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All you Need is Love

In Focus
NAME:Jan Ryde
LOCATION:Stockholm, Sweden
So strongly does Hästens CEO Jan Ryde believe in love as the key ingredient for running a business that he has written a book on the subject, revealing how it transformed the Swedish mattress manufacturer into a multimillion-dollar business.

When Jan Ryde took the reins of his family business, Swedish bed manufacturer Hästens, he made himself a promise. When sales hit one billion Swedish krona (US$94 million), he would write a book that outlined how businesses can run on love.

The only problem was that – at that point in time, 1998 – the fifth-generation business was not in the greatest of health.

Not that Ryde, who was only 25, was daunted. Turning his back on academia and a role as associate professor in marketing at the Institute of Technology at Linköping University in Sweden, he returned to the family fold.

“People are increasingly aware that yes, we sleep one-third of our lives, but it’s not only a third of our lives, it’s the really important third.”

Founded by his grandfather’s grandfather in 1852, when Ryde arrived, “the company was very small”, he tells The CEO Magazine. Revenue was hovering around the SEK1.8 million (US$170,000) mark.

Ryde found himself faced with a challenging decision.

“On one hand we couldn’t compete with low-price or badly-made mattresses, because of the intensive handmade nature of ours and the materials we use,” he explains. “And, when I looked at the market, I couldn’t believe that consumers all wanted these cheap, bad quality mattresses.”

He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was room for someone who wanted to give the consumer the best. So he stopped worrying about what others in the market were doing – and competing with them when he thought they weren’t even on the same playing field as Hästens – and focused on exactly that: giving consumers the best.

When Business is Love

Fast forward two-and-a-half decades and today, Hästens is a name associated with the finest, most comfortable beds in the world. Everyone from Swedish royalty to global celebrities goes to sleep on one of its handcrafted mattresses with their signature blue-check pattern (a design innovated by Ryde’s art-influenced father Jack in 1978).

Top-of-the-line products such as the Grand Vividus sell for several hundred thousand dollars in stores operated by retail partners in global cities such as Los Angeles, London, Istanbul and Singapore. Its factory and headquarters, however, continue to be in Köping, a town about 150 kilometers west of Stockholm.

Hästens recently hit its billion-krona target and, good to his word, Ryde set to work writing a book. It took three years, and the final manuscript approval of his 87-year-old aunt, but eventually When Business is Love: The Spirit of Hästens – at Work, at Play, and Everywhere in Your Life was published on 9 January 2024.

High Volume

The United States, China and South Korea are Hästens’ three biggest markets, Ryde explains.

“People who have discovered the benefit of really good sleep, they want to invest and they rave about our beds,” he says.

American rapper Post Malone even sings about them (in 2022’s ‘Wasting Angels’).

“I couldn’t be happier to listen to that,” Ryde says with a laugh.

“Before joining Hästens, I had been teaching,” he explains. “I was someone who was coming up with all these theories, and was transitioning into real life.”

Beyond academia, some of the ideas he carried weren’t necessarily drawn from business school curriculum but more life learnings that, in the book, he attributes to a greater power.

“When the company had grown enough, I felt like I had earned the right to speak about them,” he continues. “And the time had come to fall on that promise and share what I knew so that others can benefit.

“The book is written with one single purpose: to make people have a happier, more enjoyable, more loving and peaceful life.”

The Importance of Working Together

Ryde likens When Business is Love to a recipe book and every chapter is a different ingredient, covering 20 facets of his philosophy such as culture and growth, but also integrity, humiliation, stress and, of course, love. The overarching message is that any business – no matter its industry – can be fueled by love.

“It’s all love,” he affirms, referencing the book’s cover quote by Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and the Ford Motor Company, who says we all benefit when we create a ‘Working Together’ leadership and management system.

“That’s what we want to do in Hästens: create magical moments for people.”

“It’s about people and it’s about working together and creating by design, by intention, this loving relationship in the company,” Ryde explains. “Because, for me, to make any business really successful and to really take care of the huge potential in human beings, you have to care about people and love one another.

“And, of course, as a CEO, you have to be able to love yourself too, regardless of what’s going on.”

More than a business text, When Business is Love is also deeply autobiographical, with Ryde diving into some of the darker moments he has lived through, including divorce from his wife Anne-Lie. Given the nature of the topic, he knows that the book contains both business learnings and life messages.

“Of course, the book is about me as the CEO of Hästens and my experience and it’s also a book about the company,” he says. “But I’ve written it in such a way that, when you read these stories, your brain will start to recognize yourself and other people.

“So, in fact, the main character in this book is actually the reader themselves.”

Creating Magical Moments

Ryde names Steve Jobs as one of his role models for how he demonstrated the way love and profitability can coexist. And it’s something he saw first hand when he was invited to Apple Park, the tech company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

“I couldn’t be more of a fan of Apple because it is such a large and successful company and they really care,” he explains. “They deeply care about people. They deeply care about serving people and making lives better.”

As part of the Hästens executive team, Ryde was accompanied on the trip by one of his sons, who came with him to Apple Park.

“He picked up a small rock from inside the park and put it in his pocket because he wanted to keep something about this feeling to always remember,” he says.

“People who have discovered the benefit of really good sleep, they want to invest and they rave about our beds.”

To this day, his son still has the rock.

“That’s what we want to do in Hästens: create magical moments for people,” he says.

Considering how much time we spend asleep, Ryde is delighted that finally people are waking up to something he has been talking about for the last 35 years: the importance of investing in a good mattress.

“People are increasingly aware that yes, we sleep one-third of our lives, but it’s not only a third of our lives, it’s the really important third. That’s the time when the brain cleanses, so we can function the next day and the body does the same,” he says.

“Without sleep, we literally die. And it’s not necessarily the hours of sleep, but the quality which is important. People live longer and they have youthful hormone levels when sleep is as good as it can be.”

Ryde himself is the poster child for the benefits of a good night’s sleep and is already full of energy for the follow up to When Business is Love.

“I sadly had to limit the book to 350 pages and I want to write a more detailed guide,” he says with a smile. “Although it will take another three years before it is out.”

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