Business for public benefit
Together with our owners, we combine the best of two worlds – a profit-generating business and a non-profit foundation for public benefit.
The Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundations
The Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundations were established in 1947 by Consul General Axel Ax:son Johnson (1876-1958) and his wife Margaret (1887-1966). Today, the foundations are Nordstjernan’s largest owners, with 99 percent of the voting rights and 86 percent of the capital in the company.
The primary objective of the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation for Public Benefit, which holds 85 percent of the capital and 5 percent of the voting rights in the company, is to support scientific research. Since 1999, the foundation has elected to support the humanities and social sciences.
The public benefit foundation’s Board of Directors consists of Viveca Ax:son Johnson (Chairman of the Board), Antonia Ax:son Johnson, Frances Broman, Kjell A Nordström and Sven Nyman.
The objective of the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation, which holds 2 percent of the capital and 95 percent of the voting rights in the company, is to serve as a long-term owner of Nordstjernan and support the descendants of Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson.
The Board of Directors consists of Caroline Berg (Chairman of the Board), Antonia Ax:son Johnson, Viveca Ax:son Johnson, Sven Nyman and Tomas Nicolin.
Public benefit over five generations
Nordstjernan manages and develops the industrial heritage begun by the Ax:son Johnson family in 1890. Over the years, Nordstjernan and its companies have continued to create value in each era by helping to best meet customer needs. This long-term company development improves the lives of customers and employees as well as society as a whole.
In terms of capital, Nordstjernan’s largest owner is a public benefit foundation with a perpetual time perspective – the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation for Public Benefit. This ownership form guarantees continuity and stability for Nordstjernan and its different investments. The Foundation creates systematic and long-term benefit by financing, producing and disseminating its own research and that of others, primarily in the humanities and social sciences. The Foundation’s activities are conducted in the belief that an open democratic society has superior opportunities to create free and dynamic societies over time.
Through good business acumen and active ownership, Nordstjernan creates competitive companies and strong, long-term value growth. Through the Foundation, information and development are promoted, largely by cultivating new knowledge and publishing research results. In this way, Nordstjernan and its owners combine the best of two worlds – a profit-generating business and a non-profit foundation. That is how public benefit has been created for five generations.
Nordstjernan’s community involvements
Engelsberg Ironworks was founded in 1681 and over time was developed into one of the world’s most modern ironworks. In 1916, Consul General Axel Ax:son Johnson (1876-1958) acquired Engelsberg Ironworks, and in 1917 he had a Lancashire forge built there for Avesta Jernverk’s production. This is the only ironworks in Sweden that features preserved buildings and a wide array of technical equipment. In 1993, Engelsberg Ironworks was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today, Engelsberg Ironworks is used for seminars arranged by Nordstjernan and the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation for Public Benefit. The ironworks, which is open to the public at certain times of the year, hosts gardening and archiving activities as well as a Scholars-in-Residence program, which gives researchers the opportunity to conduct their work in peace and quiet. The Engelsberg archive essentially contains all documents preserved from the companies owned by Nordstjernan and the Ax:son Johnson family. Nordstjernan owns and maintains the ironworks.
Nordstjernan is the largest shareholder of FPG Media AB, which publishes Sweden’s leading news magazine, Fokus, in print and digital form. The business concept of Fokus is to “explain, broaden and provide new perspectives for inquisitive people who wish to see beyond the daily headlines and gain a better understanding of Sweden and global issues.” Jon Åsberg is Editor-in-Chief and CEO. Johan Hakelius is Political Editor-in-Chief.
Center for Justice
Nordstjernan makes donations to the Centre for Justice (Centrum för rättvisa), which was formed in 2002 as an independent non-profit organization to defend the rights and freedoms of the individual. Since then, the Centre for Justice has established itself as Sweden’s leading organization in this area. Fredrik Bergman is CEO of the Centre. Tomas Nicolin, who is also a Board member of Nordstjernan, is Chairman of the Centre.
Nordstjernan donates funds for Karolinska Institute’s (KI) research to combat the COVID-19 virus. A donation from Nordstjernan enabled KI to develop a biorepository that made data available to combat the Covid pandemic, for example, by increasing knowledge about immunity and recovery.
