Every day we wake up to a volatile world. Our most given assumptions about our immediate surroundings – about a peaceful Europe – have been overturned. Information flows in new patterns and both markets and politics are heavily influenced by the geopolitical developments. When turbulence and unpredictability have become the norm, as family business owners, we can rely on the stability that is inherent in our long-term way of building companies.

We have a good momentum as we are now in our anniversary year, when Axel Johnson celebrates 150 years in 2023. Axel Johnson achieved its best result ever in 2022, a testament to outstanding efforts from all employees during the challenging year we have had behind us. In 2015, we set the renewal goal 10/50, that in ten years, fifty percent of what we do should be things we don’t do today. The most important message in the renewal goal has been that the majority of new business should come from our existing operations in the form of new products, new services, expansions into new markets or entirely new companies. After eight years, we are well on our way to achieving the goal, something that we initially thought was almost impossible. The pace of development within the group is high, the courage to try new ideas is great, and the renewal agenda is an underlying strategy in everything we do. We continue to reshape, reconsider and transform.

As owners of a family business celebrating its 150th anniversary, it is natural to look for the long-term perspective, recurring themes, and values that we want to permeate Axel Johnson’s companies. I have identified three fundamental pillars:

Long-term perspective – The desire to build long-term strong companies, to make the right long-term choices when facing difficult decisions rather than maximizing short-term gains, and the pursuit of building lasting relationships. Every decision we make has a horizon that extends over generations, far beyond year-end reports. It is a commitment, but it also gives us the freedom to think big.

Renewal – The conviction that long-term strong companies need to be characterized by an impatient desire for renewal, reconsideration, and development.

Force for change – We deeply believe that our companies should be a positive force for change in the communities where they operate. We want to contribute to adressing our time’s greatest challenges: climate change and reducing social exclusion, which threatens the fabric of society.

Over the years, our company has shifted forms and shapes many times. Today, we are a group of companies dominated by trade in various forms, but we are no longer exclusively a trading company. Our breadth of companies touches on many of our contemporary’s most urgent events and challenges: a sustainable food system, transition to renewable energy, technological transformation within industry, automation, AI, digitalization, and health, to name a few. These are deeply meaningful areas to work within and contribute to.

As owners, we naturally want to see growth and new record results, but it should never be at the expense of long-term sustainability or responsibility. On the contrary, our values provide direction and framework for all our other work. The width of our operations means that the most important sustainability issues take different forms and have different progress levels, but we have high expectations for all our companies as owners. In addition to operating within the planet’s limits, Axel Johnson’s companies should be leaders in sustainability in their respective industries. In collaboration with our customers, we will develop circular offerings, drive energy transition away from fossil sources, and be leaders in diversity and inclusion. Even though we operate on the market’s terms, we should dare to go ahead and think differently.

In addition to our focus on combining social and business benefits resulting from our values, family ownership also provides an opportunity to cultivate a uniqueness – a “family business personality.” It is a strength in a time when many nervously look at others and use similar formulations, trying to stay in a safe middle lane. If you want to be in that middle lane, you can turn to Chat GPT and get help writing an impeccable text about the company’s role and aspirations.

For us, the AI tool instead gives a sharp call to sharpen our thoughts and formulations. Asking questions in new ways and providing untested perspectives. We should be more eager than ever to find our own voice. Our own answers. To find passion and will. Courage and direction. To use the value that comes precisely from the human sender, from the uniquely human expression. From our ability to intellectually and morally assess. To feel and passionately want something. But also – to hesitate and reflect.

In Axel Johnson’s timeline, we are now in year 150. But the 150th year is also year 1. It is the first year in a completely new economic situation, the first year of a new 10-year cycle for our 10/50 goal, and it is a year when Thomas Ekman takes over as CEO after Mia Brunell Livfors while Mia takes a place on our board.

Axel Johnson’s long history gives us lessons, stories, and meaning. But history does not give us ready-made answers about the future. With long-term sustainability, constant renewal, and our ambition to be a positive force for change in society, we have the best conditions to continue building and developing successful businesses. It is year 1, and it is my inner conviction that the best is yet to come.

Thanks to all colleagues and employees who contribute to Axel Johnson’s future!