Sweden and Brazil,
a long history

When the not unexpected but still very sad news came of the passing of legendary Brazilian football player – and my friend – Pelé, I was deeply touched.

We first met in 1996 when I, as Sweden’s newly appointed ambassador to Brazil, paid a courtesy call on Pelé, or Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was then Minister of Sports in President Fernando H. Cardoso’s cabinet. We met many more times and became good friends, a friendship that continued after he left office.

Pelé left a strong impression on me, as he did on everyone who met him. Not just because he was ranked as the world’s greatest footballer of all time – the only one to win three World Cups – but also for the warmth and charisma he radiated. After retiring his football shoes, he made outstanding contributions to Brazilian youth with great personal and active commitment.

Pelé was a great friend of Sweden ever since, at age 17, he won the World Cup final with Brazil at Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm in 1958. An unforgettable match for both countries, with Brazil winning

5–2 over Sweden and Pelé scoring two goals.

I mention Pelé in this context because in 2007 he happily posed as the cover boy of the Chamber of Commerce magazine, kicking a yellow-and-blue football, which I had found in a sports store in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a picture for all times!

When I arrived in 1996, as Sweden’s head of mission, one of the very first places I visited was São Paulo, often referred to as “Sweden’s second largest industrial city” after Gothenburg. Naturally, I quickly made my way to the Swedish-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, the hub for all Swedish business life in Brazil. Swedcham, as it also often called, was located then, as it is now, on one of São Paulo’s main thoroughfares and the city’s most elegant business street.

By then, the Chamber was already over 40 years old and some of its pioneers were still around. I want to mention two: Erik Svedelius and Per-Gunnar Kalborg. Both were successful businessmen, and both were pivotal in the founding of the Chamber. They took an active part in the Chamber’s activitie

Above: Christer Manhusen (right) and former
Minister of Finance Mailson da Nobrega, at a visit
to Swedcham. Right: Pelé graced the cover of
Swedcham’s magazine in 2006.

right up to an advanced age. Hearing them talk about their lives in Brazil during the war, when they had not been able to return home and only communicated sporadically with family and headquarters, was an amazing experience.

In the decades after World War II, a steady flow of Swedish companies established themselves in Brazil. The large Swedish international companies were of course already there, many having arrived even before World War I. Now, many small and medium-sized companies sought their fortune in the ”land of the future,” which Brazil is often called. Today, there are over 70,000 people employed by Swedish companies in Brazil. All these firms sought and received professional help from the Chamber for the very complicated process of setting up a company in Brazil. The know-how and contacts that the Chamber could offer in almost all domains were unparalleled.

During the over 20 years that my involvement in the Chamber of Commerce lasted, I took part in the Chamber’s growing operations, which stemmed

from an ever-increasing demand for the services that the Chamber offered. Growth was at times so rapid that the offices themselves had to be reconstructed and extended. An investment made possible by the fact that the Chamber stood on solid financial ground. Good finances were a constant guiding light.

There are many – and large – business projects to which the Chamber of Commerce has assisted with its know-how. I remember well the long and nerve-wracking negotiations regarding the sale of the Gripen fighter aircraft. During my six years at the embassy, the Gripen deal was the one that I devoted myself to the most – and enthusiastically so. Difficult negotiations, complicated politics, aggressive competitors – but in the end Sweden managed, against most odds, to secure the country’s largest industrial deal in modern times. So far, it has involved 36 Gripen aircraft – the result of a fantastic collaboration between government, industry, and authorities. Here, too, the Chamber of Commerce played an important role. Just recently, the Commander of

the Brazilian Air Force expressed an interest in an additional 30 Gripen aircraft.

During my time, and for many years before that, the Chamber of Commerce had a very good cooperation with the semi-state-owned Export Council in Stockholm (today’s Business Sweden), a collaboration that was mutually beneficial and functioned without friction. So when the decision came that the Export Council would open its own offices around the world, including in São Paulo, my and my board’s disappointment was great. The change had financial ramifications too. Could we as a Chamber survive the competition? On the board the sceptics were overruled, and we invested our saved capital along with our own energy and conviction into the Chamber. The Chamber not only survived but flourished!

I understand that what is today called “Team Sweden,” comprising the Chamber of Commerce, Business Sweden, the Embassy and the ConsulateGeneral work well and in harmony, and all strive towards the same goal, to support Swedish entrepreneurship in Brazil.

When HM Queen Silvia and her foundation World Childhood Foundation established themselves in Brazil 25 years ago, it was only natural that the Chamber of Commerce became a member. The Chamber has since then been involved in various ways in Childhood’s very important work to combat sexual exploitation of minors, especially girls and young women.

I take pride in Queen Silvia being the first – and only – honorary member of the Swedish-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. Ours is also the only Chamber of Commerce with the Queen as an honorary member. It was at a board meeting that my vice chairman Börje Jerner had a stroke of genius and came up with the idea. The entire board supported

Börje’s proposal, and I was asked to talk with the Queen. Not long afterwards, at a private meeting with both the King and Queen at Drottningholm Castle in Stockholm, I received the beautiful portrait of the Chamber’s first honorary member that today hangs in Swedcham’s offices.

When legendary Erik Svedelius and I first met, Erik was 87 and I was 55. The age difference did not prevent us from becoming close friends. For many years I visited Erik several times a week. When he passed away shortly after his 100th birthday, I unexpectedly received an inheritance. I quickly told my board, who received the news with some consternation. Had I, a Swedish government official, swindled the old gentleman? They were relieved when I put my inheritance from Erik on the table: a silver cigar snuffer, which I donated to the Chamber of Commerce, and four Hermès silk ties. I refused to part with these, though, and they still hold a place of honor among my ties.

In 2013, when the historic Råsunda Football Stadium in Stockholm was to be demolished, 55 years after the famed World Cup final, a proposal was made at a board meeting that the Chamber should contribute in various ways to “a celebration of the 1958 World Cup final.” When I questioned why the Chamber should take part in celebrating Sweden’s loss, a certain damper fell on the
meeting. I must admit my skepticism came
to shame, and there was a fantastic
event at Råsunda the day before the
demolition, with a match between
Sweden and Brazil, and with players
from both teams from 1958
present. Pelé himself

Swedcham is today located on Rua Oscar Freire in São
Paulo, the eight most luxurious street in the world and
second in the Americas behind 5th Avenue in New York.

Left: Erik Svedelius, by many called
“Mr Sweden in Brazil” for his life-
time of service in the country, takes
time off to sail with his brother

Right: In 2010, Nils Grafström (left)
took over as chair of Swedcham
from Christer Manhusen.

did the welcome kick-off, to the roar of the crowds – and the Brazilian team also won this time. Myself, I was placed on the distinguished guests’ podium with the Queen – a very special moment.

There are of course many people I would like to mention that I have come to know during my more than two decades working in Brazil and in the Chamber of Commerce. No one mentioned, no one forgotten – but let me make one exception, for my successor as chairman, Nils Grafström, head of Latin America for Stora Enso. At Swedcham, we were two peas in a pod, who inspired and spurred each other

to, together with dedicated board members and committed employees, confirm the Chamber’s role as a pillar for Swedish business life in Brazil.

All that remains for me now, as the Chamber prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, is to warmly congratulate Swedcham and wish continued success to my old friends Sergio Quiroga and Jonas Lindström, the Chamber’s chairman and managing director. On a personal note, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all who together with me have dedicated their time and efforts to the Swedish-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce in São Paulo.