Industrialist with a new vision of a big company

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The Independent Online
PERCY BARNEVIK, widely regarded as Europe's premier industrialist, has emerged as chairman of the combined AstraZeneca group. Though best known as the creator of the Swiss-Swedish industrial group ABB, Mr Barnevik has since last year been chairman of Investor, the investment vehicle for the Wallenbergs, Sweden's pre-eminent business family.

For more than a century, the holding company has amassed stakes in such organisations as ABB, Saab, Scandinavian Airlines System, Electrolux, Ericsson and Astra, which account for 43 per cent of the value of the Swedish stock market.

Investor also involves itself in managing businesses. At Astra, for instance, it is not just the most significant owner, with 10.2 per cent of the shares and 12.1 per cent of the voting rights, but Investor's deputy chairman, Bo Berggren, is also chairman of Astra.

Since taking over the reins of Investor from Peter Wallenberg, Mr Barnevik has been determined to improve performance through introducing a three- step strategy known as the "Barnevik triple-jump". This involves, first, restructuring the business; second, changing the management; and, third, engineering a merger or disposal.

He is also keen to develop Investor as an "active investor". In keeping with the approach developed at ABB, which was largely his creation, he is rejuvenating boards by bringing in overseas directors and seeking to recruit "excellent people one level down, and many more women".

Even though Mr Barnevik is the first non-family member to chair the company, other Wallenbergs, including Peter's son, Jacob, and Jacob's cousin, Marcus, are involved in its running. But, while the Wallenberg family's tentacles reach most parts of Swedish business, Mr Barnevik's influence is more international.

Though he is giving up his boardroom seat at Du Pont because of possible conflicts with his new position, he remains a director of General Motors and chairman of ABB.

According to London Business School's Sumantra Ghoshal and his partner, Christopher Bartlett of Harvard, Mr Barnevik, who at 6ft 3in and with a distinguished goatee beard looks like a character from an Ibsen play, "has created a fundamentally different model of how a large company can be organised and managed". In place of the rigid financial controls associated with the typical corporation, he produced a philosophy based on the "three Ps" of purpose, processes and people.

He made ABB into a model of a company with a lean headquarters and decision- making devolved to business units. But keeping this organisation together apparently necessitated him spending much of his life on an aeroplane.

Even now that he has stepped back from a day-to-day role at ABB, he claims to have four headquarters - in Stockholm, Zurich, New York and London.