A world-class engineer

"Sweden's best engineer" was what Björn Svedberg, previously president of Ericsson, called the first AXE project manager Bengt-Gunnar Magnusson (1925-1995), commonly known as B-G. Svedberg was undoubtedly thinking of B-G's ability to solve the most varying practical problems, including putting together the bicycles that he loved to pedal - and equipping them with new technology, of course.

New technology, newer than new and world-class, was one of B-G's passions. As a student at the Royal Institute of Technology in the 1940s, he was already experimenting with mobile telephony or, more accurately, mobile radio, sometimes in defiance of regulations. He was recruited to Televerket, the Swedish PTT in 1958 from the Swedish computer industry of that time. He participated in the design of no less than seven computers. Initially, telecommunications engineers viewed him suspiciously, since he was a "computer guy" Among computer professionals, where he represented hardware rather than software, he was viewed with equal skepticism.

With an ability to combine theory, technical design, testing and practical construction, B-G could overcome most of these cultural differences. An important factor in the success of AXE was in fact the combination of different approaches and technical disciplines.

The most important factor, however, was undoubtedly B-G's ambition, He wanted to be the best! He was demanding, particularly of himself. Even in arm wrestling, he wanted to win. He was also a source of inspiration through his will and ability to look to the future and his determination to always remain at the leading edge of technology. Everything was not invented at home, and many of the best experts in the world were recognized as such and saw their ideas realized through the talent scouts that B-G sent out.

B-G instilled trust, because the impossible could be accomplished, despite a tight budget and an even tighter time plan. He created confidence internally by being unbendingly loyal to his project and what he believed in, even when it meant fierce confrontations with the boss, with the customer and with Ericsson.

Being demanding of one's self can exact a high price. Protecting the project meant acting himself as a shield against criticism and doubt. The company that he worked for, Ellemtel, had also been created for the sole purpose of developing AXE. In the end, the demands became too exacting and the pressure too high. The manic desire to press on that had characterized B-G since the start of the project in 1970, was replaced during the winter and spring of 1976 by deep depression. "I've taken on too much. It's never going to work." B-G, the Herculean cyclist and arm wrestler, collapsed and was put in a mental hospital. He refused to eat, caught pneumonia and was close to dying.

After that, he had to learn to live again. And when he not only learned to swim again, but surprised other patients in the hospital by sketching designs for four-channel amplifiers with phase-reversing filters, well, he was on his way back. In the autumn of 1977, nine months after returning to work, he designed a digital circuit for the interface between the subscriber line and the switch. Impossible to produce, according to all circuit manufacturers but one, who finally succeeded in producing the circuit nearly ten years later in the late 1980s.

B-G Magnusson would not have been B-G if he did not try to learn from his own bitter experience. Even before his collapse, he had found his successor as project manager. According to his logic, it was essential in a large project to plan in advance for passing on the baton. "I was good in the conceptual phase," was his conclusion. That's when the system architecture is defined. When it comes time to realize it, to make sure that deadlines are met and that all the details fall into place, another type of person is required who is more organized and structured. Then a third runner should take over when the technical system goes out into industrial production.

Author: Bengt-Arne Vedin

Contribute to this story