The Peddler Spirit Lives in the Sjuhärad Region Companies
'The Peddler Spirit – Driving Forces and Limitations' is the name of the recently finished interdisciplinary study of the development of the business sphere and public administration of the Sjuhärad region. It consists of almost 50 interviews with business leaders from around Borås, a region with a long standing tradition of business and good business ideas.
“The fact is that the Sjuhärad region is traditionally skilled in business, even in times when others aren't. That goes for the public sector too, making several countryside municipalities financially strong,” says Professor Björn Brorström who is one of the authors as well as an expert on public administration.
The other two authors who have probed the concept of the peddler spirit are Anders Edström, professor of business, specialising in entrepreneurship and regional business, and Margareta Oudhuis, senior lecturer and work life scientist, who in the report has been focusing mainly on the companies with foreign owners.
30th Anniversary Gift
The idea of an interdisciplinary study of the development of business and public administration in the Sjuhärad region has existed at the University for a while, but thanks to a 30th anniversary gift to the University from the Industry and Commerce Chamber in the Sjuhärad region, the idea was realised. The gift consisted of the opportunity to interview 30 business leaders in the Sjuhärad region.
“The offer suited us well, and through a management seminar we started realising the idea,” explains Björn Brorström.
But What Is So Special About The Peddler Spirit?
Action readiness, saving and being aware of expenses, living and working close to the business, solving problems and taking part are some of the descriptions that all three feel are part of the peddler spirit.
A favourite story often told, that well describes the business climate is the following; one of the major businessmen in the area said, during an interview in the 1960's, upon having learned that the applicant hade a high school diploma, that he wouldn't let that get in the way of things. Since the story is still frequently told, it is apparent that it has relevance, explains Björn Brorström.
That is, according to him, an approach that hasn't changed when it comes to relations with the University. Having an education simply hasn't been valued as highly as being able to do things in practice.
“In that aspect I see it as important that we, the University, are able to be convincing when stating that education too can mean development,” says Björn Brorström.
Hired experts and consultants are also looked at with some scepticism. There is an ideal that questions education and learning. In the action oriented company, experience based knowledge is held in higher regard than theory.
Business Spirit Promoted
A characteristic of the companies in the Sjuhärad region has been high legitimacy when it comes to conducting business. Borås is an entrepreneurial city and the Jante law isn't as prominent as in other parts of the country claimed one of the business leaders that was interviewed for the report. “Being successful is OK.”
“Doing business has high status and is important. In some circles, there is the ideal of taking over the family business or starting your own business based on your own idea,” explains Anders Edström.
He says that when you are in control of your business, you realise the importance of controlling your spending. Some of the interviewees say these are realisations that have emerged because of recessions and structural crises.
“The companies don't want government intervention, and at the same time that ideal of total independence has some drawbacks,” adds Björn Brorström. “There is reluctance when it comes to cooperating, and one doesn't tell the neighbouring company about a deal that might be of importance to them,” says Margareta Oudhuis, who believes that attitude is about to change.
The management philosophy that shines through in the report does not seem to have changed dramatically. Core values are simplicity, action orientation, cost awareness and customer pleasing. Sometimes it is necessary to fight habitual behaviour fostered in an environment dominated by production. Those who have taken over the family business have grown up with business at the kitchen table, and have spent a great deal of time working for the company before they take the reigns themselves. But the new generation may also have worked in other companies for periods of time, or have had education, which means that they haven't been involved in the family business directly. Through their experience from other environments, and by the fact that they are part of a younger generation, they have an influence on strategy and values in their own company. The Sjuhärad region is the recruitment base for almost all companies. A major employer approximated that 95 per cent of the staff lived within a 10 kilometer radius from Borås.
“At the same time, the geographical location of the Sjuhärad region is limiting. The proximity to Göteborg is an advantage at times, but the advantages are lessened by a poorly functioning infrastructure. A lot of major companies, like JC and MQ, have moved,” says Anders Edström.
The Global in the Local
Margareta Oudhuis says that 300 of the Sjuhärad region's companies have foreign owners, and around 12 000 employees. The trend toward greater internationalisation, i.e. foreign ownership, is powerful in the region, she concludes. In the study it has been of importance to her to see if the local aspects are visible on the global scene, and what it means to be owned by foreign investors.
“Standing on both the local and the global scene is both an opportunity and a threat. The negative aspects that have been mentioned are the greater centralisation among those companies, along with increased administration, which is viewed by the employees with frustration. Those companies also have a different form of leadership,” she explains. “Increased vulnerability in recessions is also something that is discussed in the report. Something we see a great deal of today,” continues Margareta Oudhuis, and adds that it would have been interesting doing interviews with foreign owned companies in the light of the financial crisis.
A Swedish core value, as described by business leaders with a foreign background, is the 'Swedish collectivism'.
“In Sweden there is an attitude where teamwork is praised.” Swedes also do not want to be judged or to judge others.
There is no avoiding noticing that the Sjuhärad region is special when reading the report. Traditions that go way back in time and a natural business acumen. The report has become popular outside the walls of the University, and the great demand forced a reprint almost immediately after the first edition came out.
“That is not usually the case when it comes to research reports, I guess,” concludes Björn Brorström. He also says that the next step is delving deeper into the material, allowing for another report on the business climate in the region.
Read the research report in BADA.
The Sjuhärad region
According to the report, the Sjuhärad region is a largely unknown concept to both locals and people from all over the country. Its geographical position and its boundaries are little known, and the level of identification among the citizenry is low. According to the National Encyclopedia, the Sjuhärad region is the seven ('sju' in Swedish) counties, a name for the region i the South of Västra Götaland, covering the Ås, Veden, Gäsen, Bolledbygd, Mark, Kind and Redväg counties. The region is known for its textile and garment industries among others; it is mentioned in written sources from the end of the 17th century.