Investor: A Century of Success and Influence

1 minutes reading time
Published 7 Jun 2023
Reviewed by: Oliver Hamrin
Updated 28 Mar 2024

The investment company Investor, sometimes referred to as the Swedish Berkshire Hathaway, was established in 1916 and has emerged as the largest Swedish investment company with an enormous impact on the country's economy. Since its initial public offering in 1919, Investor has delivered remarkable returns to its shareholders, generating a total shareholder return of approximately 167,320 times the initial investment. This impressive growth translates to a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 12.5%.

The Wallenberg Family

The Wallenberg family, closely associated with Investor, played a pivotal role in its inception and continues to exert influence over its operations. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which currently controls over 40% of the voting rights, holds a significant position within Investor, with Jacob Wallenberg serving as the Chairman.

Overview of Wallenberg Family Tree
Overview of the Wallenberg Family Tree

The roots of the Wallenberg empire trace back even further. It all started when André Oscar Wallenberg, a former naval officer, made a momentous decision to enter the realm of banking at the age of 30. He founded Stockholms Enskilda Bank in 1856, which later evolved into SEB, a financial institution with a present-day market capitalization of $25 billion of which Investor still retains a 21% stake in.

SEB Stock Certificate - Investor
SEB share certificate

The establishment of Stockholms Enskilda Bank was not merely a capitalist endeavor; it held political significance as well. The bank's formation was based on a Scottish model that aimed to revolutionize the Swedish banking industry, which at that time was reluctant to utilize savings capital for funding companies.

André Oscar Wallenberg's interests extended beyond finance. He actively contributed to the liberal transformation of Swedish society during an era marked by the transition from traditional factories and trading houses to new limited liability companies. The Wallenberg family played a significant role in the development of Swedish railroads and other ventures.

Train in Sweden - Investor
The Wallenberg family played a key role in the development of Swedish railroads

The Origins of Investor

During the Swedish recession of the 1870s, Stockholms Enskilda Bank faced critical choices when dealing with companies to which it had extended loans. The bank had the option to declare bankruptcy for some of these companies or inject capital and become part-owners. Opting for the latter, Stockholms Enskilda Bank made substantial investments.

Over time, all external holdings were consolidated into what we now recognize as Investor. Government regulations limited banks' ability to own shares in other companies, leading to this consolidation. One of Investor's major early investments was in Atlas Diesel, which eventually transformed into Atlas Copco, presently Sweden's largest company with a market capitalization of $55 billion.

Swedish workers - Investor
Photography of Atlas Diesel workers

During this period, André Oscar Wallenberg became the largest owner of Stockholms Enskilda Bank. His son, Knut Agathon, joined the bank, displaying exceptional skills in navigating international capital markets. Knut's financial acumen played a significant role in amassing substantial wealth for the bank.

Knut Wallenberg also made noteworthy contributions to the public sphere, generously donating significant sums to various construction projects in Stockholm through the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. His vision aimed to position Sweden as a leading nation in medicine, science, technology research, and education.

Knut had a half-brother named Marcus, who held a management position at Stockholms Enskilda Bank. Together, Marcus, Knut, and the bank played a vital role in propelling Sweden into a new era of industrial development characterized by advanced engineering, electricity, and chemistry.

Marcus Wallenberg played a pivotal role in the establishment of several enduring world-renowned companies, including Asea (now part of ABB with a market capitalization of $6 billion), Norsk Hydro, Atlas Diesel (now Atlas Copco with a market capitalization of $55 billion), and Stora Kopparbergs (now part of Stora Enso with a market capitalization of $16 billion).

Furthermore, Investor and the Wallenberg family actively participated in the Ivar Kreuger empire, both before and after its collapse. Investor held shares in both SKF and the former entity of Swedish Match, known as STAB, for a significant period.

Expansion of the Empire

Marcus Wallenberg had two sons, Jacob and Marcus Jr. Jacob took charge of Stockholms Enskilda Bank in 1927. His career was profoundly influenced by the deflationary crisis that gripped Sweden, which necessitated bold actions in the international financial market.

Following in his uncle's footsteps, Jacob successfully expanded the bank's fortune through a cautious dividend policy and robust market consolidation. The bank's earnings not only financed Wallenberg projects but also transformed SEB into more of a commercial bank and venture capital firm.

Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, now known as Ericsson with a market capitalization of $28 billion, owes much of its success to Marcus Jr. After the Kreuger crash, Marcus Jr. dedicated his life to resolving debt and ownership structure issues within Ericsson. His efforts proved pivotal for the company's recovery.

Historians estimate that at one point, the Wallenberg family controlled approximately one-third of Sweden's Gross National Product (GNP) through their extensive holdings, as they maintained a majority stake in each affiliated company. This concentration of economic power led some to liken the Wallenbergs to the Swedish equivalent of the Rockefellers, a label that has endured through the years.

In Conclusion

Today, Investor stands as a formidable $60 billion company, holding the distinction of being Sweden's largest investment company. It continues to uphold the core principles of value creation that have shaped its success over the past century. With a substantial shareholder base exceeding 500,000, Investor maintains a strong market presence.

Notably, one of the significant holdings in Investor's portfolio is an approximately 14% stake in the private equity giant EQT. Remarkably, EQT, which originated within Investor in 1994, has become a separate entity with a market capitalization of approximately $30 billion. Since its initial public offering in 2019, EQT's stock has witnessed an impressive increase of approximately 230%.

Investor's enduring legacy and unwavering commitment to growth and innovation have solidified its position as a cornerstone of the Swedish economy, with its influence resonating in the investment landscape both domestically and internationally.

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