Nordstjernan supports Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy. Our thoughts go out to the millions of people who are currently suffering and being attacked by Russian armed forces. Nordstjernan has donated SEK 5 million to the Ukrainian Red Cross, which organizes humanitarian aid on the ground in Ukraine.
Our history – entrepreneurship over generations
Nordstjernan’s founder, Axel Johnson (1844-1910), moved to Stockholm as a young man and started a company that imported coal and exported iron. He acquired a steamship and formed the Rederiaktiebolaget Nordstjernan shipping company on May 19, 1890. By the early 1900s, Nordstjernan had become one of Sweden’s leading shipping companies. The name Johnson Line is used abroad, which is why the flag still flown today as Nordstjernan’s symbol features a “J”.
Axel Ax:son Johnson, the “Consul General” (1876-1958), took over after his father’s death in 1910. In the early 1920s, Nordstjernan had the world’s first motorized, ocean-going fleet, and this edge over the competition enabled the company to draw up new routes, particularly the Pacific lines to the west coasts of North and South America through the Panama Canal. In 1924, the Consul General launched stainless steel production at Avesta Jernverk, and in 1928 he had Sweden’s first oil refinery built in Nynäshamn. In 1947, the Consul General, together with his wife, Margaret, donated 80 percent of the capital in Nordstjernan to a foundation for public benefit, mainly to promote science, and a small share of this capital to a family foundation.
In the 1950s, the shipping company continued its expansion. The Far East Line was established, and several new vessels were ordered. The Consul General’s oldest son, “the Mining Engineer,” Axel Ax:son Johnson, (1910-1988), returned to Sweden from the US in 1952 and gradually took over management of the Group, which at the time of the Consul General’s death in 1958, consisted of some 100 companies with a total of 22,000 employees. The computer company Datema was formed in 1964, and connections with the Soviet Union were deepened. Research laboratories were developed at Avesta, KMW and KaMeWa. Results from these laboratories led to new stainless steel qualities at Avesta, further development of the adjustable KaMeWa propeller and KMW’s paper and pulp equipment.
In 1979, the youngest son, Bo Ax:son Johnson (1917–1997), took over the management of Nordstjernan, and he implemented significant structural changes in the 1980s. Some 180 companies and legal entities were divested in subsequent years, and five companies were listed on the stock exchange: Avesta (1987), Databolin (1987), NK (1987), Silja Line (1990) and Linjebuss (1992). This streamlining created opportunities for investments in a core business, the construction sector, in which the Group had had interests for some time. In 1988, NCC was created through the merger of JCC and ABV, and NCC was listed on the stock exchange in 1991.
In 1997, the cousins Antonia Ax:son Johnson (born 1943) and Viveca Ax:son Johnson (born 1963) took over responsibility for Nordstjernan. Johan Björkman (1944–2007) was elected Chairman of Nordstjernan, and in 1999 Tomas Billing was appointed CEO. The business concept was formulated such that “Nordstjernan is an investment company that creates long-term value growth through active ownership of companies with head offices in the Nordic region.” Nordstjernan now had two priorities: improving NCC’s profitability and ensuring that Nordstjernan did not have all of its eggs in one basket. The first decade of the new millennium was characterized by investments primarily in companies with growth potential in mature industries. In 2007, Viveca Ax:son Johnson became Chairman of Nordstjernan. In 2018, three of Nordstjernan’s largest holdings were unlisted companies in various industries – Etac, Rosti and Dacke Industri. In 2016, Antonia Ax:son Johnson stepped down from Nordstjernan’s Board and was succeeded by her daughter, Caroline Berg (born 1968). In 2019, Peter Hofvenstam was appointed CEO.
Under the new CEO, Peter Hofvenstam, a strategy change was implemented, with a focus on actively building companies in attractive sectors. A new business area, Nordstjernan Growth, has been created for investments in rapidly expanding companies. Nordstjernan’s investment organization is divided into sectors, and a network of experienced industrial advisors is affiliated to each sector.