At the end of the 1980s, Leif could never have imagined that a machine business would be the start of a journey leading to the creation of one of Europe's largest production plants for forestry and agricultural machinery, in Estonia. Leif recounted how it all started: “In the late 80s I took a ferry destined for Estonia. The main impetus for the journey was pure curiosity and a good deal of general interest. But the deprivations I witnessed among people just 400 kilometres from the Swedish coast affected me deeply.
I couldn’t just shut my eyes to that, shrug it off and travel home. Ever the entrepreneur, I felt duty-bound to do something. I chose to stay and have never really truly returned since. I saw deprivations, but also opportunities. An opportunity for me personally to create a future there, but also the opportunity to get involved, make a difference and create a future for others”. Fors MW was established in 1992, making it the oldest Swedish company in Estonia.
Leif continued: “The company started by manufacturing everything from circular saws to candlesticks, but business was so-so. My interest in forestry spurred the idea of making a lumber trailer”. No sooner said than done: the first FARMA trailer was constructed on the factory floor. Initially, the quality was nothing to write home about, but the price was pioneering. For the first time ever, small forest owners could afford to buy a lumber trailer, and sales soon took off. At that time, FARMA was only made in a single model; today, FARMA is one of Europe's best-selling lumber trailers, and it comes in wide range of models that can be varied almost infinitely. This is not due to any particularly unique feature, but to the fact that we have been adept at keeping down the retail price, while maintaining consistent high quality in the product.
Leif said: “I always liked forests, and that led naturally on to a keen interest in land and soil. In the early 90s, it was a thrill to start my own forestry and farming operations in Estonia. Today, the farm has 3350 acres in one parcel, 2220 acres of which are forest. The choice of lumber trailer was a given, and over the years, Fors MW products have been tested intensively on the farm. There were many times when I came in to the factory on a Monday morning after a hard weekend's work on the farm, and exasperated, ended up involving everyone in something like the incorrect mounting of a cylinder. But we learned a great deal along the way. We learnt how to use our products in practice”.
Today, Fors MW is a successful company with hundreds of employees, subsidiaries in Sweden and China, and three market leading brands: FARMA, BIGAB and FARMA-N (formerly NIAB). Fors MW saw and survived it all, from the Estonian bank collapse in 1997, which nearly drove us bankrupt, to one February night in 2006 when the fire alarm connected to the mobile started sounding at five in morning. “I drove at lightning speed to the factory only to see my life’s work go up in flames ”, Leif recalled. The damage from the blaze was so extensive that it went down in history as the biggest-ever industrial fire in Estonia.
In retrospect, crises often prove the best teachers. And in getting back to business as usual after the fire, planning was essential. A lot of effort went into physical rebuilding, but balanced with our dedication to catering to market demand and preferences regarding our products. The result was rapid recovery. We struck the right balance between rebuilding and maintaining our product innovation and development, since this was the passion that had powered Fors MW from the start.
Throughout Fors MW’s existence, our passion has been product development. We have always striven to improve and will continue to do so. We believe that Leif would be proud of our current standing if he was still with us. Sadly, after several years battling cancer, Leif Fors passed away in April 2015.
Our history has made us respectful of the future. We know that anything can happen, we know you are never better than your last innovation or your last customer contact. Follow our onward journey through our blog at www.forsmw.blogspot.com and social media channels.