1980s: Major changes

In spring 1979, Bo Ax:son Johnson took over management of Nordstjernan. As time went on, control of the operations was divided so that Bo assumed responsibility for the foundation-owned Nordstjernan, and the Mining Engineer continued operations in A. Johnson & Co (now Axel Johnson AB), which had been wholly owned by him since 1961 after Bo had sold his 50 percent of the shares.

In 1982, Svenska Väg and Nya Asfalt were merged to form Johnson Construction Company (JCC). At around the same time, Nordstjernan sold JS Saba to the Swedish financier Erik Penser, although Nordstjernan retained ownership of the NK department store. A few years later, Saba was acquired by A. Johnson & Co.

At this point, Nordstjernan assumed responsibility for reaching an agreement in the Swedish alloy steel industry through Avesta’s acquisition of parts of Fagersta, Uddeholm and Sandvik in 1984. Despite these and other business dealings, Nordstjernan continued to grow rapidly and remained difficult to manage, and many of its businesses were struggling when it came to profitability. Following extensive strategy work, it was decided that significant structural changes were needed and that an external CEO would be brought in to implement this new plan.

Bernt Magnusson was selected, with experience from various companies including Swedish Match. He took over as CEO in the beginning of 1985. Nordstjernan was now being transformed from a conglomerate of operating companies in a wide range of industries into a diverse investment company combining wholly owned businesses with blocks of shares in listed companies. Some 180 of the 380 legal entities owned by Nordstjernan were sold in the ensuing years after Bernt Magnusson took over.

To ensure access to risk capital, Nordstjernan began to diversify its ownership base. Nordstjernan was split into two companies: Nordstjernan I and II. Nordstjernan I became the Parent Company of Nordstjernan II, where essentially all of the company’s operating assets were placed. The companies began to streamline their operations, focusing on shipping, engineering and construction operations. Nordstjernan II was listed on the stock exchange in 1988, with Nordstjernan I as its principal owner.

Avesta was listed in 1987 and later merged with a division of British Steel under the name Avesta Sheffield. The sale of the Group’s shares in Avesta Sheffield in 1994 marked the end of an era. In addition to Avesta, four other companies were listed on the stock exchange: Databolin (1987), NK (1987), Silja Line (1990) and Linjebuss (1992).


1990s: Focus on the construction industry

In the late 1980s, the Board of Nordstjernan II decided to focus on a single core operation – the construction industry. And the Group certainly had a long history to build on. Strå Kalkbruk was acquired in 1915, Nya Asfalt was formed in 1928 and Svenska Väg in 1930. In 1985, the construction industry accounted for 30 percent of Nordstjernan’s sales. Nordic Construction Company (NCC) was formed in 1988 through the merger of JCC and Armerad Betong Vägförbättringar (ABV).

Much of the capital freed up through the sale and listing of these companies was invested in the hottest industry of the 1980s – real estate. This marked the beginning of yet another turbulent period in the company’s history. In 1989, Nordstjernan II was merged with its largest subsidiary, NCC, under the name NCC. Nordstjernan I was under the leadership of veteran businessman Bertil Hansson. NCC faced significant pressure during the construction and property crisis of the early 1990s, but was able to achieve its goal of becoming one of the leading construction companies in the Nordic region thanks to the acquisition of SIAB in spring 1997.

At the general meeting of shareholders in 1997, Bo Ax:son Johnson left Nordstjernan’s Board of Directors after 50 years with the company. Following his death a month later, he was succeeded by his daughter Viveca Ax:son Johnson (born in 1963). Cousins Antonia Ax:son Johnson (born in 1943) and Viveca Ax:son Johnson now assumed responsibility for Nordstjernan. Johan Björkman (1944–2007), who also served as Chairman of Stenbeck company Invik and the Third Swedish Pension Insurance Fund, was elected to the Board of Nordstjernan along with Marcus Storch, former CEO of AGA. Johan Björkman was also appointed as Chairman of Nordstjernan.


2000s: Fresh start

In 1999, Nordstjernan’s new Board of Directors appoints Tomas Billing as CEO. He had previously served as CEO of the property company Hufvudstaden. Nordstjernan comprised a large block of shares in NCC, the building at Stureplan, a smaller building on Karlavägen, Engelsberg Ironworks and Avesta Manor. Tomas Billing prioritized two things: improving profitability in NCC and ensuring that Nordstjernan did not have all its eggs in one basket.

The strategy of the new Board of Directors and management continued to build on Nordstjernan’s industrial heritage and extensive experience of owning and developing companies. A new business concept was established: “Nordstjernan is an investment company that creates long-term value growth through active ownership of companies with head offices in the Nordic region.”

