Magazine article Management Today

Production without Rest or Rust

Magazine article Management Today

Production without Rest or Rust

Article excerpt

While most companies don't live long enough to enjoy centenary celebrations, Sweden's Stora Kopparberg could live long enough to celebrate its millennium.

Although there is no real reason why they shouldn't be, companies are not immortal: the average lifespan is around 50 years. And, after their allotted two score and ten, most simply take one of the well-trodden paths to the corporate hereafter. But not all; there are a few that pre-date Queen Victoria; a couple which pre-date the Renaissance and one, Sweden's 709-year-old Stora Kopparberg, that pre-dates most of western history.

Actually, like the very old everywhere, Stora isn't really sure of its age. So, although it dates its foundation from a document signed in 1288, there is evidence of economic activity at the company's Falun copper mine as far back as 850. Regardless, recorded history begins at Falun (Stora Kopparberg means Great Copper Mountain) in the late 13th century. A number of Swedish nobles known as master miners - controlled the mine, the rights to which were divvied up into sections known as fourths, which were, somewhat confusingly, actually sixteenths of the whole thing. As Sweden's only real source of tradable wealth, Falun prospered until the mid-14th century when the previously laissez-faire government took an interest, hiking copper taxes and, to redress staff shortages, granting criminals asylum if they worked the mine.

Government intervention was only a minor hiccup, however, and, by the 15th century, the Copper Mountain had its own guild. Members' obligations included helping their fellows to escape justice should they murder an outsider; privileges included a manly eight pints of beer a day. Alongside heavy drinking and concealing killers, the guild was politically active and often abused the king's envoys. But it didn't know its limits and after one such incident, an enraged monarch showed up, yelled at the miners for 12 hours and underscored his point by beheading five master miners.

Understandably political activism ceased thereafter and, by the end of the 16th century, Falun was at its zenith. New pumping technology allowed previously flooded areas to be exploited; this coincided with a sharp rise in prices. Now producing 3,000 tons per year, Falun was the biggest wealth generator in Sweden. …

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