Mats Rahmström, CEO & President of Atlas Copco
Interviewed by Peter Berlin
Atlas Copco is a global industrial group of companies headquartered in Nacka, Sweden. Its global reach spans about 180 countries. In 2017 the company (excluding the Epiroc spin-off) had approximately 34,000 employees worldwide. The group’s products are available in almost all industries, from the manufacturing of flat screens to the automotive industry as well as in hospitals and construction sites. Atlas Copco companies also develop, manufacture and service compressors, vacuum solutions and air treatment systems, construction equipment, power tools and assembly systems. In the following interview, Mats Rahmström offers an insight into the company’s activities and corporate culture.
Please tell us about your backgroundand your career path within the Atlas Copco group of companies.
I have worked with Atlas Copco for 30 years, starting in 1988. I didn’t think initially that I would stay for so long, but I have had the opportunity to constantly take on new roles and challenges in the company. And I must say that I hope that more people in the beginning of their careers will see the possibilities that working for a global company like Atlas Copco can open up. For example, I spent a couple of years in Canada which was a great experience. I have been the CEO & President for the group for almost two years.
Is Atlas Copco involved in any activities to protect the global climate or environment?
Yes, they are very much integrated in everything we do. We constantly deliver innovative products and services that help our customers save energy. We make sure that we maximize the positive impact while minimizing the negative footprint. One example is our variable speed drive (VSD) compressors. They only run at the required speed, which saves considerable amounts of energy. The average annual savings by VSD and VSD+ oil injected screw compressors sold in 2017 amount to the equivalent of around 600,000 tons of CO2, compared to using idling compressors. Taking Atlas Copco as a whole, all our manufacturing and transportation emits 400,000 tons of CO2. So just one innovation can have an enormous impact. We also try to use as much renewable energy as possible in our own factories. Today it stands at about 40 percent.
Has your company initiated any humanitarian programs?
We actively work to improve social conditions in the communities where we operate. Water for All was started by our employees in 1984 and is still run by Atlas Copco staff. Many of us in the company donate money on a monthly basis. Atlas Copco then contributes twice that amount, so every dollar donated becomes three dollars. Last year almost 400,000 people got access to fresh water through 55 different Water for All projects. It is quite amazing what that can lead to in terms of reduced infant mortality, or girls who can go to school instead of walking long distances in unsafe environments to get water. In Canada, the first Water for All project selected was in Pikangikum First Nation community, located 100 kilometers north of the town of Red Lake, Ontario. By June 2017, a total of CAD 25,000 had been raised through voluntary donations. I am very proud of the company’s engagement in these projects and what we have achieved.
The United States is the company's largest single market, followed by China. How does the current White House protectionist policy affect Atlas Copco?
We don’t see a large direct impact. Our setup is agile and there are things we could do, for example sourcing more from other countries. We mostly produce for the local market in both China and the US. I think it is important however to stress that we firmly believe that the world economy benefits from free trade.
Looking further afield, in which areas do you feel Sweden contributes the most, globally speaking?
I think it is quite impressive that Sweden has been able to produce so many globally successful companies – from Atlas Copco that has been around for 145 years to Ikea and Spotify which have more recently become household names all over the world. So I would say that innovation is an important contribution. It is certainly something we here at Atlas Copco focus a lot on.
How do you think the image of Sweden is evolving internationally, and particularly in North America?
I travel a lot all over the world. As a representative of a Swedish company, my experience is that the image of Sweden is positive. We enjoy much recognition for being progressive and innovative, as well as for having a long tradition of high technological competence.
How do you think Sweden has achieved the success it has despite being such a small country, population-wise?
To a large extent I believe we can thank our educational system for that. Free further education is one important factor that has led to a lot of talent and a skilled workforce being developed. Language skills is another one, since most Swedes begin to learn at least one foreign language at an early age. And speaking of protectionism, free trade has opened up the world, and that has given us opportunities to reach markets outside of our quite small domestic one. We have welcomed competence from other countries, which is important for a small country like Sweden. I also think that Swedes are seen as being pretty straightforward and trustworthy. That makes us easy to do business with.
What aspects of Swedish culture and lifestyle are you personally most passionate about promoting?
I think that Swedes generally are very good when it comes to team building and collaboration. I am very interested in sports, and we have quite a few examples of Swedish success in that field as a result of our belief in creating strong teams. This can also be found in the corporate world, and that is something I am very passionate about. Multi-cultural teams are more creative and achieve more through teamwork than each individual alone. In Sweden we also have a long tradition of women being part of the workforce. That is an important factor for bringing diversity to the workplace and ensures that we have access to the whole talent pool.
Your employees receive Swedish Press digitally. What has been the feedback among your non-Swedish employees? Would you recommend a similar distribution of the magazine to other international Swedish companies?
This magazine, by being fully dedicated to Swedish issues and stories, brings to light many characteristics and dimensions of Swedish culture. Atlas Copco’s organizational culture has embedded many of those Swedish cultural traits. From my colleagues in the United States and Canada I understand that Swedish Press is a valuable source of information. And, having had the experience of being an expat, I know it can be very nice to keep connected with your home country if you are living or working abroad.