Formerly CEO of Carlsberg and Royal Scandinavia (the Danish industrial holding company for several brands across porcelain, glassware, accessories, cutlery and jewellery manufacturing including Georg Jensen, Royal Copenhagen and Holmegaard), Flemming Lindeløv is now Chairman of Toneart A/S, the holding company for the PH Furniture and PH Pianos brands exclusively licensed to produce the furniture designs of the late Poul Henningsen (PH). PH Magazine spent some time with Flemming in order better understand his role in the business.
PH Magazine: How Did You Become Involved with PH Furniture?
FL: When you have been a CEO in big Danish Companies for over 30 years you do not have time to do what you want as a private person. You are working eighty to ninety hours per week. After I stopped as a CEO I promised myself to take care of myself and do what I think are my true interests. I divided my life in to three areas. The first is to be a professional Chairman in different companies. I currently sit on eight different boards and I am Chairman of four of them. One of these is Illums Bolighus.
The second thing is also to do what I think is really wonderful, to be involved in art and design. I have been Chairman of Designmuseum Danmark for the last eleven years, a job with the aim to really to put a little business thought in to an art and museum world. I am also involved in a design award called ‘INDEX: Design To Improve Life’, a national Danish design award and I have been sitting on that board for the last ten years.
The third is to help people to start companies and help those start-up companies to be a success. So this is how PH Furniture fits in.
I was sitting at the Copenhagen Business School about ten years ago, listening to a professor talking about corporate governance and that is where I met Søren (CEO of PH Furniture). He asked me ‘Do you want to help me with the PH Piano and PH Furniture businesses’?
PH Magazine: And after some discussion, you said ‘Yes’. What were your first tasks?
FL: In the beginning it was only focused on the PH Piano. At the end of the day, I am a very focussed man. I continued to push for the highest quality production and products. That was the year that we made the agreement with the Blüthner piano factory in Leipzig to produce the PH Piano.
With the PH Furniture, it was only the chairs that we started with. There were real challenges with production. We started with the Snake Chair. We looked for manufacturers who were capable of making the chair firstly in Denmark, then in the Ukraine, then in Germany, then in Holland then eventually Søren found a small producer in Switzerland. The Swiss manufacturer can now produce the Snake Chair up to the high standards of PH and ourselves. Then, after a couple of years having developed and produced the chairs, we discovered all the drawings of the PH wooden furniture that had never been produced before at the National Library. Now we had found the wooden furniture we asked the family of the late Poul Henningsen if we could have the sole right to produce this furniture also. The family of PH agreed to our proposal. So we started with the piano and the chairs and then we started to find producers to make the wooden furniture.
It has been a long road to find producers that have the quality aspect we need but are not too expensive as to make the product out of reach for many people, which is not something that PH would have approved of. We are now working with manufacturers in Switzerland with the Snake Chair and in the Baltics and in Denmark with all the wooden furniture and of course the piano is still made by Blüthner in Germany.
PH Magazine: You are a commercial person, but you obviously have an interest and an eye for design. Why are the PH designs so special?
FL: I think we all as a human being want things we have never seen before. Things standing there like a piece of art. The Snake Chair for example is at the end of the day a piece of art. Having tried for two to three years to find producers to manufacture it we realised how very special it is. When Poul Henningsen made it back in the 1930s when everything was produced by hand, how could they really produce the Snake Chair? When you go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Design Museum in Denmark, the early Snake Chairs were of not the high quality that we are able to produce today.
As for the PH Piano, you have never seen a piano like that. That is a piece of art, also. The Snake Chair I think is fantastic and then the whole history around the Axe Table….how PH had been in Canada and he had seen the axe. He made the PH Board Table for people working in his workshop. It is furniture design that is unique.
PH Furniture: Thank you, we look forward to further discussing your thoughts on PH Pianos and PH Furniture in Part Two of our discussion.