By the time he was 10, Leif Johansson knew all there was to know about grinding bearing rings. His father, Lennart Johansson, worked at SKF for 50 years, working his way up from production to eventually becoming the company’s CEO. “My brother and I sometimes went to the workshop with him on Saturdays,” he recalls. “He was passionate about manufacturing and very inspiring.”
Lennart Johansson wanted his sons to get a good education – something he never had the opportunity to do. So when 14-year-old Leif announced that he wanted to play in a rock band, Lennart told him he could do anything he wanted as long as he came home with good grades in maths and sciences. “Now, at 65, I think it was a good idea,” Johansson says. “It saved the world from a bad guitarist.” Although Johansson continued to play the guitar, he became an engineer, and the rest is history.
I love going to work and meeting with talented people. I really enjoy being part of a broader group of people.
Johansson’s career took off like a flash. At just 27 he became the CEO of global outdoor products manufacturer Husqvarna’s motorcycle operations. He then went on to become CEO of former office products manufacturer Facit, appliances producer Electrolux and the Volvo Group. Today, he is chairman of telecom giant Ericsson and global science-led biopharmaceutical business Astra-Zeneca, a board member of automotive safety systems manufacturer Autoliv, chairman of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Science (IVA), a board member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) and adviser to the mayor of Beijing and the governor of China’s Jiangsu Province. And he still finds time to run his own small investment company. “You know the saying – if you want something done, ask a busy person,” he says. “I’m very focused, and I probably lead a very structured and disciplined life.”
Over the years Johansson has been awarded His Majesty the King’s Medal, the French Legion of Honour, honorary doctorates and more. That’s a lot of achievement for someone who says he never had a long-term career plan. “I’m slightly adventurous, and I haven’t refused much,” Johansson says. “If the company feels that I’m needed over there, I do that.” He has frequently wound up on Swedish lists of the country’s most powerful people, something Johansson says he doesn’t feel. He does however acknowledge a sense of responsibility that comes with power. “Companies should be serving the societies in which they are working,” he says. “If they don’t, they will fail in the longer term.”