When Bengt Sjöberg was diagnosed with cancer, his perspective on life underwent a radical change. Over the forty years he worked as a businessman in Hong Kong he had built up considerable wealth, and now he wanted to use it to benefit a cause he felt strongly about.
Bengt Sjöberg, who was born in 1949, came from Lysekil, on the West Coast of Sweden, and was the fourth son in a farming family. The family never had extra money and Bengt’s siblings describe him as somewhat of a dreamer who, as a small child, liked to imagine the wonderful motorbikes and cars he could buy when he grew up.
After his degree in Economics from the University of Gothenburg, and positions at trade secretariats in Prague and Jeddah, Bengt devoted his working life to the logistics industry. He was employed as ASG’s Hong Kong manager for their operations in the Far East, building up a corporate structure on site. He was a focused and creative person, a good listener with a great interest for people, which led to him quickly becoming successful. It has been said of Bengt that he was not the one who attracted the most attention when he entered a room, but he was always the one who had achieved something when he left.
The first steps towards what came to be a considerable fortune were taken at the end of the 1980s, when ASG decided to sell its foreign businesses. Bengt was given the opportunity to acquire the Far East business at a beneficial price. A few years later he purchased SJ’s class A shares in ASG, giving him 27 per cent of the vote in the group. When ASG was later sold to Danzas, this shareholding was exchanged for liquid assets and Bengt’s role as executive director came to an end.
He began to spend his time making investments, lending money to business start-ups – and there were many bold investments. Sometimes things went better than expected, sometimes he lost almost everything and had to start over, but he always retained his positive attitude and ability to find solutions. Constantly having new ideas up his sleeve probably contributed to him almost always working.
Five years after ASG was sold, he started its successor in the logistics industry, APC. This flourished, and the increasing European imports from China allowed him to grow a Hong Kong-based company, which expanded with subsidiaries in Asia and Europe.
However, the 2010s, the restructuring of the logistics industry led to changing circumstances. The industry moved from building close relationships to a global logistics network, so Bengt decided to wind down his ownership of the APC group and sold it to a Japanese logistics business, Nippon Express. He left the business entirely in November 2015.
His life took a new turn just a few months later, when a doctor in Hong Kong told him that the stubborn cough he had been experiencing was caused by tumours in his lungs. Bengt, who had never been ill, started treatment and met others with the same disease. He developed a deep understanding for people affected by cancer – and, with it, the desire to do good.
He had already had ideas about a foundation, but its purpose had been vague; now he definitely knew how he wanted to use his wealth. Because the prognosis for his disease was poor, he needed to get everything organised quickly. In addition to supporting a range of research projects, the idea was to award a major grant, one million dollars, in partnership with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Sjöberg Prize, as it has been named, is awarded to a researcher or research group who have made important contributions to cancer research to benefit the further development of their discovery.
In May 2016, Bengt Sjöberg announced a donation of two billion Swedish kronor to a foundation, the Sjöberg Foundation, one of the largest private donations in Swedish history. The aim was to make a difference to cancer research and the care given to cancer patients.
“I am a businessman and have spent my life building companies, but this is the most rewarding thing I have done and I would like to see the results as soon as possible,” he said when the announcement was made.
However, at the end of that year, Bengt Sjöberg’s health deteriorated. He died on 17 January 2017 at the age of 67. He had realised his dream of a foundation, but he did not have time to see the Sjöberg Prize awarded. The first laureates were announced in partnership with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 14 February 2017.