Sunday, May 29, 2011

R.I.P. Pelle

On The Abemarle Sound, NC
36 03.86 N 076 00.58 W

Today we are sailing across The Abemarle Sound in North Carolina.  Thanks to the miracles of modern electroncs, I was able to receive email and to write and post this blog.   The email carried sad news.  Our friends Kenneth and Sonja in Sweden wrote to tell about the funeral of Per Lindgren yesterday.   How sad, that we could not be there to comfort Ingrid, his widow.  Alas, our days of international travel are over.  We travel today by sailboat.  Our typical speed is 10 km/hour.

You see, the name Per Lindgren loomed large in our lives.   Per (known as Pelle to friends) first invited me to come to Sweden in 1972.   He was searching for a consultant for a nuclear power plant training simulator.  I was such a person, but Per was a tough customer.  He wan't about to hire anyone sight unseen.  I responded to his invitation.   It turned out to be an interview.   Actually, interrogation would be an appropriate word.  Never before or since have I been questioned so thoroughly.  For two days, all day each day, Per bombarded me with insightful, probing, questions.  There was nothing hostile or aggressive about it; just very very thorough.   The end result was that I must have won his approval, because Per proposed that ASEA should engage me as a consultant for 2 years, including moving my family to Sweden temporarily.  It was the biggest, longest and most prestigious consulting assignment I ever had.

In 1973-74 I lived in Västerås Sweden with my family and worked on that simulator project under Per's direction.  Per introduced us to Kenneth and Sonja Randén who also became lifelong friends.  In return, I slaved on Per's project. We had very difficult customers to deal with.  The contract was difficult to fulfill.  Nevertheless, we persevered and ultimately succeed.  The end product was cutting edge technology; better than any similar simulator in the world at that time.   All of us, but especially Per had something to be proud of.

Nine years after that, I reached a fork in my career.  It was time to seek a new job. I thought about the possibilities.  There were many.  Most appealing was to return to Sweden and to become a permanent employee of ASEA under Per's direction.   It was not ASEA, not Sweden that was the big appeal, it was the opportunity to work with Pelle's dynamic personality.

Per and I got along great.  We were very much alike.   We loved our work and we worked almost all the time.  Weekday nights until 2030 was our habit, also almost every Saturday and Sunday year round.  Most of the time we had the office to ourselves those odd ours.  Pelle and I used many of those hours engaged in eager discussion, debate and arguments.   Arguments?  Yes we fought a lot.  That's completely normal for high performing intellectual people.  They fight each other and they love it.  I'm afraid that poor Libby and Ingrid had a hard time dealing with it sometimes, but Pelle and I were very satisfied.

In the mid 1980s, Pelle and I and Sten-Örjan Lindahl, had the opportunity to tour the USA by car in a prolonged marketing campaign.   That was a grand adventure.  Per hated American coffee.  It was too weak for him.  Per used to smuggle instant coffee into restaurants.   When nobody was looking, he would slip 2-3 spoonfuls into his cup of restaurant coffee.  Then, to the amazement of everyone within sight, he would add 10-15 cubes of sugar to the cup and drink the coffee through another cube held between his teeth!

One Sunday on the tour, we rented a little sailboat on a lake in Kentucky.  There wasn't much wind but we had fun.   Mid trip, Pelle wanted to light his (foul smelling) pipe.  Sten-Örjan had the main sheet in his hand.  It was so that with a slight jerk of his wrist, he caused a slight puff of wind to spin downward from the sail and blow out the match as Pelle tried to light his pipe.  Pelle tried again and again.  Each time, Sten-Örjan flicked his wrist and the wind blew it out.  Eventually the whole box of matches was gone.  I was aware of what was happening the whole time, and Sten Orjan and I managed to keep straight faces.  We never told Per what we did.

The last time I saw Pelle was in 1994.   I had returned to Sweden to go sailing with Sten-Örjan and Kenneth.   It was also the occasion of an office celebration in Per's honor.  I forget the actual occasion.  But I remember enjoying the coffee and cakes in a room full of Pelle's admirers.  There were about 15 of us.  In a way we were all Pelle's children -- sort of an extended family.  Per was the patriarch and leader and we were the followers, me included.   That moment drove home the larger truth.  Per was not only a mentor and major leader for me, he was the same for a whole generation of successful, smart people.

Per Lindgren was and icon of the 20th century businessman and technocrat.   His business and leadership styles reflected those of the age he grew up in, but his technology was always leading edge. His sons I surmise, are men of the 21st century and they may have a hard time understanding how and why their father was so important and so influential.  I hope their dominant memories are proud ones.  Their farther was a great man.

Per Lindren, Rest In Peace


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