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.