It all began in 1873 when the 29-year-old son of a saddlemaker, Axel Johnson, started his first independent trading office. Today, Axel Johnson is one of Sweden's leading family-owned businesses, run by the fifth generation.
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 leader-ship. 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 eldest 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.
The Businesswoman and Consumer Goods
Antonia Ax:son Johnson succeeded her father in 1982 as Board Chair of Johnson & Co. At the end of the ’80s, a structural transformation meant all trade and distribution of oil, ore, metals and steel was discontinued, while a new core business was built up within Swedish retail and grocery. With the acquisition of the Saba Group in 1988, names such as Dagab, Hemköp and Åhléns became part of the company, which at the same time changed its name to Axel Johnson. For the first time, the emphasis was shifted to consumer goods.
The New Generation
Since 2015, Caroline Berg, daughter of Antonia Ax:son Johnson, has served as Board Chair of Axel Johnson. Today, the fifth generation is active in the company, and the shared culture and values are characterized by respect for people, business and relationships. Axel Johnson has changed during its nearly 150-year history. In 2015, a new guiding force was put in place with the 10/50 transformation goal. This means that in ten years, 50 percent of what we do must be new things we don't do today. The transformation takes place in existing operations and by building up new operations in areas such as solar energy, food of the future and health.