Hans Theobald Holm, 1933-1942

Holm – a man of action

Hans Theobald Holm, 1877-1964
President, 1933-1942

During a board of directors, meeting on September 16, 1932 a unanimous decision was taken to employ Hans Theobald Holm as president of Ericsson. As an engineer and technician, Holm had no experience of the telephone industry, but his ability to rationalize operations and strengthen organizations was well documented. This was needed at Ericsson, which at the time had severe financial problems as a result of the Kreuger crash.

It was Marcus Wallenberg as the owner of Stockholms Enskilda bank who had hand-picked Holm for the position of president. Without Holm, who had his "unconditional support," Wallenberg was neither willing to continue to serve on the board, nor was his bank willing to participate in Ericsson's continued reconstruction and financing. Johan Grönberg, who was president at the time, was simply forced to resign in favor of Hans Theobald Holm, who was then president of Bofors.

Holm applied himself energetically to his task and was regarded by many younger employees as authoritarian. Those who worked closely with Holm, however, considered that he cared for the employees and that he understood their problems.

During Holm's first year on the job, a new central sales organization was created, and business operations were subsequently rationalized. Ericsson's product portfolio at that time was varied for strategic reasons. Because of this assembly lines, which were popular in the 1930s, were not suitable. Instead production chains with designated stations were established in some areas of production. Unlike traditional assembly lines, however, Ericsson's production chains were not tempo-regulated. Instead, the workers controlled the tempo themselves.

By 1937, Holm had definitely guided Ericsson out of the crisis. All areas of operations were profitable, due in part to management's skill in solving problems and in part to improvements in global economic conditions in the late 1930s.

Although Holm had been persistent and at times heavy handed in implementing rationalization measures, morale among Ericsson employees improved. Ericsson had been transformed from financial uncertainty to a stable and secure company.

Increasing concern for personnel was also reflected in the construction of a new manufacturing plant at Midsommarkransen. Management wished to improve the working environment and to create a light, spacious and open workplace. Holm was also interested in art and wanted the company's premises to be esthetically pleasing.

Despite Holm's considerable experience in operations planning, miscalculations could not be avoided entirely. Ericsson quickly outgrew the facilities at Midsommarkransen, and portions of production had to be moved to Ulvsunda and Älvsjö.

As the final step in Holm's transformation of Ericsson, a radical re-organization of the company was implemented in conjunction with the move to Midsommarkransen in the summer of 1940. Each product unit would now take responsibility for its own sales and technical development, tasks that had previously been handled by central sales and development departments. Through the new organization, Ericsson was able combine the clear division of responsibilities of a small company with volume production in long series of a large company.

Many people were tired of re-organizations, and opinion was divided regarding the need for change. Holm, however, had an ability to unite divided opinions. The new organization was introduced and was retained within the company for many years. At the age of 65, Holm retired as president in October 1942. His work was finally finished. Efficiently and methodically, he had streamlined the company and led Ericsson out of its worst crisis ever.

Author: Katarina Reinius

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2 comments
  • My grandfather

    by Matthew Barton

    My grandfather worked for ericsson's for many. years and was a manager at the Beaston factory he died in.1939 just before the outbreak of the war. I would like to learn more about his work for the company.my father had to collect a silver tea service after his death for 25 years service. his name was Albert john Richard Barton.