Peter Wallenberg: Businessman who overcame paternal opposition to lead one of Sweden's biggest companies with great success

He forced through a series of mergers including in 1999 the creation of AstraZeneca, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Peter Wallenberg became the head of a Swedish financial dynasty sometimes compared to the Rockefellers, although he had to defy his father to do it. From 1982 to 1997 he was chairman of Investor AB, the holding company through which the family controls large stakes in major Swedish companies. He also served on the board of Ericsson, Electrolux, the engineering and toolmaking firm Atlas Copco and other Swedish companies.

"He told me I never did any good," Wallenberg recalled of his father Marcus, who was head of the family empire for several decades. "He gave me calluses on my soul. The doubt did me a big favour. To hear that I was worth nothing every day boosted my competitive instinct."

Internationally, the Wallenberg family's best known member is the Second World War hero Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited for saving at least 20,000 Jews while serving as a Swedish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Hungary. But the family has been a prominent force in the Swedish business world since the 19th century, when Peter's great grandfather founded what is today called the SEB bank.

Peter Wallenberg was born in Stockholm in 1926 to Marcus Wallenberg and his Scottish wife, Dorothy. As a child, he attended boarding school in Sweden and spent the summers, alongside his older brother Marc and sister Ann-Marie, with his mother's family in Britain. He has often described his childhood, under a strict and domineering father, as a tough period in his life.

"I was cheeky compared with my brother," Wallenberg he said. "My father didn't like that." Indeed, he wasn't groomed to become the family patriarch, his brother Mark becoming their father's anointed successor. But Marc committed suicide in 1971, and when Marcus died in 1982 Peter took over as chairman of Investor. His eldest son, Jacob, is now chairman.

He had begun his career in 1953 at Atlas Copco and during the 1960s worked in Africa. As head of Investor he revived the fortunes of the firm, which was on the brink of bankruptcy in the 1990s, forcing through a series of mergers including in 1999 the creation of AstraZeneca, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies. In 1993, police arrested four would-be kidnappers outside the gates of his estate on the island of Varmdo, near Stockholm. He died there.

Peter Wallenberg, businessman: born Skeppsholm, Sweden 29 May 1926; married and divorced three times (one daughter, two sons); died Varmdo, Sweden 19 January 2015.

Comments