Stena Cares

On the morning of our departure from Gothenburg to Copenhagen, Denmark, we managed to squeeze in one final stop at the Stena AB Headquarters. This was a pleasant surprise announcement, as aside from learning different ship types, I found what was presented about the company to be most illuminating and interesting. Stena AB is one of three companies, or ‘legs’ as they referred to it, of the Stena sphere. The other two, Stena Sessan AB and Stena Metall AB, operate autonomously, creating a sort of natural insurance system should one leg falter. Sitting just down the hall from us was Dan Sten Olsson, CEO of the Stena sphere, which is wholly owned by the Olsson family, making it one of Sweden’s largest family-owned groups.

Stena AB in particular includes the following businesses:
- Stena Line: operates ferries in the Baltic, North, and Irish Sea
- Stena Drilling: maritime drilling contractor
- Stena Bulk: operates a fleet of tankers across the globe
- Stena Teknik: holds the expertise in ship building and conversion for the company
- Stena Rederi AB: coordinates all the shipping activities of the company
- Stena RoRo AB: builds, buys, sells, and charters RoRo (roll-on roll-off) vessels
- AB Stena Finans: treasury and asset management entity for Stena AB
- Stena Adactum: acquires and develops other companies
- Stena Property: owns and manages real estate (including residential) in Sweden, Netherlands, France, and China
- Stena International B.V.: a Dutch Property owning subsidiary

In the conference room speaking with us was Martin Nerfeldt in investor relations, and Business Controller, Jesper Lundkvist, both of whom work at AB Stena Finans. Similar to when we were at Volvo, there was an emphasis on the importance of placing due value on the non-financial aspects of business. One of the first things we heard was the importance of Caring. Care for the environment and employees. Many companies go on about prioritizing the environment or employees, but many are just greenwashing or blowing smoke. Based on Dan Olsson’s philosophy and values, which he interjects into the business, I can believe in the Stena sphere’s activities. From what we all saw, the subject of protecting employees was critical, as well as doing what they could to manage Stena’s environmental impact, not only in Sweden, but everywhere they do business. For instance, because some of their business involves transporting palm oil, they have concern for the Indonesian forests. In terms of caring for employees, what stood out was their discussion of Stena Line.

Previously traded on the Swedish stock exchange, Stena Line ran into trouble and could very well have gone under had the decision not been made in 2000 to sell Stena Offshore and use the proceeds to buy back the company. The company is still struggling to find business with competition from low cost airlines like Ryanair, however, by buying back the entity, Stena AB managed to protect the jobs of the 5,000-6,000 employees of the ferry company. In their efforts to find a target segment, they discussed many interesting possibilities to drum up business, including virtually forgoing the price of riding the ferries, as the goal is to get passengers to the key sites, where they will inevitably spend money on the vessels. Mr. Nerfeldt also spoke about providing nice uniforms for employees and keeping the ships well maintained. The company invests a good deal of capital in painting the ferries and including their logo in large letters across the vessel. Aside from good branding, the idea is “if you have a nice ship then people are proud to work there and they behave a little better.” This is where genuinely creating a culture of caring pays off. It was even mentioned that their newer, better maintained ferries, generated much higher profits per day. You get back what you put in.

Great Circle

Just as our plane followed the Great Circle from Los Angeles to Stockholm, our journey in to the business and cultural paradigms of Scandinavia followed. Prior to our trip, our only exposure to these has been through a few pre-trip classes by our professors, a handful of insightful articles, and a few trips to IKEA.

Following our arrival, our introduction seemed academic at best. Not to trivialize the pre-trip grooming on the part of our professors, but going through this experience made us realize that the only way to learn about a different culture is to immerse oneself in it. Their insight helped ease the shock on our virgin eyes to this new landscape.

At the first firms we visited in Stockholm, the office spaces seemed utopic compared to our boring, uptight work environments. The office areas seemed more like a day care center from the future rather than places of business, complete with open, ergonomic work areas with colorful backdrops. The employees overall seemed relaxed and affable. Even outside of the workplace, it became apparent that Scandinavia (at least in June) is a comfortable place. Maybe it’s their more collectivist nature, or Jante-esque tendencies…

Some of these ideas did not agree with me prior to the trip. As a business student in the States how could you not want to work longer and harder than others, make more money than others, and at the end of the day boast about your achievements to anyone willing to listen? (Gross overgeneralization, but you get the point) These backward-isms played out differently once immersed in the people and culture.

Overall our Scandinavian adventure opened my eyes to the Scandinavian way. Physically, my own Great Circle trip has brought me back to where I started. Given the experience I can only consider myself half-Scandinavian (on the inside), but after picking the brains of CEO’s, bankers, entrepreneurs, locals, metro passengers, and bar-flys, alike, I come back to the States feeling that their ideals are somehow more intuitive then our own. I thank you for the journey, Clas and Niklas.

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