Interviewed by Peter Berlin
Per Lindberg heads Epiroc AB, a leading productivity partner for the mining and infrastructure industries. The company was founded in Stockholm, Sweden, and has customers in more than 150 countries. Per is known as a strong leader with a long track record of successfully developing companies in a competitive international environment. In our exclusive interview he describes his background and shares with us his thoughts on the company’s achievements today and in the future. He also offers his take on Sweden as seen from the inside and outside.
Please tell us about your background and your career path.
I am a mechanical engineer, graduated from Chalmers in Gothenburg. I also have Ph.D in Industrial Management from Chalmers.
At one point I had a plan to become a professor but never acted on it. Instead I decided to become a management consultant. I moved to Chicago, stayed there for 4 years, came back to Sweden in 2001, and was appointed CEO of Korsnäs, a company in the forestry business held 100 percent by the investment firm Kinnevik. I also became the Vice President of Kinnevik, prior to leaving Korsnäs and Kinnevik in 2005 to head up the pulp and paper producer Billerud. In 2012 we acquired Korsnäs, so as to form Billerud Korsnäs AB. Since I knew Korsnäs quite well, I figured that there would be a good synergy mix between the two companies. Then I joined Epiroc in February 2018.
Can you please summarize Epiroc’s product line and geographical reach?
We produce equipment and services for specific niches in the mining and infrastructure market. Our products essentially target hard rock applications. The background for that is that the mining industry in Sweden and Scandinavia is basically in hard rock, and over time we have been able to develop specific technologies for hard rock applications. We are talking about drills for drilling blast holes, as well as tools for surface and underground applications. Add to this underground loading and hauling equipment, along with equipment for exploration.
Geographically, we are widely spread across the globe. Our biggest markets are the US, Canada and Australia. We are also present in South America, notably Peru and Chile. Add to that Southern Africa including South Africa, Zambia and some of the surrounding countries. Our presence extends to Russia and China, and many more. We have 60 sales companies throughout the world, and we are selling in 150 countries.
What new technologies are of interest for your product line?
There is a very strong push for digital and automated equipment for mining as well as for infrastructure. The aim is to increase productivity, which has been somewhat lagging for several years. With digital technology and automation we can see a significant improvement. That is one trend. Another trend is battery development and applications for heavy vehicles, where our key partner is the Swedish company Northvolt [see Swedish Press, March 2018, page 10]. Other primary drivers are cost savings, sustainability, and improving the work environment by eliminating diesel fumes and using batteries instead.
Where will you be taking Epiroc next?
We have a leading position when it comes to our niches in mining and infrastructure. We want to grow the business to reinforce our position through digital and automation solutions, and also through development of battery technology for mining and infrastructure.
We also want to grow the company organically through technological development, and through acquisitions. The target is to grow the company by 8 percent per year on average.
Is Epiroc involved in any activities to protect the global climate and environment?
Sustainability is key on our agenda. We achieve it primarily by making our products more energy efficient. Using battery technology will improve the environment, but even with our conventional diesel machinery we have made improvements when it comes to the CO2 footprint. We are also addressing the matter of transportation. We have a major program to reduce its environmental impact by relying less on air freight of consumables and spare parts, and instead preferring sea freight.
In which areas do you feel Sweden contributes most globally?
One area where we clearly excel is in product development and innovation. If you look at the number of Swedish companies present globally, it is actually quite astonishing for such a small economy.
How do you think the image of Sweden is evolving internationally, and particularly in North America?
Sweden is seen as a positive or negative role model in North America, depending on which way the political wind is blowing. Some people believe our welfare system could serve as an example for North America, while others look upon Sweden’s social model as a cautionary example of things to avoid. In general, the image is probably more of solid people, solid culture, solid companies, solid engineering skills. The products coming out of our companies are thought of as having high quality. As far as companies go, I think we benefit from being Swedish, and that is certainly true for Epiroc.
In your view, how has Sweden achieved its technological and business success despite being such a small country, population-wise?
Precisely because we are so small. Firstly, it forces us to be international, and I think we have a culture of openness. Secondly, we find it easy to adapt to other cultures, on top of which we possess a very strong engineering culture and education. Thirdly, we possess a positive attitude to innovation and entrepreneurship. These three characteristics have made Swedish companies both successful, relatively innovative, and very international.
What aspects of Swedish culture and lifestyle are you personally most passionate about promoting?
Openness and honesty are key features of Swedish culture as well as companies. Also very low levels of corruption; people trust each other and our government. Our society is highly egalitarian. These are values I like to promote.
A typical scenario for a Swedish young person is finishing high school and then taking 3 – 6 months off to don a backpack and travel the world, thereby developing a perspective on other cultures and economies. This is important, because at that age a person is most impressionable.
Do your employees receive Swedish Press? If so, have you received any feedback from them?
Personally I have not received Swedish Press, but I know it is distributed to our national team in Canada. As far as I know, the feedback has been positive. For me, a publication like Swedish Press is quite important, because it really reinforces the Swedish heritage, which I think is valuable for both the company and its employees.