skandia in Sweden). This has called for a discussion on whose goals that are being met, and whose responsibility it is for setting and evaluating the processes to meet goals; the owners, the directors, the managers, and/or stakeholders?

At the same time, some of the largest and most successful Swedish multinationals have been built by owner-managed corporations such as IKEA, Tetra Pak, H&M and Lundin Oil. In these corporations, visible owners have in most cases for at least two and in some cases even three generations been a very active part of the development and internationalization of the activities. The owners have participated not only in governing positions of the businesses but been very involved in the day-to-day operations. Their goals have been very clear to not only managers but also directors and the processes and structures they have used for not only creating a common vision but also controlling and directing have been different and at many times very hands-on. Representatives of the owner family have been there to safe-guard the values and goals.

The research project at hand will focus on understanding how the owners have contributed to the internationalization and growth of these businesses. The focus will be on describing the contributions of the owner families, not only at operative levels but also at the governing levels. At the same time, many of these corporations have been built in a strong collaboration between the owner family and non-family executives.

Is there maybe possible to attribute the successes of these Swedish multinationals to such a competitive advantage as a Scandinavian Ownership philosophy and if so, how is the ownership contribution expressed and organized, and executed by whom?

  • How have the families organized their relations to the businesses?
  • What are the unique strengths of these owner families?
  •  How much of the competitive advantage of the corporations is related to the owner family?
  • What is the contribution from different family members?
  • How are the governing bodies of the family organized to ensure a balanced relationship between ownership and management.
  • How does the process look like for the owner families to unite around common goals and values? How are they united with the goals and values of the corporation?
  • What is the owner families’ perception of risk, growth and time perspective on their investments and operations?


The research project will be built upon an action oriented clinical research approach, based on in-depth conversations and interactions with the owner families of companies such as IKEA, H&M, Tetra Pak and Lundin Oil, their board of directors, managers and closest advisors.

Collaborative partners:
PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Family Business Network, Sweden

Project leader:
Annelie Karlsson

Research team:
Annelie Karlsson och Ingalill Holmberg

Status:
Publications

Kar Astrachan Joe and Karlsson Stider, Annelie (2005). ”Family relations”. In Ward, J, L. and Kenyon Rouvinez, D. (2005) Family Business: Key Issues. Houndmills : Palgrave MacMillan.

Karlsson Stider, Annelie (2003). ”Ägande och styrelse”. I SOU 2003:16, Mansdominans i förändring. Om ledningsgrupper och styrelser.

Karlsson Stider, Annelie (2001) ”The home – a disregarded managerial arena”. In Sjöstrand, S-E. et al (eds.) (2001): Invisible Management. Thomson, London, pp. 83-104.  

Karlsson Stider, A. (2000) Familjen och Firman. Stockholm: EFI, Stockholms School of Economics. Doctoral thesis »

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