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Preserving Family Legacy and Niche Focus: A Conversation with BIM Kemi’s Next Generation

BIM Kemi celebrated its 50-year milestone last year, a testament to the visionary initiative by its founder and still active owner, Peter Wållberg. Now, we are eager to gain insights from the second-generation owners regarding their perspective on the company’s path for the next half-century – and beyond. In this interview with Anna Wållberg Axelsson and Martin Wållberg, the second generation of owners at BIM Kemi, we delve into the unique dynamics of family businesses, the essence of BIM Kemi’s culture, and their vision for the future.

Preserving the BIM spirit and ensuring long-term ownership

For Anna and Martin, one of the most important parts as owners is preserving the BIM spirit and culture while ensuring its long-term sustainability. “As owners, we have the advantage of taking a longer-term perspective,” Martin explains. “We’re not confined by quarterly reports, allowing us to invest in research and development with a focus on future returns because we believe in a product or market. We can take tougher decisions because we believe in it in the long run.”

Anna cites the success story of Barriers, an application area that struggled initially but gained momentum over time due to their unwavering commitment to innovation. “We allocate significant resources to R&D—between 8-10%—which sets us apart,” she emphasises. “It’s about perseverance and belief in our products.”

“Running a family business comes with significant responsibility,“ Anna asserts. “Yet, there is a feeling that the company is another sibling – BIM has been a constant presence throughout our upbringing.”

Reflecting on this sentiment, Martin adds, “Indeed, with BIM’s founding dating back to 1973 and my birth in 1974, I’m emotionally involved in its journey. I think this connection is common among families who run businesses together.”

Anna Wållberg Axelsson and Martin Wållberg outside the BIM Kemi site in Stenkullen, Sweden.

Professionalising through the Family council

Anna and Martin emphasise that a key challenge within a family business is the need to prevent work-related matters from intruding on family gatherings, thus maintaining a clear boundary between professional and personal spheres. This realisation prompted the family to establish the BIM Family council at an early stage to enhance the professionalism of the company.

“We distinguish between ownership, board, operational, and family matters,” Martin explains. “It’s a forum for addressing long-term issues, from selecting auditors to acquisitions.” He continues, “We’ve developed a decision matrix that precisely outlines ownership, board, and operational issues. Our Family council meetings are conducted with formality; we have an appointed chairman, a secretary, maintain a clear agenda, and document minutes. It’s not merely informal discussions over coffee; rather, it’s a structured process involving action plans, follow-ups, and thorough deliberations.”

Anna recalls their early engagement attending the FBN, Family Business Network, training sessions highlighting their proactive approach. “We’ve been running the Family council since 1998, focusing on ownership requirements and policies,” she reflects. “It’s about ensuring continuity and alignment among generations.”

Empowering the next generation

As Martin chairs the Family council, one of their focus areas is to engage the third generation positively. “We want them to find it enjoyable and fulfilling,” Anna shares. “Education and autonomy are crucial—we don’t believe in nepotism.” Anna continues, “Our family policy states that prior to joining BIM, all owners must have worked 5 years outside the company and possess relevant education for their roles”.

Martin adds, “We’re cautious not to impose obligations on the third generation. Their involvement should be driven by passion, not compulsion.”

“They already hold a sense of pride in the company, and what Granddad has done and what we, as second generation owners, have continued”, states Anna.

The owner family from left: Gustav, Martin, Inger, Anna, Peter, Anton, Arvid and Elias (not present in photo).

Vision for the future

The family’s vision for BIM Kemi is one of global presence, innovation, and flexibility. “We want to remain a family-owned company, globally active with a focus on sustainability,” Anna affirms. “Our flexibility and focus on R&D give us a competitive edge. In markets where we don’t have direct representation, our aim is to continue cooperating with industry partners who share our philosophy.”

Martin emphasises BIM Kemi’s commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly solutions, which has been rooted in the company’s beginnings. “We want to be the best at what we do, delivering tailored solutions with a focus on sustainability,” he asserts. It’s not for nothing that we have green in our logo!” Anna adds, “We have a very positive and exciting future ahead of us, with many interesting product developments in the pipeline”.

Enjoying the journey

For Anna and Martin, the most enjoyable aspect of owning a family business lies in its unique BIM spirit/culture and strategic challenges. “There’s a great feeling to it,” Martin reflects. “I love working with business development and strategic issues. I also have my own company where I work a lot with this as our primary mission is to support startups with business and strategy development.”

Anna finds fulfilment in working with people and shaping the company’s culture. “It’s about finding the right energy givers who align with our values,” she explains. “Not everyone is suited to work in a family business. Working in HR, I can have a big influence on finding those positive individuals who are team-oriented, flexible, and have the right attitude.”

Nostalgic memories and growth

Reflecting on their upbringing, Anna reminisces about their involvement in BIM Kemi’s traditions, like the Lucia procession. “Nowadays, it’s our newly hired colleagues who conduct the Lucia procession, but back in the early days, it was us children who performed it every year”. Martin highlights the evolving nature of their relationship with the company over time. “As children, BIM was more of a competitor for Dad,” he recalls. “But now, it’s a source of pride and fun.”

“I also remember when we were going to take over the land here in Stenkullen. At that time, I didn’t think BIM was so fun, but when we came out here, there were horses walking around in the yard. And as I love horses – oh, do we get to keep the horses too? I asked Dad. But of course, they were not included,” Anna recalls with a hint of nostalgia.

Life beyond BIM Kemi

Outside of work, Martin enjoys the sea, football, and family time. Anna has a passion for horses, spending time with her family going skiing, and spending time on the sea. “We both have a dog,” they chuckle, underscoring a shared interest.

As Anna and Martin manage the legacy of BIM Kemi, their commitment to innovation, sustainability, and family values continues to drive the company forward, ensuring a bright future for generations to come.

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