2013 Joseph Wharton Award for Leadership
Jacob Wallenberg, W’80, WG’81
Each generation of the successively successful Wallenbergs, quietly bestows responsibility upon the next generation. And each new generation must choose to accept it. Fortunately, for Sweden, Jacob Wallenberg, W’80, WG’81, Chairman of Investor AB, made that choice many years ago, and has steadfastly stayed at the helm.
You could have attended any university. Why did you choose Wharton?
It was my first choice. It was a highly regarded academic institution. I had already attended the Swedish Naval Academy and was looking for a way to get the tools of business, as well as a liberal arts education. For me, it was the right school.
You spoke about your strong sense of responsibility in approaching your roles. For you, what is the relationship between responsibility and leadership?
At a certain point, I took the decision to accept responsibility and accept the fact that I had to take a leadership role. The two hung together. When I wake up, I think about what is important for the foundations where I am engaged. To fulfill what is important for the foundations, I must ensure that the companies in which the foundations are invested, must perform to generate a dividend and capital gains. To fulfill that, I must take a leadership role, to push for excellence and for the values that we have identified.
“Esse non videri” is the Wallenberg family motto. What does that mean?
That is a motto from about 100 years ago. Roughly, it means “to be, not to be seen” — to do things lowkey. You can read articles about my family members answering business questions like yours, but you won’t read about us in the glossy magazines. And it probably reflects the Swedish character. As Swedes, we are a bit boring — we tend to focus, to be proficient, to try to deliver.
The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation granted an astounding $800 million to scientific research just in the past five years. What are the foundation’s goals?
The purpose is not to find the next Nobel Prize winner. It is for basic university research in medicine, mathematics, chemistry, physics — long-term research. As one example, we have done a lot of the gene mapping, which is published free of charge. That has kept many gene researchers in Sweden. For that to happen, Ericsson, Electrolux and other companies have to perform and pay dividends, which in turn helps to finance the foundation.
How do you typically work with your companies through your board memberships?
We have a non-executive chairman, and a separate CEO, which is different from many American companies.
We have a detailed discussion about operational performance, looking at a different division at every board meeting. We meet with management to review each business plan, and discuss performance, competitors and strategy.
Historically, our board governance has developed differently from the U.S. in two ways. We have large shareholders with a face with representation on the board. I am on the boards of these companies, because I am a leading shareholder.
In contrast, in the U.S., capital is normally managed by large institutional funds that are not long-term shareholders in their nature. In our business model, we don’t buy to sell; we can own stocks for 50 or 100 years. I am not saying that one system is better than the other, but it is simply the way we have developed.
What did you learn at Wharton and in America that still affects your life and business?
The most important lesson was realizing that your own country is not the center of the universe. The world is larger. Being engaged throughout the world, I have to recognize that people are different, that values are different. I learned that at Wharton, and it was hugely important. It taught me that I have to be out there in the world.
Many families have had wealth and influence which doesn’t endure. The impact of the Wallenberg family has grown.
In our case, it is straightforward. We are the fifth generation. The second generation, Knut Wallenberg, put all of our family’s wealth into a foundation where the assets are not owned by any individual — so no individual could take his or her share and go off and spend it. The bylaws of the foundation define the objective, which is to support Swedish research and education.
What are your thoughts on leadership?
- Stand up, and be a leader — take initiative.
- Set clear objectives and vision.
- Lead by example.
Which leaders have inspired you?
A leader I admire today is Angela Merkel — her achievements in times of challenge impress me. I admire both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who were instrumental in bringing communism down. Margaret Thatcher also finally got England to become a more modern market-oriented economy.
Jacob Wallenberg, W’80, WG’81
Jacob Wallenberg is the non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Investor AB, a lead shareholder of Nordic-based international companies. He is Vice-Chairman of SEB, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB. Mr. Wallenberg serves on the Boards of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, SAS AB – Scandinavian Airlines – (Vice Chairman), Ericsson AB (Vice Chairman), ABB Ltd and The Coca-Cola Company.
Mr. Wallenberg is Honorary Chairman of IBLAC, the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders Advisory Council, Vice-Chairman of SACCUS, the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce US and a member of ERT, the European Round Table of Industrialists. Mr. Wallenberg also serves on the Board of Stockholm School of Economics.
Born in Stockholm 1956, Mr. Wallenberg was educated at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics in 1980 and an MBA in 1981. Mr. Wallenberg attended the Royal Swedish Naval Academy and is today an Officer in the Royal Swedish Naval Reserve.