Holger Crafoord was born in Stockholm in 1908. He went to school there and later studied at the Stockholm School of Economics. After graduation, Holger was hired by Ruben Rausing and brought him to Lund, the city to which he remained loyal for the rest of his life. His work had a fundamental influence on Lund’s industrial success.
Alf Erik Holger Lundquist was born in 1908 in Stockholm, Sweden. His parents’ marriage was short-lived, and their only child, Holger, grew up with his mother Hanna. She came from a little farm in the village of Ödestugu in the province of Småland and later opened a grocer’s shop in the city. Holger was brought up in a loving home, although not in the most materially comfortable circumstances.
His mother put great effort into running the grocery business, and was firmly determined to help her son obtain a good education. After taking his school certificate at the Östra Real upper secondary school in 1927, Holger enrolled at the Stockholm School of Economics. Business and economics had been a part of the young man’s life since early childhood.
Economics and business had been part of the young man’s everyday life since childhood
While studying at the Stockholm School of Economics, Holger Crafoord was ’discovered’ by the Scanish industrialist Ruben Rausing. In 1930, aged 22 and described as the best student in the School, Holger was recruited by the packaging company, Åkerlund & Rausing. He thereby became a resident of the city of Lund, and remained so for the rest of his life.
In 1935, Holger married Anna-Greta Löfdal from Helsingborg and the couple had three daughters: Birgitta, Katarina and Margareta.
Towards the end of his life, Holger Crafoord suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. When he died on May 21st 1982, Lund lost one of the greatest figures in the city’s history.
When Holger Crafoord joined the staff of Åkerlund & Rausing (ÅR), he began the longstanding relationship with Ruben Rausing that was to turn ÅR into a leading European packaging company and lead to the creation of Tetra Pak.
As early as 1939, at the age of 31, Holger Crafoord was appointed deputy CEO of ÅR. The post of CEO became his a few years later. As CEO, he acquired a 25% share in ÅR. His big personality, all-round knowledge and experience, ability to make decisions, and his willingness to take responsibility – all combined with an unprejudiced and unconventional approach to problems – were qualities that made Holger Crafoord an outstanding business leader.
During the post-war years, grocery sales were increasingly based on self-service, resulting in a growing need for packaged goods.
These years also saw the birth, in ÅR’s laboratories, of the concept that would become Tetra Pak.
The project was a real uphill battle for many years, before a breakthrough became discernable in the mid-1950s.
The financing of the tetrahedron project put a burden on ÅR, and Holger Crafoord’s key task was to calm the lenders’ concerns and secure funding. For many years, Holger Crafoord was also deputy CEO of Tetra Pak and had a large shareholding.
In 1965, Rausing and Crafoord decided to dispose of their ÅR holding. Holger Crafoord successfully negotiated the sale of ÅR to Svenska Tändsticksaktiebolaget. He was also appointed a member of the board of this company and later became its vice chairman.
Holger Crafoord had another project that would now require his full commitment, Gambro
At a time when most people would have chosen to retire – Rausing was then 70 and Holger Crafoord 57 – Rausing decided to concentrate exclusively on Tetra Pak. Meanwhile, Holger Crafoord had another project of his own that would now demand his full attention, Gambro.
At a dinner, he had happened to discuss renal failure with professor of urology Nils Alwall and learnt that the illness could be combated if resources could be made available for dialysis, i.e. artificial blood-purification.
This in turn required that a functioning disposable filter, an “artificial kidney” could be used. At that time, chronic renal failure could only be treated for a short time.
Holger Crafoord committed himself to the project immediately. He funded the extremely risky development work with his own money, and five years later the first disposable kidney was ready to be used on a patient. 1968 saw the introduction of the dialyzer, the filter, on a wide scale in Europe. During the 1970s, production plants in Germany, the USA, Italy and Japan were built in rapid succession. A complete dialyzer plant was also sold for production under licence in what was then the Soviet Union.
At the same time, the marketing organization was rapidly expanded. Sales companies were established in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA, France, Italy, Canada and Belgium and more would follow.
It was not only a matter of making a dialysis filter that was cost-effective; dialysis treatment also required advanced monitoring equipment. Gambro developed such equipment, too, and became an extremely fast-growing, cutting-edge hi-tech company. Meanwhile, new products were developed in other medical disciplines and Holger Crafoord was equally interested in all of them.
