Ericsson and China:
A Lasting Relationship

For over 125 years, Ericsson has been conducting business with China. The development of this relationship is described in the new book “Ericsson and China – A Lasting Relationship,” by Ericsson veterans Lars A Stålberg and Per-Olof Björk. They point to long-term commitment and local presence as important cornerstones. And the realization that a successful history is not a guarantee for continued success.

As early as 1892, Ericsson established contact with China, and two years later, the young telecommunications company delivered its first products to the Middle Kingdom. Ericsson’s relationship with China spans more than 125 years. Few other global companies – or nations – have such long-standing relationships with China, especially in an industry known for its rapid technological development and numerous corporate acquisitions.

Ericsson veterans Lars A Stålberg and Per-Olof Björk have worked with and in China for over 30 years. Drawing from their experience and research in Ericsson’s corporate archives, they wrote the book “Ericsson and China – A Lasting Relationship” (Business History Publishing, 2018).

“Since the mid-1990s, China has been one of Ericsson’s three largest markets, every year. It’s a fascinating market that I’ve had the privilege to work with since 1984,” says Per-Olof Björk. Per-Olof – or P-O as everyone calls him – identifies several factors behind Ericsson’s successes in China.

“Of course, you don’t get anywhere without a competitive product. That’s a given, no matter when in time you look. But then I believe Ericsson has had a more long-term view of its activities in China than most. We chose early on to engage locally and work closely with the market. We have complied with the rules and regulations that emerge without deviating from our values or long-term goals. By being extremely present in the local community, a relationship built on trust and confidence is created. This doesn’t mean Ericsson gets all the deals, far from it, but it means we are involved in important discussions at an early stage and are present when purchasing decisions are being discussed,” says P-O Björk.

Long experience and unique visual material

The idea for the book aros in talks between P-O and Ericsson’s former Head of Information, Lars Stålberg, who himself worked at the Swedish embassy in Beijing as early as 1979.

“P-O’s extensive experience, not too mention all his pictures, were a unique asset, which many old Ericsson colleagues reminded us. So, we began documenting this part of Ericsson history. At first, this was just a ‘retirement hobby project,'” says Lars Stålberg. Only when the story took a more organized form was it shown to some key people within Ericsson, who encouraged the authors to find a publisher to release the book.

“Now that the book is published, we hope it can be a source of inspiration for current and future Ericsson employees. We also believe that Chinese customers and partners can be impressed by the long historical relationship,” says Lars Stålberg.

“At the same time, the book is not a research project. We have brought forward a number of important events and building blocks that have contributed to 125 years of successful presence in China. Of course, there are many other important and significant events,” says P-O.

P-O himself began traveling to China in the early 1980s.

“My ‘Chinese life’ began late one evening in October 1984, when my boss Ingmar Nilsson, as usual, dropped by my room. He wondered if I wanted a challenge: to establish a China unit at Ericsson. I sat in front of a map of China and thought, ‘Where do I start?’ This was the start of working with China over the next few decades, including living in Beijing on two occasions,” says P-O.

So, what’s different today from before when it comes to doing business in China?

“A lot. It’s in many ways a completely different way that we negotiate today compared to just fifteen years ago. But if I were to highlight one example: the Negotiation Building, or Er Li Guo, no longer exists. But in the 1980s, that’s where all negotiations in Beijing took place between Chinese and foreign companies. Imagine, a specific building where all business negotiations would take place,” says P-O.

When P-O and Lars compiled stories and examples for the book, a number of building blocks emerged that partly explain how Ericsson has built its sustainable relationship with China. 

“Make sure to be locally present. Ensure frequent visits, between both parties, both in Sweden and China. Keep industry collaborations going; it’s a pure win-win. Be a knowledge mediator, always striving to provide added value to the customer. And remain engaged and involved in both society and business, even when you don’t secure the big deal you hoped for,” says P-O.

So, what is the most important message of the book?

“We want to highlight the importance of long-term commitment. At the same time, we actually want to emphasize that a successful history is not a guarantee of continued success. A company like Ericsson must earn the trust of customers and partners every day. Nonetheless, it should be a strength for current and future Ericsson employees to know that their daily efforts are made against the backdrop of a long and successful history,” concludes Lars.

About the book:
”Ericsson and China – A Lasting Relationship” (Förlaget Näringslivshistoria, 2018) by Per-Olof Björk and Lars A Stålberg, is available for purchase in Sweden whereever books are sold; or directly from us here.