Swedish American Development Company, LLC is introducing engine component manufacturer VICI to the American market. Kenneth Konet, the driving force behind the task, took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the road leading VICI to sign its first order outside Scandinavia with Caterpillar.

Kenneth Konet, originally from Hackensack, NJ, started working for the American chapter of Sandvik after graduating from Pace Business College in New York with a degree in marketing and sales. He started at Sandvik in New Jersey as an internal sales representative, but was soon promoted to sales manager and eventually product development manager. He worked with Sandvik for 33 years and saw the company grow from a small enterprise to a world wide corporation.
During his tenure at Sandvik, Konet made several trips to Sweden, and his impression was that Swedish companies are very good at innovation, but bad at sales and marketing. He says even though Swedes speak English very well, they use terminology differently from Americans.
He says, ”We speak the same language and we think we understand each other, but we don't!“ Also, Konet adds, success in Sweden or Europe does not guarantee success in the U.S.
Raising capital, legislation, the network and infrastructure, and even the manner in which business is done is different in the U.S. ”The Swedes close a deal after all the potential issues are solved. The Americans close the deal and then worry about how to solve the potential issues,” he says.


From Sandvik to Finnveden, to facilitator
After gaining extensive understanding of the Swedish frame of mind, as well as retaining many friendships from his time at Sandvik, Konet was head hunted by a former colleague to a small company, Finnveden, which manufactures engine components for diesel motors. He went to Sweden at the end of summer and during a crayfish party decided he would become Finnveden’s sales representative in the U.S. He was hired as a consultant and started introducing their products to the North American market. Until then, Finnveden had only supplied Scania and Volvo, so Konet immediately started introducing Finnveden to heavy duty machine manufacturers in the U.S. Again, he proved himself a forceful sales representative.
During his first six years, the company grew, retaining sales worth $15 million. After 10 years with Finnveden, Konet decided to retire once again, this time moving himself and his wife to Hawaii.
The retirement lasted two years—until he decided it was time to get busy again. Konet set up Swedish American Development Company, a consulting firm for helping Swedish companies establish a market in the U.S. He landed contracts with Tibro Furniture, Visualeyes, and eventually Herrljunga Emballage and VICI, another engine components manufacturer. He says happily, ”VICI just signed a contract with Caterpillar. This is their first order outside Scandinavia.” Again, Konet has showed his sales strength.

Swedish-American to American-Swedish
Working to promote Swedish-American relations is only one direction of this man’s active business life. In a confidential tone, Konet says, ”I collect fine wines from Europe and Napa Valley. I had some concerns about the wines, whether they were going to go off, so I put an ad in the paper." The person who contacted him was the sommelier of Simple Math Wine Cellars, a marketer of fine wines. They connected instantly and decided to team up and import fine wines in Sweden. Through connections with people who have imported Pommeray, among other champagnes, to Sweden, Konet and Simple Math Wine Cellar have started discussing distributing high end wines to Grand Hotel in Stockholm, as well as other five star hotels and restaurants.
This busy man does admit, however, that times are changing and technology is taking over. But the recipe for a good relationship with customers remains the same. While emphasizing the importance of personal relationships, he states: “Personal contacts are always the most important thing. Knowing people, what their interests are and talking to them about their families is so much more important.”
So what’s in store for Konet's future? He says, “At some point, I know I have to make up my mind about what I want to do with my life.”
We are all equally excited to see what Konet’s next project will be. Considering what he has accomplished so far, it's surely going to be extraordinary.

By Alexandra Nybratt