Gyllenhammar back in Swedish business

Pehr G Gyllenhammar, the 69 year old former chairman of Volvo and oft-voted 'Sweden's most admired man' was presented on Thursday as the new chairman of investment company Kinnevik. Since he left Volvo in 1993, Gyllenhammar has had a number of posts in London and is currently chairman of insurers Aviva.

Kinnevik was founded by another giant of Swedish business, the maverick Jan Stenbeck, and the main share-holder is his 27 year old daughter, Cristina. Cristina stunned the business world last year by returning to Sweden from America to take over her father’s empire following his death. The union of the Gyllenhammar and Stenbeck names is a mouth-watering prospect – although whether that’s for the media or shareholders remains to be seen.

His glamorous young boss described him thus: “There are similarities between Pehr and Kinnevik in that he dares to swim against the current. He dares to invest and take risks. He has an unusual background and the right attitude.”

DN described Pehr Gyllenhammar’s regal performance at Thursday’s extraordinary general meeting and press conference. Impeccably dressed in a trademark tailored dark blue suit (obviously worthy of mention in Sweden), he said that he would offer energy, competence and see to the smooth running of the board. He dismissed suggestions that he lacked experience in telecommunications and the media, key sectors in Kinnevik’s portfolio.

“In my time in investment banking, I’ve had a lot of involvement with telecommunications, both infrastructure and operators and I’m chairman for one of the Reuters companies.”

Gyllenhammar managed to exude both authority and unconcern during the brief moments of dissent. As chairman of the shareholders group, Lars-Erik Forsgårdh made his protestations, he sat bolt upright and flicked through his papers.

Forsgårdh referred to Gyllenhammar’s alleged penchant for power games at Volvo.

“The shareholders weren’t exactly sad to see the back of Gyllenhammar after 22 years at Volvo and if the shareholders had any influence on the appointment of chairman, Pehr G Gyllenhammar would not have been the first choice,” he said, before demanding that the minutes record his organisation’s abstention.

Gyllenhammar left Volvo under a cloud following a failed attempt to brow-beat the company into joining forces with Renault. One of his opponents then, Thomas Halvorsen, head of pension fund Fjärde AP-fonden, is happy to let bygones be bygones. He voted for Gyllenhammar and told DN:

“What happened at Volvo is history. These are new times and Pehr G Gyllenhammar and I have had a number of diplomatic contacts over the years. I welcome him and wish him good luck.”

DN described relations between Gyllenhammar and the Swedish business world as ‘cool’ since his departure from Volvo over ten years ago, although he claims Kinnevik is not the first offer he has had. Gyllenhammar said that he and Cristina Stenbeck, who both live in London, intend to sharpen Kinnevik’s international profile.

Gyllenhammar appeared to set the tone for his tenure by accepting that he and shareholders tend to have rocky relations.

“I’m used to criticism but the company have made me feel welcome.”