When Holger Crafoord joined the staff of Åkerlund & Rausing (ÅR), he began the longstanding relationship with Ruben Rausing that was to turn ÅR into a leading European packaging company and lead to the creation of Tetra Pak.
As early as 1939, at the age of 31, Holger Crafoord was appointed deputy CEO of ÅR. The post of CEO became his a few years later. As CEO, he acquired a 25% share in ÅR. His big personality, all-round knowledge and experience, ability to make decisions, and his willingness to take responsibility - all combined with an unprejudiced and unconventional approach to problems - were qualities that made Holger Crafoord an outstanding business leader.
During the post-war years, grocery sales were increasingly based on self-service, resulting in a growing need for packaged goods. These years also saw the birth, in ÅR's laboratories, of the concept that would become Tetra Pak.
The project was a real uphill battle for many years, before a breakthrough became discernable in the mid-1950s. The financing of the tetrahedron project put a burden on ÅR, and Holger Crafoord's key task was to calm the lenders’ concerns and secure funding. For many years, Holger Crafoord was also deputy CEO of Tetra Pak and had a large shareholding.
In 1965, Rausing and Crafoord decided to dispose of their ÅR holding. Holger Crafoord successfully negotiated the sale of ÅR to Svenska Tändsticksaktiebolaget. He was also appointed a member of the board of this company and later became its vice chairman.
At a time when most people would have chosen to retire - Rausing was then 70 and Holger Crafoord 57 - Rausing decided to concentrate exclusively on Tetra Pak. Meanwhile, Holger Crafoord had another project of his own that would now demand his full attention, Gambro.
At a dinner, he had happened to discuss renal failure with professor of urology Nils Alwall and learnt that the illness could be combated if resources could be made available for dialysis, i.e. artificial blood-purification. This in turn required that a functioning disposable filter, an "artificial kidney" could be used. At that time, chronic renal failure could only be treated for a short time.
Holger Crafoord committed himself to the project immediately. He funded the extremely risky development work with his own money, and five years later the first disposable kidney was ready to be used on a patient. 1968 saw the introduction of the dialyzer, the filter, on a wide scale in Europe. During the 1970s, production plants in Germany, the USA, Italy and Japan were built in rapid succession. A complete dialyzer plant was also sold for production under licence in what was then the Soviet Union.
At the same time, the marketing organization was rapidly expanded. Sales companies were established in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA, France, Italy, Canada and Belgium and more would follow.
It was not only a matter of making a dialysis filter that was cost-effective; dialysis treatment also required advanced monitoring equipment. Gambro developed such equipment, too, and became an extremely fast-growing, cutting-edge hi-tech company.
Meanwhile, new products were developed in other medical disciplines and Holger Crafoord was equally interested in all of them.
In the spring of 1977, Gambro presented financial figures that showed excellent profitability and really caught the attention of the business world. In the magazine Affärsvärlden's annual profitability list of 1976, Gambro occupied first place, with more than 30% return on capital employed.
Holger Crafoord died in 1982, but Gambro lived on. In 1983, the company was introduced onto the Stockholm Stock Exchange with an initial public offering that was one of the most over-subscribed in the history of the Swedish exchange.
At the same time, there was clearly a need for a new principal owner, and Malmö’s Sonesson group stepped in to become a major share holder. The Crafoord family and the Foundation still retained a controlling share.
The original Sonesson holding passed via Volvo to Investment AB Cardo, which was bought up by Incentive AB in 1994. The following year, Incentive made a bid for all the outstanding Gambro shares and both the family and the Crafoord Foundation disposed of their shares. This finally ended the Crafoord family’s and the foundation’s financial interest in Gambro.