The first decade of the new millennium was mainly characterized by investments in medium-sized companies with growth potential. Over a ten-year period, Nordstjernan acquired KMT (machines for waterjet cutting and precision grinding), Exel Composites (carbon fiber and fiberglass products), Välinge (flooring systems), Ramirent (equipment hire), Active Biotech (biotechnology), GP Plastindustri/Rosti Group (plastic components), Sirius Machinery (tubefilling and feed equipment), Etac (products for mobility-impaired individuals), Salcomp (mobile phone chargers), Ekornes (furniture) and WinGroup/Sunparadise (glazing products).

During this time, Tomas Billing gradually built up his management team. Among other, Nordstjernan recruited Peter Hofvenstam, Angela Langemar Olsson, Mats Heiman, Nora F. Larssen and Lars Lindgren. Upon Johan Björkman’s death in 2007, he was succeeded as Nordstjernan’s Chairman by Viveca Ax:son Johnson.


2010s: Continuity and growth

In the 2010s, Nordstjernan continued along its established path, investing in both unlisted and listed companies with head offices in the Nordic region. The decade began with the acquisition of 20 percent of the shares in the kitchen manufacturer Nobia, making Nordstjernan the company’s largest shareholder.

Nordstjernan also carried out divestments, including the sale of Välinge in 2011, KMT in 2013 and nearly half of its holding in Salcomp in 2013. As part of its role as a long-term owner, Nordstjernan aims to sell its companies when more value can be created through other ownership constellations. Divestments also free up capital for new investments.

In conjunction with the stock market listing of the care company Attendo in 2015, Nordstjernan became one of its largest shareholders. Nordstjernan’s largest listed holding, NCC, was converted into two listed companies following the spin-off and listing of the Housing business area under the name Bonava in 2016. Nordstjernan also carried out more investments between 2012 and 2016, including Llentab (multifunctional steel buildings), Bygghemma (e-commerce within building products and home furnishing), Swedol (retailer of tools and workwear to the professional market), PMC Group/Dacke Industri (hydraulics solutions) and PriceRunner (independent price comparison site). Bygghemma was divested in 2016.

In 2015, Nordstjernan’s business area for share investments in listed and unlisted companies was supplemented by the formation of Nordstjernan Credit, headed by Thomas Naess. Nordstjernan Credit invests in higher-yielding corporate loans, bonds and preferred equity instruments.

At the 2016 Annual General Meeting, Antonia Ax:son Johnson stepped down from Nordstjernan’s Board of Directors after 34 years and was succeeded by her daughter Caroline Berg.

At the end of 2017, Nordstjernan acquired a majority of the shares in Lideta, which engages in primary care and occupational health care. Early in 2018, Lideta acquired Mama Mia, which provides maternity and child health care services, and acquired the Primary Care business area from Aleris a year later.

In 2018, Nordstjernan became by far the largest shareholder in Swedol through the acquisition of most of the shares held by Swedol’s second largest shareholder at the time, and thereafter made a public offer to Swedol’s shareholders. In addition, Nordstjernan became one of the largest stakeholders in the property company Diös in 2018–2019.

At Nordstjernan’s Annual General Meeting in May 2019, Tomas Billing stepped down from the position of CEO after 20 years. Peter Hofvenstam, who was Deputy CEO for nearly 20 years, took over as CEO.

In the summer of 2019, Nordstjernan’s wholly owned subsidiary Etac acquired 70 percent of the shares in the US company HoverTech International, a leading manufacturer of air-assisted patient handling technologies. The acquisition strengthens Etac’s global position as a supplier in the area of patient handling. The transaction is also in line with Nordstjernan’s ambition to build a stronger presence in health and medical care.

At the same time, during the last two years of the 2010s, Nordstjernan concentrated its ownership on larger, and slightly fewer, companies. This reduces complexity and frees up time that can be used to identify new investment candidates. In 2018, Nordstjernan sold its entire holding in furniture company Ekornes, after a decade as the company’s largest shareholder, by accepting the Chinese furniture company Qumei’s public offer for all of the shares in Ekornes.

One year later, Nordstjernan negotiated an offer for all of the shares in Ramirent from the French equipment leasing company Loxam, with a substantial premium. Nordstjernan, which has been the principal owner of Ramirent since the company acquired NCC’s spun-off equipment leasing company Altima in 2004, accepted the offer.

In 2019, Nordstjernan also divested its remaining holdings in Salcomp to Chinese company Lingyi iTech. The transaction was conducted jointly with the Sixth Swedish National Pension Fund, which was Salcomp’s other owner.