The Wallenberg family is sometimes referred to as the "Swedish Rockefellers." What began as a single Swedish bank, established in the 1850s by André Oscar Wallenberg, has become one of Europe's true family dynasties. Now run by two of André's great-great grandsons, Jacob and Peter, and their cousin, Marcus, the Wallenberg's industrial empire is behind most of Sweden's largest companies, including Ericsson, Electrolux, AstraZeneca, Atlas Copco, ABB and many others. Marcus Wallenberg recently sat down with The Globe and Mail in Toronto to talk about the family's interest in Canada, and to make a case for international trade, at a time when anti-globalization forces gain strength in North America and Europe alike.
What brings you to Canada?
A multitude of reasons. It's natural for us, my family, to come here and try to understand the landscape a bit more. Some of our companies have been in Canada for a long time and have sizable operations here. Some of them are heavily involved in research and development, like Ericsson, which took over parts of Nortel's operations, and have tried to really build on that. We had a chance to meet with them. We also have relationships with Canadian companies like Bombardier, and we've been catching up with them. And we have the chance to talk to some of your politicians.
Are you looking for potential investment opportunities here?
We already invested in one company called Laborie, a medical-technology company in Toronto. It's early days, but we're very happy with it. In part of our investment portfolio, we've decided to focus on wholly-owned companies where we focus on "buy to build" over a very long period. We need to learn what the possibilities are for us to be more active in Canada. We're very long-term owners, so it's a matter of getting to know people and understanding each other's agenda. But the pace of technological development we now see, in life sciences and high tech, opens up opportunities for reshaping product offerings without necessarily going out and buying new companies. Look at AstraZeneca, which is developing immunology treatments, and they participate with Canadian institutions. Ericsson is investing heavily in the 5G area – the next phase of communications. ABB is putting a lot of effort to move into electric vehicles and transport systems, and clean energy.
What is the appeal of the Canadian market?
I come from a country that, like Canada, is very dependent on foreign trade. For us to be able to maintain a healthy economy, it means we need to compete, and we need to innovate. We have a common agenda on innovation. It also seems timely, now with CETA [the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] coming through. That will encourage business between Europe and Canada. The chance to open up markets will be quite interesting.
How significant is CETA from your family's perspective?
My family has been involved with international trade questions for several generations. I've been involved in trying to promote the Doha Round for a long time, and we're big supporters of the WTO [World Trade Organization]. And if this agreement falls into place, it's going to be a major step forward.
Does the populist backlash to globalization and free trade concern you?
I happen to believe the global expansion, the increase of trade we saw since the Second World War with multilateral-trade agreements, has been beneficial for most of the world, despite the fact that it's now being criticized. Hundreds of millions of people have gotten better lives as part of this expansion. Since the global financial crisis, growth has been relatively limited, and jobs have disappeared, not only because of globalization, but because of a great technology shift. So the reaction is not strange. But there are ways to take care of the tough effects of globalization. I think globalization and trade will be an important contributor to global progress in the future, but it will have to be handled with care.
Has it been handled with care in Sweden?
Yes, I think so. People have had to move between professions, and we have very effective packages to help those people. But the immigration issue has been difficult. We've taken in many people from conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East in the last few years. It's been a major movement, and there's been a lot of debate in our country. At the same time, we've been fortunate to have strong economic growth throughout that period. That has helped balance it out.