Annual review 2021

Word from the board chair

Caroline Berg

IN 1873, A. Johnson & Co was founded by saddler’s son Axel Johnson. For many years, he had nurtured a dream of coming into his own, independent and free, and of moving from the small town to the big city. The small world to the big. It started with the import and export of raw materials, which quickly led the business into shipping. In just over a year, Axel Johnson will be 150 years old. I zoom out to find the key stories about the formation of our company, which over time has stretched across all continents of the world, through historical events, technological innovations and – not least – is the result of the driving forces of many people. Five generations of owners have, together with employees, built and developed the group with their passion and dreams.

AXEL JOHNSON HAS changed shape and form many times. I reflect on the fact that it is rarely individual choices or groundbreaking decisions but instead many small steps and changes that create movement or a new direction. Our common thread is transformation and development, the ability to change and adjust, to take new risks. Our long-term perspective has been – and remains – absolutely crucial in making the best decisions, in both adversity and success. The essence of the family business, with the ambition to build for future generations and to have a positive impact on society through our business.

I ZOOM IN on the present and feel proud that 2021 was the largest investment year in Axel Johnson’s history. We have completed several major deals, not least within Axfood and Dustin, and our profits are the best we’ve ever had. It gives us great opportunities to continue our transformation journey and to build sustainable companies we are proud of. Predicting the future can be exciting, but is virtually impossible. We have been reminded of this in recent years. The biggest events are often both unexpected and disruptive. The Corona pandemic and developments in Ukraine are the latest in a series of unprecedented events. The pandemic was impossible to predict, and when it comes to Ukraine, I think there were many of us who, despite the warning signs, could not imagine a full-scale attack on a large, independent European country. The humanitarian catastrophe is heartbreaking and unimaginable. We must never deviate from our belief in freedom, democracy and the inherent power and will of every human being.

“But in light of the humanitarian crisis, corporate responsibility as well as our responsibility towards each other are highlighted”

CRISES OF THE magnitude we have experienced in recent years can sometimes make the contribution of our own business feel small. But in light of the humanitarian crisis, corporate responsibility as well as our responsibility towards each other are highlighted, in individual business decisions and individual human encounters. I have experienced an enormous commitment from the people within Axel Johnson these years. They are solution-oriented, flexible and quick-footed in handling difficult and unexpected situations. And extremely committed to our efforts to do our part for those affected by the war. As owners, we want to contribute to social commitment by putting the humanitarian and security policy perspective before the short-term economic one. We do this by following the sanctions set in both letter and spirit and by mobilizing resources to help people in need.

GIVEN THE fragile situation right now, it is hard to even imagine the key stories we will tell in coming years. But there are a few things that we don know. As an owner family, we are inspired by the long-term and impatient development and transformation of the group’s business. We believe deeply in companies as a positive force to change society for the better. And we are convinced of our colleagues’ abilities and willingness to change our companies with creativity and courage together with us owners.

THESE CONVICTIONS set the framework for the coming year, and for the 150 years that follow.