Case | HBS Case Collection | November 2003 (Revised February 2014)

Ivar Kreuger and the Swedish Match Empire

by Geoffrey G. Jones and Ingrid Vargas

Abstract

Taught in Evolution of Global Business. Globalization and corporate fraud are the central themes of this case on the international growth of Swedish Match in the interwar years. Between 1913 and 1932, Ivar Kreuger, known as the "Swedish Match King," built a small, family-owned match business into a $600 million global match empire. Despite the economic and political disruptions of the interwar period, Swedish Match owned manufacturing operations in 36 countries, had monopolies in 16 countries, and controlled 40% of the world's match production. Kreuger companies lent over $300 million dollars to governments in Europe, Latin America, and Asia in exchange for national match monopolies. Relying on international capital markets to finance acquisitions and monopoly deals, by 1929 the stocks and bonds of Kreuger companies were the most widely held securities in the United States and the world. After Kreuger's 1932 suicide, forensic auditors discovered that Kreuger had operated a giant pyramid scheme. His accounts were ridden with fictitious assets, the truth hidden in a maze of over 400 subsidiary companies. Swedish Match's deficits exceeded Sweden's national debt.

Keywords: History; International Finance; Globalized Firms and Management; Crime and Corruption; Ethics; Monopoly; Business and Government Relations; Sweden;

Citation:

Jones, Geoffrey G., and Ingrid Vargas. "Ivar Kreuger and the Swedish Match Empire." Harvard Business School Case 804-078, November 2003. (Revised February 2014.)