L.O. SMITH: THE MAN ON THE ABSOLUT VODKA BOTTLE
It’s very likely that you have seen him on the medallion on bottles of Absolut Vodka. A distinguished-looking, bald gentleman with a beard and a serious look. It’s equally likely that you don’t know his name or who he was. His name is Lars Ohlsson Smith, and he was an entrepreneur, a husband, a disruptor, a father, a member of the Swedish parliament, a Renaissance man, and a change maker.
L.O. Smith led a fascinating life, which the several books written about him attest to, and for us working here he’s more than the person who invented the product that would become Absolut Vodka and founded the company that would become The Absolut Company; he’s the embodiment of our motto “Passion For Progression” and our guide when we stumble upon challenges. “What Would L.O. Do?” is a question we’ve asked ourselves on more than one occasion.
L.O. was ten years old when he took his first employment with a trader in the town of Karlshamn in southern Sweden. He quickly realized that the turnover needed improvement, and headed down to the busiest fairway (the kind with boats, not golfers). He proceeded to tell every merchant he saw about the excellent quality of the goods sold by his employer, a PR campaign that resulted in a manyfold increase in turnover. By eleven years of age, L.O. had a yearly salary higher than the average adult farm worker.
With a start like that, it’s no wonder that he was a multi-millionaire (in today’s monetary value) by 23, and that he went on to found a company that would not only disrupt the spirits business in Sweden, but also become an important export that still, to this day, is the biggest food- and drink export from Sweden.
Today, the term ‘social entrepreneur’ is common – and L.O. was ahead of his time as he realized that his success was partly owed to the workers. He said “The workers have always been there for me. I must pay them back from my earnings.” and he did just that. He founded ‘worker circles’, organizations aimed at improving the situation for workers and opened canteens so that workers could access healthy and cheap food. As a member of parliament, he championed suffrage 50 years before it became the law of the land.
As a business man, he championed drinking with moderation and encouraged his workers to drink less. At the time of his birth, the average Swede over 15 years of age drank two liters of alcohol per week. The spirits produced contained dangerous fusel alcohol (“fusel” is German for “bad liquor”), which made people sick. Studying the subject during his travels, L.O. conducted experiments that proved the dangers with fusel alcohol and introduced a way to distill vodka with no fusel alcohol. He called his product Absolut Renat Brännvin (“absolutely purified spirits”), a name you may recognize …
Advocating moderation, making a superior product, caring for employees and co-workers, instigating a better world - these are not only some of L.O. Smith’s passions and achievements. These are also things that are very important to us to this day, some 104 years after his death. Thank you for your passion, L.O.!