SHOCK TO THE SYS­TEM

For 40 years, founder, owner and CEO Kenth Öh­lin has given his all to the com­pany that car­ries his name, Öh­lins Racing AB. It has been a life-con­sum­ing pas­sion

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Late last year it was an­nounced that Swede Kenth Öh­lin would be step­ping down from the CEO role of the com­pany fa­mous for its shock ab­sorbers, but while he plans to slow down, he won’t stray far away from his life­long pas­sion.

“I have no in­ten­tion to stop,” smiles Öh­lin, “but I will take care of other tasks as­so­ci­ated with Öh­lins Group, and I will still be in­volved in the tech­nol­ogy which is my real in­ter­est. I will how­ever be more about the strate­gic side for Öh­lins Racing as I con­tinue on the board.”

The son of an en­gi­neer, Kenth was born north of Stock­holm in 1949. He ac­knowl­edges how much he learnt from his par­ents. “They taught me the value of hard work early in life,” he says.

“I was raised at a me­chan­i­cal work­shop that my fa­ther owned, and lived in a small town that had quite a num­ber of Swedish mo­tocross riders who trained and com­peted nearby. I had the priv­i­lege to watch the great riders train, and built an in­ter­est in mo­tocross and com­peted my­self.

“I was born at the right time,” he con­tin­ues. “Swedish mo­tocross was bloom­ing and one could take in­spi­ra­tion from tal­ented en­gi­neers who worked on im­prov­ing mo­tor­bikes. This was a pe­riod when there weren’t that many mod­i­fi­ca­tions avail­able to buy; if you wanted to im­prove some­thing, you had to do it your­self. And through my par­ents’ work­shop I was able to learn the prac­ti­cal as­pects from re­ally skilled peo­ple with a great deal of ex­per­tise.”

First, though, came a mo­tocross ca­reer, racing around the world with Amer­i­can and African tech­ni­cians, giv­ing him more op­por­tu­nity to learn and in­spire him to use that on his own ma­chine.

“In the early 1970s, the con­tacts I made prob­a­bly gave me a head start on many oth­ers,” re­calls Öh­lin. “In my mo­tor­cy­cle ca­reer I had been work­ing with the damp­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics and had knowl­edge of how bad the sus­pen­sion was on a ’bike dur­ing this time. I de­cided to de­velop my own shock ab­sorber, which would cor­rect the weak­nesses. Dur­ing this time there were no prod­ucts on the shelves so it wasn’t so hard to de­velop a new and bet­ter prod­uct. To­day it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story.”

Öh­lins shock ab­sorbers soon be­came a force to be reck­oned with, helped by a world cham­pi­onship win in 1978. Husq­varna placed an or­der for 10,000 shock ab­sorbers to equip their bikes.

“This showed that we were on the right track and could hold our own as an OEM,” says Kenth.

“At first we were alone in hav­ing a ded­i­cated racing ser­vice. I took care of that my­self for many years, pack­ing my old Mercedes bus full and set­ting off around Europe ev­ery week­end, ser­viced shocks at races and then re­turned home to work on Mon­day evening. I had the bus fit­ted with shelves, cup­boards, a work­bench and a small wash­ing ma­chine. It’s not like it is to­day but it got the job done.

“Above all, we were avail­able in the pits when we were needed!”

On four wheels, a Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship ti­tle fol­lowed in 1986, an­other of many suc­cesses the founder looks back on fondly. “To have had the chance to build this com­pany from a ‘garage’ com­pany to the large world­wide cor­po­ra­tion we are to­day with a turnover of 100 mil­lion euro gives me pride,” he smiles. “To­gether with so many tal­ented and hard work­ers we have been able to see so many great re­sults to­gether.”

For now though, it’s time for the Swede to throt­tle back a bit and savour the life around him. “Öh­lins has been a huge part of my life for the past 40 years, per­haps too much! Öh­lins has been 24 hours a day for me and un­for­tu­nately I have had not enough time for the fam­ily, my wife, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

“I will still work, but at 80 per cent now. I will have more time with my fam­ily.” ■

Kenth Öh­lin pi­o­neered sus­pen­sion tech­nol­ogy Öh­lins’ de­signs have gone on to be­come world-beat­ing ones Damper tech­nol­ogy has moved on a lot since foun­da­tion Öh­lin has his roots in mo­tocross, be­ing a suc­cess­ful rider

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