From cream puffs to real estate – an odyssey through 40 years of entrepreneurship

Olof Andersson. Foto: Info Express

Olof Andersson started off with two empty pockets and never went to High school. Now he is the CEO of the Real estate company Trianon, which owns real estates for SEK 5.5 billions. 

The key to Olof Andersson’s success could be summarized in entrepreneurship, business mind, work moral and, as he expresses it himself, “to see the gaps”. If this is something congenital or acquired is of course impossible to know, but his sense for business was evident early on. When he was 12 or 13 he got a job with a cream puff salesman to sell cream puffs in his neighbourhood. He got SEK 2:50 for each box sold and he thought that way too little. So he contacted the producer and started buying boxes directly from them. In that way he now earned SEK 19 per box instead and could hire friends and double their salary.

He had to stop this after a few years as his parents gave him “vast sanctions” because of his schoolwork being neglected. At that time he had also started working selling fruit and vegetables at Möllevångstorget for an elderly couple. And when he, 15 years old, was offered to take over the business and hire the elderly woman, school again suffered.

He attended high school for three months, but had to quit as his business had grown. He now didn’t only sell fruit and vegetables at the market. He was now also a wholesaler, delivering his goods with a moped.

“Looking back I see, not what I regret, but that it was a mistake not to finish school”, he says with half a smile. “I would never tell my children not to study.”

“I often say I have the world’s most expensive education, as I have paid for all my mistakes. I could have learned to avoid them in school. Not even the money I earned during these three extra years can cover the loss,” he claims with a twinkle.

During those years and many to come, Olof worked between 70 and 90 hours a week, despite the fact that he didn’t earn that much. He had his goals and a plan he stuck to. “You need a good business idea and a good business plan to stick with,” he smiles. “However this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change direction when something turns up. Entrepreneurship is mainly about seeing the opportunities and using gaps and shortcuts.” The fact that he missed out on a lot of youth things, due to his many working hours, is nothing he regrets. He did what he wanted to and enjoyed the most. And nowadays he “only” works 60 hours a week and even allows himself a vacation, although vacation to Olof Andersson means he works one day a week.

The change of businesses was mainly due to this. He pictured himself being able to work a lot less in the real estate business than he had so far. He shortened his working hours a little, but it was far from as much as he had pictured. “There is a lot of work in the real estate business too,” he says. The writer of this article, however, wonders whether that is the whole truth. If you have worked around 80 hours a week since you were 15, maybe longer, you probably, after all, don’t want to only work at the end of the months, collecting rent.

Before changing branch, though, he built up an impressive company within the fruit- and vegetable market, which, when he sold it 2002, had a turnover of SEK 400 millions and employed over 40 people.

The wholesale business was gradually extended and after some years it took over and he had to let the market stalls go. After a while he employed around fifteen people and the business continued to grow. You see, he had had found that gap. 1994 he bought Sydgrönt and merged it with his O.A. Frukt. And already before that, he had started buying directly from the producers and selling it to the big chains. The actors who earlier, more or less, had had monopoly on that kind of businesses, as e.g. Mäster Grön, had gone bankruptcy, and Olof saw the opportunity. When he sold the business and left fruit and vegetables his company was the leading one within that sector, with contracts with many big producers for whom he handled marketing, logistics and sales.

When he had sold Sydgrönt he had money to work with, and then he started buying property. First he bought the Burger King building at Gustav Adolfs Torg, and then some estates in the outskirts of Malmo. 2006 he bought Trianon with a goal to double the capital. He really succeeded in that. When he took over, Trianon had a housing stock worth SEK 200 millions, spread all over Scania. 2010 the stock was concentrated to Malmo and worth SEK 375 millions. At that point the company merged with Jan Barchan’s company which then was worth 250 millions. At the same time Mats Cederholm became Chairman of the board. The three of them now own the company together. Olof has 47.4 % of the bonds, Jan Barchan 47 % and Mats Cederholm a little over 5 %.

The merge resulted in new resources to develop the company further, and since then they have closed some really big deals, e.g. Vårsången at Lindängen, and today the company has 2200 apartments, 45 employees and, as said, a housing stock worth SEK 5,5 billions. Since 2017 the company is also listed. And now they build new housings in e.g. Oxie, Sege Park, Hyllie and Celsiusgatan. I wonder if the 12-year-old cream bun salesman could have imagined that.

 

You should be able to afford living with us

“Today a lot of residences are built in Malmo. Most of them, however, are built for those with the big wallets. We build for the ones without big incomes. We simply count backwards. We start off with the salary of the low-income group, and build, or renovate, apartments they can afford to live in.”

 

Sustainability

To Olof Andersson sustainability is about ecological as well as social sustainability. Trianon always aims for as much sustainability thinking as possible, and he gives examples where they have succeeded to lower the energy use with around 50 %, but above all he wants to talk about Vårsången, where the company has succeeded in lowering the energy use considerably, with solar cells among other things; restored and improved and built new housings; and given 35 people jobs, within their own company as well as with the contractor, for whom there were special conditions in the procurement contract. In this way they have succeeded to crate a much better living environment and lowered the rehousing frequency remarkably, which also means sustainability for the company. In other words a clear example of when a contribution to the environment and the society also leads to better profits.

 

Olof Andersson as an entrepreneur and a boss

Olof admits he has changed and developed since he started at Möllevångstorget in the early 80s. Above all he has become better in delegating. In the beginning he didn’t want to hand over anything, but as the years have gone by he has realised you cannot be best at everything and that the one who really is the best at something should be the one dealing with it. He thinks the most important thing is that you prosper at your workplace, and that you best do that in responsible freedom. He wants a flat organisation where everyone can develop and feel involved. At the same time it cannot be totally flat. “If I would get reports from all 45 employees separately, I wouldn’t have time for anything else,” he says with a smile. A flat organisation requires some measure of hierarchy.

His entrepreneurship and his attitude towards it, however, has not at all changed in the same way. It is, more or less, the same thing when he now run a multi-billion company as it was when he sold cram buns or fruits and vegetables. It is about constantly looking for new ways, work at least as much as the job requires and to wake up every morning thinking that what I did yesterday I can do a little better today.

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