The Financial Life

Cristina Stenbeck of Sweden's Kinnevik


When Jan Stenbeck announced in 1999 that his 21-year-old daughter, Cristina, would succeed him as head of Investment Kinnevik, Sweden's second-largest family-controlled holding company, even she was surprised. Three years later, Jan died of a heart attack, and she was in charge. In her eight years at the top, she has focused on incremental change rather than remade the company, and that is how she plans to continue. "I don't think you'll see Kinnevik investing outside of industries and markets that aren't known to us today," says Stenbeck, now 32. "Kinnevik today allows us to achieve what we want to achieve."

Stenbeck lives in London and travels to Stockholm for board meetings. Mia Brunell Livfors, 44, who became chief executive in 2006, runs the company day-to-day. Major stakes in two publicly traded companies form the bulk of Kinnevik's holdings: Tele2, the Nordic region's first major phone discounter, which Jan Stenbeck created, and Millicom International Cellular, the phone company that operates in emerging markets from Guatemala to Tanzania. Millicom now has more than 30 million customers in 13 countries. Stenbeck is closing or selling unprofitable units in Western Europe and expanding the phone operations in emerging markets such as Russia and Africa. She is also making small investments in micro- finance in Africa and farming in Russia.

Investors seem to approve. Kinnevik's shares have more than doubled since the end of 2008, giving it a market value of $4.4 billion. The Wallenberg's Investor, Sweden's biggest family-controlled investment company, worth $13 billion, gained 15 percent over that period. Some analysts say Stenbeck's moves may not have a big impact on the company's bottom line. "They're doing the right things and investing in the right areas," says Bo Nordberg, an analyst at Christopher Street Capital in London. "But these new ventures are extremely small and don't move the needle in the grand scheme of things."

Stenbeck, who with her family controls 48.3percent of Kinnevik's voting rights and 17.4percent of its equity, has a fortune estimated by the Sunday Times to be $345 million. Born in New York and raised there by her American mother, she graduated from Georgetown University and didn't learn Swedish until she was 18. She and her husband, Alexander Fitzgibbons, have a daughter and are expecting twins. Asked at a conference in Stockholm in February how she would manage a family and a career, Stenbeck said: "Ask Hans-Holger, he has seven kids." She was referring to Hans-Holger Albrecht, chief executive of Modern Times Group, a Kinnevik holding that is a leading broadcaster in Scandinavia and the Baltics. The audience applauded.

Company

Investment Kinnevik, with a market value of $4.4 billion

Major holdings

Tele2, a phone company, and Millicom, a cellular provider

Strategy

Make incremental investments, not major acquisitions

Simmons is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Paris.

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