What is it that unites 30 million children around the world? They have all been carried in baby carriers from Swedish company BabyBjörn.
The idea of developing products for young children actually came about by chance when BabyBjörn's founder, Björn Jakobson, travelled to the USA in the early 1960s as a young student. He came across a product there that he had never seen in Sweden. A kind of bouncy chair for babies. He took one home with him to try out on his nephew Nisse, for whom he often babysat. Nisse liked the bouncy chair. Björn Jakobson's spirit of enterprise told him that this would surely be a good product idea for the Swedish market. Production got going and after some initial problems the orders began to roll in.
BabyBjörn has now been around for just over 50 years. Many new products have been introduced and they are sold today in approximately 50 countries. 95 % of sales are exports. BabyBjörn's baby carrier is perhaps their best-known item. The idea behind it, as with all BabyBjörn products, was to consult with medical experts to determine and develop what was best and safest for a baby. With three young children of his own Björn Jakobson was inspired by paediatricians' new ideas about the importance of close physical contact between babies and their parents. The baby would be carried close to the body, while leaving the parent's hands free. The Jakobson family's fourth child served as a "test case" for the new product. The baby carrier was named Close to the Heart.
Today the carrier is an international success. Its design is constantly being refined and developed. "Development of our baby carrier will never be finished – it can always be improved on," says Björn Jakobson.
Black baby carrier – a new trend
The company's success is largely down to teamwork between husband and wife Björn and Lillemor Jakobson. Björn is the visionary, entrepreneur and business executive, while Lillemor is the textile expert and designer. She follows trends and colours within fashion and textile materials, and applies suitable elements to BabyBjörn's products. This was the case, for example, when Lillemor decided to produce the first black baby carrier. Perfect in combination with the increasingly popular trend for black clothing. Today black is still the best-selling colour throughout the world for the baby carrier.
Sometimes PR assistance comes from unexpected quarters. Like when superstar Madonna was unexpectedly photographed carrying her newborn baby in a BabyBjörn carrier. Success and new best-seller.
The product gallery from BabyBjörn now features everything from baby carriers to spoons, plates, bouncers, potties, travel cots and much more. The aim is to develop products to suit and simplify modern family life. Ideas begin with a prototype that is then tested successively by paediatricians, ergonomic experts and, of course, parents of young children. Good design, practical functionality and consideration for medical research in combination with demanding safety requirements are our guiding principles. The development process takes time. It took four years, for example, to create our baby plate.
Many of BabyBjörn's products incorporate Swedish values. Gender equality was an early concept in Swedish public debate. Pictures of fathers carrying their newborn baby in a baby carrier created a sensation on certain foreign markets where cultural and social outlooks on the role of husbands and fathers are not the same as in Sweden. The Swedish outlook on society can thus be spread across the world via products for young children.
No introduction to the stock exchange
Björn and Lillemor Jakobson have achieved success with their enterprise; BabyBjörn now has an annual turnover of almost SEK 400 million. The family still owns 99 % of the company. A number of years ago the possibility of launching BabyBjörn on the stock exchange was discussed, but the benefits were not considered to outweigh the drawbacks. Four members of the second generation are active owners and alternate on the board of directors, but have no operational function. The Family Business Network organisation enables Swedish and foreign family companies to meet up and discuss common problems and possibilities. Second and third generation members learn from one another, and family ownership is closely examined from a variety of perspectives.
A distinct interest in art, nature and aesthetics is another common trait among the Jakobson family. This is now a well-known fact, not least thanks to Björn Jakobson's vision of creating a cultural centre, Artipelag, at Hålludden, Värmdö. A Swedish version of Louisiana, the Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen in Denmark, Artipelag is an artistic magnet for Stockholm and Sweden. This is where some of the financial success from the Jakobson's life's work has been invested.
"But," says Björn Jakobson, "the most important thing is not to earn lots of money – the most important thing is to be together as a family. And we have had masses of fun together, more or less every day of our lives..."
From the magazine Företagsminnen published by Centre for Business History