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).