On paper, the career of industry hall-of-famer Rune Andersson looks like a straight line to the top: successful CEO of Trelleborg, partner in the medtech company Getinge alongside Carl Bennet, a driving force as Chairman of Electrolux and an entrepreneur building up his billion-kronor group of companies, Mellby Gård. But his says that conscious decisions and planning are certainly not the reasons for his meteoric career path. Vice versa. He believes instead that chance and coincidence often determine our path in life.
“I don’t think people should plan out their lives too much. Sometimes we make the wrong choices, sometimes the right ones. The important thing is to get a good education. Chance is infinitely more important than we think.”
The son of a farmer with a good head for academics, he grew up on a farm in Blekinge and wanted to study at Chalmers University of Technology. The only question was: What to study? For Rune and two friends, who also aspired to study at Chalmers, the matter was settled at half-time during a Swedish Premier Division football match. Three match sticks – three different courses of study. The winner was civil engineering in Gothenburg for the three Blekinge lads.
Rune Andersson graduated with a mediocre degree; he was not exactly passionate about engineering. He was, on the other hand, interested in student union politics. He stayed on at Chalmers, worked at SKF’s ball bearing magazine and dreamed about owning his own company in the advertising industry. He almost did it too. But fate had something else in store. A phone call in 1970 from an old colleague who was a civil servant working for the Government upended all of his plans: Would he like to create a new university of technology in Norrbotten? For a 26 year-old who had never been north of Östersund, the idea was both attractive and challenging. An entrepreneurial project for the Government. No Vice-Chancellor. Rune Andersson was given free rein to recruit administrators, teachers and professors. He even travelled around Norrbotten County to recruit the first students to what is now Luleå University of Technology. And, naturally, he has an honorary doctorate from the university today.
Next came the conversation that would send his career in yet another direction: a job at Plannja in Luleå. Or as he puts it:
“I went from being an administrative director to selling sheet metal.”
Before long he became a director of the company, was recruited by Getinge (part of the Electrolux Group), moved to Halland and learned how to raise and lower prices and improve profitability. He was appointed as head of Electrolux’s professional kitchen division in Alingsås where he employed a “28 year-old baron who sold excavators in Africa.”
In 1983 when he became CEO of the listed company Trelleborg, he applied all he had learnt at Electrolux about decentralisation and encouraging price increases. The companies share enjoyed a meteoric rise on the Stock Exchange in the 1980s. Then came a call from Carl Bennet: Getinge was losing money and the company was put up for sale in 1989.
At the age of 45 Rune finally achieved his dream of owning his own company.
“Independence was my main driver in becoming a business owner. Another reason is that you can express yourself more freely when you don’t have a boss or shareholders to answer to. I’ve been quite interested in politics since I was young. From 2002 to 2003 I was extremely active in the EMU debate on the ‘no’ side,” he says.
Today Rune is Chairman of Mellby Gård, the group of companies he started building up when he and Carl Bennet divided everything up after eight successful years.
“We finished the valuation work in one day, without lawyers or accountants. I’d say we still talk once a month on average. We always talk about politics; he’s also very interested in what’s going on in society.
I’ve turned over the day-to-day operation of the family group of companies to my youngest son Johan Andersson. Both of my other sons agreed that he should be the one to do it when we had a family discussion about succession.” Rune is still involved in Mellby Gård, but he now has more time to focus on social issues.
“The tax system is critical. Many people think taxes are boring. But not me. It’s intellectually exciting – at the intersection of mathematics and economics – and I believe it influences a lot of things. That’s why the tax system needs to stimulate both jobs and enterprise. The other important issue for society is entrepreneurship. Taxes determine what type of system we have for entrepreneurs to operate in,” he says.
He spends some of his time working with the Mellby Gård foundation. Two percent of the company’s profits go to the foundation annually. The foundation sponsors everything from brain research to church organs.
“It’s hard to say no when a good idea comes up,” he says.
The Eriksberg game park and nature reserve in Blekinge is also something close to his heart, as is the Trelleborgs FF football team.
“A small town team that happens to be in Sweden’s Premier Division this year. I love the harmonious team spirit at smaller clubs.”
And then there was the thing with the beard. He’s an industry pioneer in that regard – well before Percy Barnevik.
“I’ve had it since my Chalmers days and I see no reason to shave it off. Today you see beards everywhere.”
Fashion has caught up with Rune Andersson.
Education: MSc Civil Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, 1968
Career: First employee of Luleå University of Technology and its first administrative director 1971–1974. In the 1970s he served as head of companies such as Plannja and Getinge, and of Electrolux’s professional kitchen division. President and CEO of Trelleborg, 1983–1990. With Carl Bennet in 1989, acquired medtech company Getinge from Electrolux. Chairman of Trelleborg 1990–2002 and Chairman of Electrolux 1998–2004. In 1986 he founded a group of companies, Mellby Gård, which he built up. He is now its Chairman.
Distinctions: Member of ICA since 1988; Honorary Doctor of Engineering, Luleå University of Technology, 1989; H.M. The King’s Medal of the 12th size with the ribbon of the Order of the Seraphim, 2013; and Royal Patriotic Society Gold Medal, 2015.
Photographs: André de Loisted