It is a sunny day in June 1906, exactly 110 years ago. Henry Campbell-Bannerman of the Liberal party is Prime Minister. Women are yet to get the vote (1919 in Sweden and 1928 in the UK) and it is 8 years until the first gun is fired in the Great War (WWI to you and me).
A group of prominent Swedish and English businessmen with heavy beards and wool suits, from a number of large Swedish companies, decide to sit down at the Great Eastern Hotel in London to discuss the future of Anglo-Swedish trade. Commerce between the two countries is increasingly positive and it has been decided to come together to discuss the emergence of an organisation to integrate and further Swedish companies in the UK.
After hours of discussion, the men agreed upon a Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK, the 10th foreign Chamber in the UK. Later that year, on 14 November, the Chamber was officially formed, with a budget of £600 (equivalent to £65,000 today). The driving force behind the Chamber was Fred Löwenadler who managed to secure the first year budget by asking the founding members to each sign a £20 pound guarantee. It was decided to set the Members’ fee at £2 per annum.
Among the eight founding companies, SEB, Nordea and Ericsson are still, after 110 years, active Members of the SCC. Sir Roger Gifford, SEB UK Country Head, tells the LINK that the UK was a very important market for both Sweden and SEB 110 years ago, and still is, which the long relationship indicates.
“I believe the SCC is important for Swedish companies to belong to. Sometimes the benefits are obvious, especially for newer and smaller companies here in the UK, sometimes they are more long-term, and can involve ‘giving-back’ as well as ‘taking out’,” he tells The LINK.
From Timber to Technology
At the inception in 1906, 33 Members joined the SCC and with an accelerating growth, the SCC had reached 189 Member companies by the end of 1907, still the record percentage growth year to date.
In the beginning of the 19th century, timber and paper were by far the most essential imports for the UK from Sweden, which led to a majority of the Member companies trading in those industries. As a result of the industrial revolution, focus was switching from trading raw material such as timber, iron and grain to finished products like paper, matches and tools, which enabled a growing international trade. 1906 marks the beginning of an important century of innovation starting with the invention of industrial bearings, the foundation of the Swedish company SKF, still world leading in the industry.
Today Sweden is a global forerunner in technology development, producing pioneering companies expanding globally. Although financial services are still the largest industry representing 10% of the membership base, tech is the fastest growing one.
Mats Forsberg, one of the founders of Urb-it, a SCC Member company within tech, explains the importance of the SCC for innovative tech companies expanding to the UK.
“The network and knowledge provided by the SCC for the UK are central for our establishment in a new market. We access an important network of potential partners and clients through our membership with the SCC, which is vital for a startup within the fast-growing tech-industry.” Forsberg tells the LINK.
Celebrations today and in yesteryear
In 1910 the first Annual Dinner was hosted at the spectacular Savoy Hotel, accommodating company leaders operating in London. This Annual Dinner was the first official dinner in the name of Anglo-Swedish trade relations. In a toast Mr. Axel Welin, Vice-President of the Chamber, praised the lack of British bureaucracy, amazingly saved all these years;
“Anyone who goes about the world know and feels when he comes to these islands that there is a greater margin of safety here, with less fuss and inter-meddling by officials, than anywhere else in the world.”
After an eventful century, the SCC and the Savoy Hotel still have a great relationship, evidence of which can last be seen from the grand affair at the annual Walpurgis Ball on 8 April (pictures found in LINK Magazine on page 46-47).
Sir Roger Gifford points out the importance of the SCC as a facilitator of trade and of investment into the UK through the various networking opportunities facilitated by the SCC.
“SEB also derives benefit from being part of the SCC through business events and the many seminars and talks that are held.”
What the next 110 years will entail is yet to be discovered, but we are definitely going to experience interesting times going forward, hopefully with a continuous growing diverse membership base, continuing to connect Swedish companies in the UK in the best possible way.