In 1873, 29-year-old Axel Johnson, a saddler’s son, started his first trade office. Soon, iron exports and coal imports became the foundation for Axel Johnson’s expansion. Today, the family business has evolved into a company that is focused on trade and services in Europe.
It was in 1873 that the 29-year old saddler’s son Axel Johnson started his first trading business, A. Johnson & Co in Stockholm. The basis for the company’s expansion was the export of iron and the import of coal. The coal business took the company into shipping and Rederiaktiebolaget Nordstjernan was founded in 1890.The iron business eventually led to Axel Johnson acquiring a majority holding in Avesta Jernverk in 1905. When Axel Johnson died in 1910 his oldest son Axel, then barely 35 years old, inherited a considerable fortune, a trading house, a shipping line and an ironworks.
Axel Ax:son Johnson had the title of Consul General and the Group expanded substantially under his leadership. Among other things, he established the world’s first completely diesel-powered ocean-going fleet and the first oil refinery in Scandinavia. When the Consul General died in 1958, he left his oldest son Axel some 100 companies with more than 22,000 employees and annual sales of SEK 1.5 billion.
In 1958, the large company was divided into two, A. Johnson & Co and Nordstjernan AB, both managed by mining engineer Axel Ax:son Johnson. A. Johnson & Co expanded further under his leadership. He expanded the Group which now became an international trading company, responsible for marketing the Group’s own products worldwide and conducting its own trading operations in raw materials and industrial products. In the 1970s, the fruit and vegetable trading company J S Saba was formed, and an industrial group was built up in the United States, the company now called Axel Johnson Inc.
Antonia Ax:son Johnson succeeded her father as Chairman of A. Johnson & Co in 1982. A. Johnson & Co, later Axel Johnson AB, was restructured at the end of the 1980s when all trading in and distribution of oil, ore, metals and steel was phased out. International trading and distribution remained the base of the company’s operations but a new core business was built up within the Swedish retail and wholesale trading sectors. The acquisition of the Saba group in 1988 made names like Dagab, Hemköp and Åhléns part of the Axel Johnson AB group.
A new generation
Since 2015, Caroline Berg, the daughter of Antonia Ax:son Johnson is Chairman of Axel Johnson. Fourth and fifth generations are now working in the company and the common culture and basic values are marked by respect for people, business and relationships. The Axel Johnson group has changed shape over its more than 145-year history. No one knows exactly what the Group will look like in the future. With our shared culture and basic values, we within Axel Johnson will continue to build, transform and develop profitable businesses. And we will continue to believe in the family company as a form of ownership for good, long-term business.