The beginnings and daring entrepreneurs

Per Olof (Pelle) Söderberg was born on 30 April 1836.

Following the conclusion of his studies, he made his way into the mining industry.

When Pelle Söderberg arrived in Stockholm in the 1860s, he happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time. It was during that decade that a hundred-year period of stagnation came to an end in the capital city.

Söderberg rather quickly realised that he could achieve greater successes as an independent merchant for steel and other manufactured goods. On 25 June 1864 he completed his first transaction and on 6 September he notified the authorities that he would now be practicing wholesale trade through his own iron and steel products firm, P. Söderberg. With that he became the first wholesaler for iron and steel goods in the Swedish market.

Pelle Söderberg was first and foremost interested in working as a salesperson in the field, not dealing with office work. He therefore hired bookkeeper Oscar Fredrik Theodor (O.F.T.) Ljungberg in May 1865.  In September, Söderberg’s friend from his manufacturing estate days, bookkeeper Leonard Haak, began working in the office. By the beginning of 1866, Haak had, in practice, become a partner to Söderberg, and on 5 May they registered their partnership, Handelsbolaget Söderberg & Haak. Ever since, that day has been an important milestone remembrance day at Söderberg & Haak and Ratos.

Their new company would very soon experience serious problems, however, when Högbo declared bankruptcy. Leonard Haak thought that his share in the partnership was now too risky so Söderberg bought him out on 31 August 1866, repaying Haak’s entire investment of SEK 4,000. The company retained the name Söderberg & Haak.

Sales during the first year for Söderberg & Haak were SEK 63,000, with a profit of SEK 232 and 12 öre.

When Söderberg & Haak moved to Söder in Stockholm in 1874, the economy had taken a downward turn. In the midst of this difficult period, the firm was dealt another harsh blow when Pelle Söderberg died at the age of 45 years on 21 October 1881. He left behind him his 36-year-old widow Göta, and children Per Johan, Olof and Anna. They were aged twelve, ten and nine respectively. Göta Söderberg now became the owner of Söderberg & Haak. She secured the company’s survival as a family business. Göta made the decision to remain as the primary owner, likely in the hope that at least one of her sons would eventually join the firm.

Göta Söderberg moved with her children to Gothenburg in 1884. It became clear early on that Per Johan Söderberg (1869-1944) would be trained to become a wholesaler. A different path was staked out for Olof Söderberg (1872-1931) than for his older brother. Olof Söderberg had planned on becoming a doctor. But then something happened that caused him to change his plans. Olof fell in love with Otilia Herzog (1871-1956). Olof wanted to get married as soon as possible, but that required he have a steady income. Olof felt that it would take too long to become a doctor so he decided to instead focus on a career as a dealer.

During its first half century, Söderberg & Haak had almost exclusively Swedish suppliers. Iron and steel were the largest product areas, although manufactured goods were also of importance. There were a wide variety of products, including locks, files, saw blades, spades, shovels, crowbars, nails, oils, fittings, awnings, straps and vulcanized rubber and gutta-percha goods. Agricultural machinery had also been part of the product range since the 1870s.

The economic cycle saw a rebound around the turn of the century. Söderberg & Haak were now on an expansion phase. In order to provide the company with a more fixed organisational structure, it was decided to reorganise the partnership into a limited company. The statutory meeting was held on 23 December 1905, and the new company was registered on 5 February 1906.

Olof Söderberg became chairman of the board of the new organisation, which went into effect at the start of 1906, while Per Johan Söderberg was managing director and O.F.T. Ljungberg served as treasurer.