Sweden has succeeded in becoming a very rich country thanks to its innovation and high-tech products. But what is most impressive is that their products are so globalized now that sometimes people just don't know that those products are actually Swedish or come from Sweden.
Design at the heart of innovation
The most well-known Swedish success stories are definitely H&M and IKEA. These two companies succeeded in applying the same kind of strategy. They all come from relatively small cities in the Swedish countryside, Västerås for H&M and Älmhult for IKEA and began as small shops and then expanded bit by bit to become the world-size companies we know today.
Their strategy is very basic: make the finest products; at a very low price; and provide good quality for everyone. But in practice, it is really hard to find a compromise between those three. That’s why they (successfully) always tried to hire the best designers possible to have the finest products with one main constraint: to reduce the costs as much as they can. As a consequence, it is easy to understand why Sweden is well-known for its design university courses and why lots of students go to Sweden to learn design.
H&M and IKEA now have shops in most of the biggest cities in the world and are still expanding their businesses. Who, now, can claim that he or she has never been to an H&M or an IKEA!
Volvo: the invention that changed the way you drive
Of course, Volvo is not a proper Swedish company now since it is Chinese-owned. But did you know that they are at the origin of the main innovation concerning security in-car driving? One reason for that may be that security has always been at the heart of Swedish culture. However, it has some advantages: in Sweden, children are really more independent and free compared to other children in other parts of the world. And parents are not afraid since a lot of progress has been made regarding security.
One of these innovations is the seat belt which is now compulsory for all cars in most parts of the world. The seat belt as we know it today was created by a Swedish inventor called Nils Bohlin in 1959 for Volvo who was the first company to fit them as standard in all its cars. It then expanded to Saab, the other main Swedish car company, and then to the rest of the world.
How can you be successful without selling any products?
All those companies are very famous in the world but there is one, less known than those giants whose 2010 turnover was actually 5 times superior to H&M’s. You can find this brand everywhere but you may just not pay attention to it. This brand is Tetra Pak, founded in 1927 in Gothenburg. With a turnover of 10 Billion euros in 2010, Tetra Pak is the world's largest company for the manufacturing of carton packages. They have succeeded in putting their logo on all the everyday products you need, mainly milk and fruit juice with what is called the “Tetra Brik”.
I was very surprised when I discovered that Tetra Pak did not actually sell any products! How then can it be possible that the owner of the company is the richest woman in Sweden? In fact, she's actually richer than Ingmar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA! It’s due to their strategy of course! If Tetra Pak does not sell any products it’s because they are the standard for quality and for recycling in regards to high-quality packaging. And when you look at Sweden it’s not surprising: Sweden can have up to 6 months of winter, so it was really important for Swedish people to find techniques that could preserve food and drinks for as long as possible.
Tetra Pak was one of the companies that worked on the problem of long winters in Sweden and quickly understood that if they wanted to succeed, they had to patent their inventions. So they created their label, “Protect What’s Good”, but in order to be able to use it, you need to buy the machines that produce the packages. If you do not buy the machines and the patents, you do not have the right to put the Tetra Pak name on your packaging. Of course, you could choose another company but Tetra Pak worked a lot on its image and on becoming a company that really cares about sustainable development and the environment (two important values in the 21st century) with lots of innovations with regards to recycling. As a consequence, it became really important for a company to be able to say: “We’re working with Tetra Pak!”