Business: Electrolux Goes Home

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One thing that caught the attention of Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. at the Refrigeration Show in Manhattan in 1926 was an automatic ice box which had no moving parts, made no noise and worked by means of a little gas flame and a solution of ammonia and water. Solemn Mr. Sloan had a long talk with the tall, red-cheeked man who was standing beside this new refrigerator. Mr. Sloan liked the refrigerator but not its price. Six years later Mr. Sloan's Frigidaire Corp. was also making a refrigerator which chilled when heat was applied. . . .

The man who talked with Mr. Sloan at the Refrigerator Show was Axel Leonard Wenner-Gren, since the death of Ivar Kreuger Sweden's No. 1 tycoon. Mr. Wenner-Gren was not discouraged by his failure to sell his Elektrolux (spelled with a c in U. S.) refrigerator to Mr. Sloan. Mr. Wrenner-Gren eventually got his asking price when he sold to Servel, Inc. the U. S., Canadian and Cuban rights. Through this deal he became Servel's largest stockholder and later a director. After a series of reorganizations Servel emerged in 1928 as a $14,000,000 concern backed by the Brady interests. It makes gasoline engines, truck bodies, mechanical refrigerators in addition to Mr. Wenner-Gren's automatic ice boxes. Its refrigerator business has grown enormously but in that cutthroat field swelling volume brought no swelling profits.

Last week Servel directors asked their stockholders to approve a sale of 100,000 shares of stock to Mr. Wenner-Gren at $4.50 per share (the market price) together with a three-year option on another 100,000 shares at slightly higher prices. Mr. Wenner-Gren was to be made Servel's board chairman. Electrolux was apparently going home to Sweden. Wrote directors to Servel stockholders: "A point has been reached in the development of the corporation's business where the proposed arrangement with Mr. Wenner-Gren will be of great benefit. . . . In addition to the benefits to be derived from Mr. Wenner-Gren's closer connection . . . the proposed arrangement will strengthen its cash position." Observers thought the real reason for the deal was Mr. Wenner-Gren's impatience for some dividends on some 500,000 Servel shares he already owned.

Before he got out of school in his home town of Uddevalla, Axel Leonard Wenner-Gren had a shrewd eye for the main chance. Swedish legend relates how at the age of nine he developed a thriving business in baskets and ash trays woven from tin strips dumped outside herring canneries, how he organized his playmates to make and sell his product, how he thrashed them when their salesmanship was poor. Son of a Swedish count, he later worked in Gothenburg but, restless and energetic, went to Berlin to learn big business. Later, like Ivar Kreuger, he worked and traveled all over the world. Before the War he picked out vacuum cleaners as a likely product to distribute. But the War stopped his plans for an international selling organization. With capital of 120,000 kroner (about $32,000) A. B. Elektrolux was launched in 1919. Thereafter the rise of Axel Wenner-Gren was swift—even for a Swede. Vacuum cleaners were supplemented with household appliances and later with absorption-type refrigerators.* Today Elektrolux products are sold in nearly every country in the world, while the capitalization of A. B. Elektrolux has grown a thousand-fold to 120,000,000 kroner.

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