25 years that gave Swedish Match an identity and continuity
At the age of 62, the time has come for Massimo Rossi to sum up his lifetime achievement ahead of his retirement. Employed in 1975, he was rapidly promoted to President of the then Consumer Division (including Matches) and has spent most of his professional career in corporate management, most recently as Senior Executive Advisor, specializing in acquisitions and divestments.
THE CAREER SEED WAS PLANTED one dreary morning when Massimo, a teenager at the time, got up at four a.m. to help his father, a baker in the small fishing village of Lerici near La Spezia. At eight o clock, he set off for school.
After taking his bookkeeping exams, his dream of another life took him to Stockholm in Sweden, where he arrived one morning on the night train from Copenhagen. An hour later, he had a job as a dishwasher at Caf矎ord at the Central Station.
"Yes, I had studied some Swedish, bought a grammar book and a dictionary. But I had never heard anyone speak Swedish, so no one understood me. I picked it up quickly, though."
By now, it was 1968. Massimo applied for a student loan (which he has now paid back!) and graduated with a degree in economics from Stockholm University.
"Your first real job is always critical and I was lucky enough to gain employment at the major Scanraff project on the Swedish west coast despite being both an immigrant and slightly older graduate."
With interesting experience, good English and driving ambition, he went on to apply to Swedish Match, or Svenska T㭤sticks AB (STAB), as it was called at the time. He was recruited by the executive vice president Sten Rystedt, who first checked him over to see if he "fitted in".
"Evidently, I fitted in so well that I was given a room next to the large boardroom in the magnificent former Match Palace premises," relates Massimo.
BY NOW, SWEDISH MATCH WAS an expansive international conglomerate whose operations were based in the match industry. It was also a breeding ground for a series of prominent business executives, including the Groups current Board Chairman, Bernt Magnusson.
"I am eternally grateful that he placed his confidence in me," says Massimo Rossi. "I worked for him in Nyon in Switzerland, where the head office of the Consumer Division was located. After a turbulent period, Bernt appointed me President of this division, which specialized in matches."
The 1980s were characterized by major deals and restructuring and Swedish Match was taken over by Stora in 1989. Massimo Rossi was placed in charge of selling his favorite division - matches, lighters and shaving products. However, the solution instead was a leveraged buyout, which Rossi himself organized. This was followed by a further deal, in which Rossi became a shareholder together with a British private equity firm and various Italian investors. "I became the Match King," he laughs.
THE TURBULENCE CONTINUED. In 1992, Procordia, a Volvo company, acquired the operations, which were now also complemented with tobacco. "I fought to get the name Swedish Match back to Sweden. And we succeeded." After further organizational turns, Swedish Match was listed on the stock exchange in 1996, with G� Lind謠as president and Bernt Magnusson as Board Chairman.
Massimo Rossis flair for business became very apparent during this ten-year period characterized by intense restructuring with constant acquisitions and divestments. Since Swedish Match became a listed company, Massimo Rossis main area of responsibility in corporate management has been acquisitions and divestments. "I have divested and acquired about 80 companies during my time at Swedish Match," he says.
Is there a red thread running through his professional career? He hesitates before responding...
"No, not really. My life path has been very individual and I am extremely grateful to Sweden and the many Swedes who have believed in me. Of course, I have worked hard and been successful. But this is nothing unique. In certain respects, I have been lucky, when you think of how I started out. You could say that I have been in the right place at the right time. There were certainly others who maybe were even better qualified than myself, but they werent there when the opportunity arose.
"Perhaps a clue to my success is my social skills," he says without sentimentality or self-praise. "I like people, am interested in them as individuals and I show it. I think that this characteristic has given me an advantage in negotiations and relationships with buyers and sellers in all the deals in which I have been involved."
TODAY, HE INTENDS TO slow down a little. He will still be kept busy, however, traveling between various Board engagements in several funds in EQT, Swedens largest private equity company, and in Finnpower Oy, a Finnish company. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Danish insurance company International Health Insurance. Rossi owns properties in Geneva, Rome and Stockholm. However, "home" these days is Italy, where his wife and two children live. His daughter is studying law and his son recently started his own company.
What would Massimo Rossi want to be remembered for? "Two things - for salvaging the name Swedish Match and bringing it back to Sweden and for my donation to Solstickan. When I had the financial means to do so, I set up a foundation and donated a sum of money. I have been very much involved in Solstickans work and I sit on the foundations Board of Directors. My wife and I are more than happy to pay back some of our debt of gratitude and make life a little easier for those who have not had the same opportunities as myself."