The Atlas Copco spirit

The picture book, the children’s book, the strategy book, or just simply The Book about the Atlas Copco Group. Whatever it has been called, a book of illustrated concepts has proven vital for keeping the Group’s corporate culture alive. The book is used globally throughout the Atlas Copco Group in study circles, where employees meet to discuss – and examine – the company’s vision, values, and strategy.

Text by the Centre for Business History in Stockholm

People playing music in front of the Sickla site entrance gates.

Photo from the former Atlas Diesel factory in Sickla, Stockholm, Sweden.

The Atlas Copco Group has long believed that a successful company needs a strong corporate culture based on a clear vision and shared values. To help promote that culture, the company has been running a study circle program, involving all employees, since 1996. These Atlas Copco Circles are cascaded downwards, team by team, and allow employees to discuss and evaluate Atlas Copco’s business and, through the use of concrete examples, what is expected of them in different situations. The circles are meant to clarify how the company’s mission, vision, strategy, structure, and people are all connected and together create results. 

Handan Şahin Kocas, Vice President Holding for Türkiye and Middle East, is one of many circle leaders in the world of the Atlas Copco Group. She explains:

“It’s important for me to first get to know the participants in a circle. I want them to share who they really are. I don’t mean sharing how many years they’ve worked at the company or how many kids they have. No, I want to hear what they believe in and how they act in different situations. After that, we can dive into a discussion about how we work. I normally explain our values with examples. I have worked at Atlas Copco for 17 years, so I think I have examples of basically every value.”

A children’s book?

The study material that the circles use is perhaps not what is expected by a global company such as the Atlas Copco Group. It’s an illustrated book of some 50 pages, that does not present the company’s vision and values in grand statements and long essays, but rather in brief phrases and illuminating illustrations meant to encourage discussion. 

“The participants are there because they want to examine how they can act in different situations and what Atlas Copco expects of them,” says Handan. “For many, it may be natural to do things in a different way, so the circles help to clarify what exactly ‘The Atlas Copco Way’ is.”

The first edition of the book was presented in 1996 by then President and CEO Michael Treschow at a management conference in Belgium. The stated goal already then was that the book should be a tool to help develop the company, by enabling employees to understand how the company’s vision, strategy, and structure work together. 

That same year, the company began holding Atlas Copco Circles throughout the entire Group. A circle leader would lead a group of six to eight people and be responsible for ensuring that everyone who participated in the circle understood the foundations on which the business rested, and how they themselves fit into the organization. The circles essentially work the same way today.  

In her position, Handan is responsible for a region that covers many geographical areas and many different cultures. 

“The message of the book, and in our circles, is universal,” she says. “No matter which culture you live in or which country you come from, there is a way in which the Atlas Copco Group does things. Education, training, and interaction will help me see how I can start contributing to the company culture.”

A home-grown book

The book’s illustrations were for many years drawn by former Atlas Copco employee Göran Ek. Ek joined the company as a 30-year-old in 1964, as an engineer in the development laboratory. He had a great talent for drawing, though, and started drawing for the staff magazine Atlas Copco News. In 1983, he left the company to become a full-time illustrator – but Atlas Copco remained one of his most important clients. Asking him to illustrate the book when it was first envisioned in 1996 was an obvious choice.

The strategy book was for many years also available as a giant picture book in the reception at Atlas Copco Group’s headquarters, or Group Center as it is called. It was then communications director Annika Berglund who came up with the idea after a visit to Rockefeller Center in New York. She had seen a giant children’s book that someone was reading from, surrounded by children sitting on cushions. Such a book, she thought, would surely work at the Atlas Copco office too, attracting visitors to stop and look through it. An easy – and fun! – way to share Atlas Copco’s vision, working methods and culture with whoever liked big books. And above all, a very transparent way to do it. Today, you’ll find one-meter-tall books in many Atlas Copco Group reception areas around the world. 

All positions open for everyone – everywhere!

Since 1992, the Atlas Copco Group has had an internal job market, where everyone can – and is encouraged to – apply for any open position at any Group company in the world. Having the company’s vision, strategy, and values so clear and shared by everyone makes it easier for anyone to change jobs – and countries, for that matter.

“I work in Türkiye today,” says Handan, “but tomorrow I could have a new mission in China. I can just pick up my computer, go there, start up my computer and get to work immediately. The chair and desk may look different than what I am used to, but I know what to do and, above all, I know how to work with the people there. The fact that we have this strong culture with its clear values makes it much easier to move and still be efficient.”