News; May 19, 2004 CET

Lifelong passion for brands

When Arne Jurbrant was voted onto the Swedish Match Board of Directors two years ago, he had just finished a long career in the food industry, a sector characterized by a strong focus on brandbuilding. He regards the experience he gained there as one of the most important attributes he can bring to the work of the Board.

It was a major step in Arne Jurbrant’s life when he left the position of operational president of Kraft Foods Nordic Region. At that time, in 2001, he had spent well over 20 years in various posts as president, first at General Foods and then at Kraft Foods - assignments that constantly demanded his full attention.

“You live day and night with jobs like that, and in practice the job also has to be your hobby. It also requires the full backing of your family and colleagues, so it is a major adjustment to be able to plan your day and your life along new lines,” says Arne Jurbrant.

Now he only does things he finds enjoyable, which includes being an instructor and mentor for students at the Stockholm School of Economics.

“It’s my way of giving something back and supporting young people at the outset of their careers. The contact with them is also very enjoyable. I don’t get paid for it - it’s something I do entirely for my own enjoyment,” he says.

ANOTHER ENJOYABLE ELEMENT in his new life, without question, is his Board assignment with Swedish Match, particularly since it is a company with very strong brands, and brands have always been his passion and one of the main reasons why he stayed so long at General Foods and Kraft Foods.

It began with the coffee brand Gevalia, which is sold in just about every store in Sweden. During the turbulent years in the 1980s and early 1990s, the food industry underwent a dramatic restructuring, and Gevalia’s owner, General Foods, was first purchased by Philip Morris and then merged with Kraft Foods, which had also
been acquired.

“In 1992, when we got our hands on Freja Marabou in one of the last really big transactions, we added a number of fantastic brands to our portfolio,” recalls Arne Jurbrant.

WHAT FASCINATED HIM over the years was that, while owners come and go, the brands go on living a life of their own.

“In the food industry in particular, the brands are often old and well-established in their local markets. It is of little interest to consumers whether General Foods or some other company owns Gevalia, so it is natural that the greatest value in an acquisition lies in the brands. Brands are not something you interfere with, remove or replace. Instead, measures to improve coordination or achieve economies of scale - in purchasing for example - are handled
behind the scenes.”

Being a company with leading brands is, in turn, an incredible strength. “Companies with strong brands, such as Kraft and Swedish Match, are secure in their role and in the conviction that their products are so good that customers will seek them out. They build up the traffic in the stores by themselves, without having to plead to be let in. They are consistent and treat everyone alike, because they know that without their products there will be no volume sales. For this reason, it must be a formidable task to be a competitor to Swedish Match - not a job I would want to attempt.”

BRAND-RELATED ISSUES are seldom listed as a separate agenda item when the Swedish Match Board meets. But they form a natural common thread that runs through all of the long-term and strategic planning work with which the Board is concerned.

“After all, the entire company is built on the strength of the brands. So it is important to have people on the Board with a background in that area,” says Arne Jurbrant. But at the same time he considers it important for the Board to include people with experience of the conditions that apply to all the different business aspects,
as well as a broad spectrum of specialist expertise, understanding of figures and international experience.

“I hope - at any rate this will be my aim - that I can contribute to Swedish Match’s development and future through my experience in all of these areas,” says Arne Jurbrant. When Arne Jurbrant was newly elected to the Board, he formulated his impression of Swedish Match as follows:

“The company has impressive financial strength, with a fantastic cash flow. It is my impression that it is a company that constantly generates good news and has a formidable capacity to implement whatever it decides to do.”

What would his comment be now, after two years on the Board?

“The image I had then applies to an even higher degree today. Getting to know the company from within has also been an even more positive experience than I had expected. The company is characterized by a consistently implemented strategy and a solid grounding of the corporate culture in every department. The successes also make it easier to deal with setbacks when they occur. After all, running a business is not a question of traveling first-class all the way. But Swedish Match has the resources to influence its future instead of simply adapting to external demands.”