When Peje Emilsson launched Kreab (the firm’s current name is a contraction of the original Creative Information AB), the Swedish public relations business was in its infancy. It is a testament to the power of his vision that in the four decades since then, Kreab has grown to become the largest public relations firm in the Nordic region, one of the largest independent public relations firms in Europe (fees last year were around €25 million), and one of the few firms based outside the two giant Anglo-Saxon markets (the U.K. and the U.S.) with a genuinely global presence.
At the time of Kreab’s founding, Emilsson was a relative neophyte. He had graduated just three years earlier from the University of Stockholm, where he had studied political science, practical philosophy, statistics, sociology and national economies—an eclectic academic background that would serve him well as he sought to build a different kind of public relations firm, as would his interest in politics (he was elected to the Stockholm County Council in 1970, the same year he launched Kreab).
Kreab was, from its inception, a different kind of public relations firm, focused on helping Swedish companies and trade associations practice “the art of listening, clarifying and persuading,” which in practice meant that helping companies communicate with multiple stakeholder groups—the media, consumers, shareholders, employees, the government, NGOs, working more often with the CEOs, CFOs and chairmen of its clients than with their public relations staff.
The firm became the preeminent firm in Swedish public affairs, with Emilsson providing personal counsel to many of the nation’s leading CEOs and politicians. In the 1980s, he expanded Kreab’s portfolio of services to include financial communications, and the firm became the leading mergers and acquisitions specialist in the region, working many major transactions in Sweden in the 80s and 90s, and more recently developed a sophisticated crisis communications capability.
Just as impressive was the firm’s expansion into international markets. It launched its first international activities, in London and Paris, in 1976; it opened a Helsinki office in 1988 and a Brussels operation—initially focused on Nordic clients, but today a leader in the market—four years later. Since then, it has added offices in Beijing, New York, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Washington, D.C., and earlier this year became part of a much broader global operation through its merger with Omnicom-owned Gavin Anderson & Company (the new firm is owned jointly by Kreab parent Magnora AB, of which Emilsson is chairman, Omnicom and 75 partners).
Although day-to-day management of Kreab was turned over to chief executive Charlotte Erkhammer in 2004, Emilsson has remained active, initially as a senior counselor to the firm’s clients and since 2006 as executive chairman, a role he now holds with the merged Kreab Gavin Anderson.
But since 2004, Emilsson has probably been more visible in his native Sweden for his role in the education system as a pioneer of the country’s voucher school movement. He is the founder and chairman of the board of Kunskapsskolan i Sverige AB, a chain of 32 schools in Sweden with about 10,000 students, a turnover of €70 million and a staff of 700.
In addition to his three years on the Stockholm County Council, Emilsson served also spent eight years (from 1973 to 1981) as chef de cabinet of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce. In that capacity, he was responsible for communicating with 6,000 corporate members in over 100 countries and organizing conferences and congresses worldwide. He is also a member of the board of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
Emilsson was awarded the HM the King’s Medal of the Twelfth Dimension in Blue Ribbon for his accomplishments as an entrepreneur and in the field of education, including his work in developing nations.