Our story begins at Christmas time. The year was 1943 and a young electrician, Bertil Svensson, had a brilliant idea for a Christmas gift for his mum. He bought an 18.6 mm light-gauge conduit, a bit of cord, a lamp holder and a mains plug from his employer. He asked a local carpenter to turn him a birchwood lamp foot, and found a 60 cm lampshade at the local department store. And then he sat down to assemble his very first light fixture.
The result, a floor lamp in the shape of a question mark, was a big hit, brightening his mother’s crafts room on long, dark winter days.
“Doing needlework by the light of a floor lamp was not very common in those days,” Bertil said. “I didn’t spend a lot of money making that lamp, and when I saw what similar ones cost in the shops, I got the idea that maybe I could make a living making lamps.”
“That was my whole idea. I had no thought at all about organisation, sales technique or distribution.”
That would soon change. In 1945, Bertil Svensson teamed up with two childhood friends from Fagerhult. Helmer Andersson was a clever designer and production technician at Husqvarna. Harald Ulfenborg was a furniture manufacturer under the Ulferts brand. Together they started Fagerhults Lampindustri in an outbuilding on Bertil’s family farm in Fagerhult.
Bertil’s inventiveness, Helmer’s technological genius and Harald’s contacts in the furniture industry became the foundation of a highly successful home lighting company. It was not an easy time. Europe lay in tatters after the Second World War and it was hard to obtain materials. But thanks to its neutrality policy, Sweden was in fairly good shape, and soon its industry was running at full tilt.
In the beginning, Fagerhult focused on the home market, which was fuelled by the new Swedish welfare model. By autumn 1947, the company had outgrown the outbuilding and it moved to a newly built 98 m² factory. Since then that factory has been renovated and expanded more than 40 times, now boasting 55.000 m².
From the very first lamp, Bertil focused on meeting a human need and solving a problem. Using new materials and solutions, he had found a way to create added value for the user and profitability in his own production. An innovative approach that came to shape Fagerhult’s future activities and became a part of the company’s DNA.
In 1948, Bertil discovered that there was a new light source – a fluorescent tube that produced a great amount of light at very low cost. Certain that this was the light solution of the future, he developed an entire collection of fluorescent-tube luminaires. A decade later, this paid off in Fagerhult’s first big prestigious order: 5.000 specially designed luminaires for the iconic functionalist National Tax Board building in Stockholm, “Skatteskrapan”. Fagerhult moved into the contract market, quickly becoming a key player in public interiors.
In the coming decades, the company grew steadily in the technical lighting field, although the focus remained on developing and manufacturing home lighting until well into the 1990s. By this time, Fagerhult’s signature traits of inquisitiveness and industriousness had resulted in several innovations that changed the lives of millions of people. The innovative plastic luminaire Fabian, of which more than 4 million were sold, and recessed downlights in the form of the popular Pleiad model, are just a few examples.
The courage to develop completely new luminaires based on relatively untested light sources is a shining trend throughout the years. When T5 fluorescent tubes were launched on the market, Fagerhult was one of the first companies to develop luminaires designed for the new light source. Fagerhult’s T5 luminaires combined the T5 light source, electronic controls and effective reflector materials that revolutionised the lighting industry and set a new standard for energy efficiency. When LED entered the scene 15 years later, the company followed the same path, generating as much light as possible, with no compromises.
The current head of development at Fagerhult, Leif Norrby, has been a part of the journey since 1978. He states that this uncompromising drive to offer the most benefit for users is still the defining characteristic of Fagerhult luminaires:
“Delivering superior energy efficiency without compromising on glare reduction and visual comfort is our trademark. Working closely with leading research institutes has given us an advantage in developing proactive solutions – lights that make people happier, more alert and more active. Our sustainability concept doesn’t just cover energy conservation, environmental impact and working conditions; it embraces the entire human context.”
In 1969, Bertil – who had been the company’s CEO since 1949 – was invited to take over all shares in the company. This was the beginning of an international expansion that occurred both organically and through acquisitions. In the coming decade, Fagerhult established sales offices in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. It also bought out its Swedish competitor Ateljé Lyktan. In 1984, Bertil left the office of CEO.
A few years later, Fagerhult was acquired by the Swedish Almedahl Group. In 1993 it was time for the next acquisition, when the investment company Latour, under the leadership of the Douglas family, took over all shares in the corporate group. Latour gave Fagerhult another long-term and committed owner – and the Douglas family have remained a major owner even after Fagerhult’s introduction to the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 1997. Not long after that, Fagerhult established offices in the UK and the group for the first time surpassed SEK 1 billion in sales.
The turn of the millennium kicked off a rapid expansion, and in 2005 Fagerhult opened its big production facility in Suzhou in China. Through several aggressive acquisitions, Fagerhult became one of the big names in the European lighting industry, not just in terms of technical development, but also in market share. Thanks to the Finnish company, Fagerhult began making inroads in the Russian market, alongside establishments and acquisitions in Central and Eastern Europe. Among the biggest acquisitions were Whitecroft Lighting in the UK, Project Lighting in Ireland, Waco in Belgium and Eagle Lighting in Australia. Two other interesting acquisitions – LampGustaf in Sweden with its subsidiary Elenco and LTS in Germany – came to be the cornerstones of Fagerhult’s extensive focus on shop lighting and outdoor lighting. The operations were divided into three business units with their own manufacturing and development: Fagerhult Professional, Fagerhult Retail and Fagerhult Outdoor.
In September 2006, Bertil Svensson received an honorary doctorate at Jönköping University for his “distinguished life’s work as a national pioneer, entrepreneur and leading businessman in the lighting industry… and for important support to education and research in the lighting field”. Through the “Bertil & Britt Svensson Foundation for Lighting Technology” he supported new Swedish education in lighting technology, which would form the basis of the Lighting Academy. Just a few months later, in November, Bertil left this world at the age of 86. That same year, the Fagerhult Group surpassed sales of SEK 2 billion.
In 2015, what had started out 70 years earlier as a three-man company with sales amounting to SEK 13.000 had become a world-wide company with 2400 employees and sales approaching SEK 4 billion. All thanks to Bertil, his mother Elisabeth and her needlework basket.