CEO, Abdon Mills
Rolf was born in Sweden. Following his military service he studied Law at the University of Lund. At the same time Rolf also went through the School of Economics and received an MSc in Economics and in the evenings he studied for and gained a BSc in computer science.
“Sweden in the 1960’s was a very regulated country, as were most of the Nordic countries. I was looking for more opportunities and accepted a job in Toronto as a Computer Systems Engineer.”
Rolf had decided some years before that he wanted to finish his formal education with an MBA. “At that time in Sweden, everyone went to the US schools if they wanted an MBA.”
Rolf was accepted by Harvard and paid his registration fee. He was due to start in August 1969 when his employer proposed another project. “In the spring of 1969 I informed my employer in Toronto about my plans to go to Harvard and he announced that he was sending me to Brussels. I can still remember my boss telling me, ‘You are European. Please go to Brussels and take this opportunity before you go back to school.’” Rolf was very proud of having an added advantage within the company for being European, so he agreed to go to Belgium. “But that is where my problems began. I did not speak French and I realized that I did not know Europe at all. I was a stranger. I had grown up isolated in Sweden with all the strong cultural influences from America that we had in the 50’s and 60’s. Contrary to what my boss had said, I was not really very European after all.”
It was at this time that Rolf first heard about INSEAD and he went immediately to Fontainebleau. “I just loved what I saw and some how managed to persuade them to allow me to join. I started in 1969 (when I was due to start at Harvard) with just one requirement - I had to learn French before I started.”
Rolf’s most memorable experiences during his time at INSEAD, revolve around his study group, “We were a most diverse group and we all had very different abilities and knowledge. In the beginning we had a lot of heated discussions that seemed to consume most of our energy and led to nothing. But we all gradually came to the conclusion that we all would do much better to share our knowledge and help each other. It was a truly great experience.”
Whilst Rolf was at INSEAD an Alumni from 1962 came to give a talk on European tax laws. He and Rolf got on so well that when Rolf graduated he contacted Rolf to ask if he wanted to join a new corporate finance company he was about to set up in Geneva.
“I worked in Geneva for five years, I learnt a lot and enjoyed my time there.”
Rolf’s boss then left to work in private banking and Rolf turned his attentions to helping his brother, Leif, who was running a mill business in Sweden and who needed some help on the business side.
In 1973, brothers Leif and Rolf Abdon built one of the world's first fully automatic mills on the Scanian plains outside their hometown of Helsingborg. Rolf played a major role in the company’s expansion into the US in 1986 and rose to become the CEO of Abdon Mills.
“When I look back at my time at INSEAD, it gave me what I expected: business knowledge, cultural experiences and a wide network of friends. But it also gave me something I had not expected from a business school: INSEAD taught me a set of values. I think INSEAD is very unique in the world of business schools in that values are part of its genes and have always been so since its creation 50 years ago. These values are not formally taught as a subject, but they are instilled more as the result of their being no dominant culture, language or nationality - it’s all part and parcel of the INSEAD experience.”
“I believe that if you want to create a successful and sustainable business then you need to instill values in everything you do.”
In recent years Rolf has been very active in senior roles for INSEAD, serving both on the Board and as Chairman of the INSEAD Alumni fund. His goal is to help further INSEAD’s developments and other organisations that serve and enhance values in society.
“As a father of four children, who have all begun their lives with proper values and educations, it is natural that I think about them with pride and with thankfulness for what my wife has done. Professionally, I am grateful I ran into all of the great individuals that now make up the management teams of our companies.”