In the spring of 1977, Gambro presented financial figures that showed excellent profitability and really caught the attention of the business world. In the magazine Affärsvärlden’s annual profitability list of 1976, Gambro occupied first place, with more than 30% return on capital employed.
Holger Crafoord died in 1982, but Gambro lived on. In 1983, the company was introduced onto the Stockholm Stock Exchange with an initial public offering that was one of the most over-subscribed in the history of the Swedish exchange. At the same time, there was clearly a need for a new principal owner, and Malmö’s Sonesson group stepped in to become a major share holder. The Crafoord family and the Foundation still retained a controlling share.
The original Sonesson holding passed via Volvo to Investment AB Cardo, which was bought up by Incentive AB in 1994. The following year, Incentive made a bid for all the outstanding Gambro shares and both the family and the Crafoord Foundation disposed of their shares. This finally ended the Crafoord family’s and the foundation’s financial interest in Gambro.
”Blest are those whose blood and judgement are so well commingled”
Shakespeare’s line, “Blest are those whose blood and judgement are so well commingled” could well be applied to Holger Crafoord. He spoke often from the heart and expressed himself generously. For many years, he played the part of a true philanthropist.
Lots of institutions, particularly in Lund, received significant donations, of which the Crafoord Foundation is a prime example. By 2022, the initial nominal donation to the foundation of SEK 3 million (made in 1980) had grown to be worth SEK 4,4 billion. To date, the foundation has donated over SEK 2,1 billion for scientific research as well as for children and young people, the disabled, people in need and for cultural and sporting purposes.
According to the donor’s wishes, the main aim of the Foundation is to support scientific research and education. No priority is given to any particular scientific discipline, but fields such as medicine, natural sciences and technology, which tend to have high materials costs, have naturally often weighed heavy in terms of the sums of money allocated. However, the foundation’s biggest single commitment is in the social sciences: the Holger Crafoord Centre in the School of Economics and Management at Lund University was built between 1984 and 1997 with the aid of SEK 87 million from the Foundation.
Larger donations made by the foundation over the years include the Language and Literature centre which received SEK 40 million, the rebuilding of Lund’s Cultural Museum, which received SEK 20 million, and contributions to several professorships at Lund University. Each year, the foundation makes a contribution to the Royal Academy of Science, in addition to the Crafoord prize.
Another example of a recipient institution is Locus Medicus Lundensis, which manages the property in Lund that was Holger Crafoord’s private residence for many years.
When Holger Crafoord moved out of his house in Tunavägen, he donated it to a newly formed foundation for the purpose and charged with owning and running the building as a retreat for the Lund-Malmö Medical Society and the Medical Society at Lund University.
The Society for Cultural History in Lund also benefited from Holger Crafoord’s personal generosity. The eulogy by the Museum of Cultural History’s board on the occasion of his passing is worth quoting here:
There are numerous other examples of Crafoord’s generosity.
The most extensive is Anna-Greta and Holger Crafoord’s Endowment, which was donated to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1980 for contributions in mathematics, astronomy, geosciences (particularly ecology) and biosciences. The Crafoord Prize may also be awarded to someone who has made outstanding contributions in rheumatology. The Crafoord Prize of SEK 6 million is awarded annually to international researchers and, since the disciplines are chosen so as to complement the Nobel Prizes, the Crafoord Prize has come to enjoy an excellent reputation among the global scientific community. The Prize is awarded in person by the King of Sweden.
But human consideration need not involve large sums of money. In Holger Crafoord’s obituary, an employee at Gambro described how, “he was always good and generous towards the staff”.
“We could send our bowling bill straight to him, and there was never any stinginess.” Throughout his working life, Holger Crafoord was accessible to everyone who wished to come into direct contact with him. He remained a completely ordinary person.
Holger Crafoord was appreciated in broad circles and his CV illustrates his versatility. Over the years, many organizations benefited from his exceptional knowledge and experience: the savings bank, employers’ organizations, chambers of commerce, boards of companies, etc.
Two streets have been named after him: Holger-Crafoord-Strasse in Hochheim am Main and in Hechingen in Germany. The list of his merit badges is long, ending with the Illis Quorum medal of the twelfth class, posthumously awarded by the Swedish Government.
Holger Crafoord was one of Sweden’s great business builders, in the service of the community.