When Swedish wheelchair business Permobil was set up in 1967, the founder, a medical doctor, wanted to provide helpful products for disabled people using the latest technology. His vision, as Permobil chief financial officer Carl Bandhold puts it, was to improve the life of “some of the most unlucky people in our society”. As a result, Permobil has always had a culture that is focused on making sure the patient gets what they need.
The first thing Nordic did was to refocus the business. “The organisation is extremely entrepreneurial and was trying [to do] many things at the same time with limited resources,” says Bandhold.
One of the key things Nordic did was to open a US factory (in Nashville) and a Chinese factory (in Shanghai), in a bid to further improve efficiency and reduce costs. “Instead of doing everything out of Sweden, Nordic Capital supported Permobil to source in low-cost markets,” says Näslund. The first half of the products are now assembled in China and shipped to the factories closer to the market.
3. Accessing international markets
Although Permobil had been expanding into continental Europe and North America in the 1990s, it didn’t have much capital committed to further expansion, says Bandhold. So Nordic invested heavily in developing new sales markets, including the US, Australia, Canada, Argentina and Brazil.
Another key decision taken by Nordic was to keep the company focused on growing and improving its existing product – complex wheelchairs for severely disabled people – rather than trying to branch out into additional products.
By investing in the company’s R&D, improving the assembly process, building additional factories and expanding into new markets, Nordic is handing on a company that’s well set for future growth and expansion.
“[We teamed up with a family] that needed help and wanted to do a lot of things [and] Nordic Capital had both the financial resources and the knowledge [to improve the business],” says Näslund. “Now the company is set up to grow at a quicker pace. And that is what Investor, the new [private equity] owner, sees in [Permobil] – a Swedish super-success.”