Blog: Simon WarburtonSparkle in the rain

Simon Warburton | 29 October 2015

This year

This year's FKG Suppliers Forum was in a rejevenated industrial part of Gothenburg with ferries a major form of transport

To the backdrop of bright autumnal sunshine - not to mention a certain German automaker's woes - this year's recent FKG Suppliers Forum in Gothenburg fused a heady mixture of knowledge exchange and networking.

I don't think there's anything quite like it in Europe, maybe even further afield. It brings together around 400 suppliers from Scandinavia and Europe as well as those wishing to pitch their region for inward Swedish investment - in this case the American State of South Carolina - to debate the serious issues of the day - but also to chat and gossip in convivial surroundings.

Of course there was no escaping VW either. In the conference itself as well as at the pre-Forum dinner - enlivened by some Abba singers - well what else in Sweden - and the break-out sessions - the chat was all around Wolfsburg.

This wasn't so much the elephant in the room as a bull raging straight through a china shop - it dominated discussions like few other topics.

Maybe it was that sunny weather, but Gothenburg looked as if it had put on its best bib and tucker for the occasion. FKG - led by the formidably energetic Fredrik Sidahl - had decided to move this year's venue to the Lindholmen Conference Centre in Gothenburg's port district and its waterfront location meant many delegates - me included - arrived and departed by boat.

It's quite an experience sailing to work - particularly as the Swedish sunrise was just breaking at the right time - with the ferry buzzing from little port to port in between some seriously colossal car ships.

I think this is a city which could even sparkle in the rain, such is its cleanliness, while its pre-eminence with so many technological companies, made the Lindholmen Centre, a hotbed of auto and science expertise, a logical place for the Suppliers Forum.

Living up to its techie image, Gothenburg is also virtually cashless, at least in terms of public transport. It seems no-one takes money - it's all done through either registering online with your mobile - to which everyone here seems surgically attached - or buying an electronic card beforehand.

Maybe that's to take your mind off actually handing any of the folding stuff over - Gothenburg is noticeably expensive - I'm hoping their average wage compensates - but the intermodality - waterborne and terrestrial traffic are all on the same card - is impressive.

The Lindholmen area is filled to the gunnels with renovated warehouses from a bygone age, which quite possibly would have disappeared into dereliction if they hadn’t been injected with a new lease of life to become hotels, restaurants, small businesses and flats.

Evidence of a ship building heritage is hard-wired into these buildings' DNA with deliberately visible ironwork, girders, anchors and cranes incorporated into the fabric of enormous edifices.

I wrote this at Gothenburg Airport - itself the host of Finnair's brand new Airbus A350 when I arrived and as it embarks on short-haul crew familiarisation trials before starting on its intended long-hauls to Asia and beyond. Maybe the Finns - no stranger to Scandi technology themselves - recognise this city as at the cutting edge of science.

Even travelling on the coach here from the city, there was no respite from the relentless march of progress. On board were mobile phone ports, embedded above passengers' heads, with people attaching their chargers to them, looking for all the world as if there were half a dozen hospital drips in place, although these umbilical cords were also powering the free wifi.

It's no surprise why the Scandinavian suppliers body chooses to have its HQ here. Gothenburg is modern, vibrant and literally looking out to the world from its vast port, while the FKG itself generates considerable interest both home and abroad from its CEO's tireless globetrotting to bang the Scandi supplier drum.

As an organisation, it has its ear to the ground and a weather eye open for opportunity - witness its recent forray to Iran to meet domestic suppliers and OEMs as Tehran potentially opens up.

Sidahl often cites the UK's Automotive Council as a template for how government and industry can work together, but the FKG punches above its weight at home.

Will the Swedish government listen to it?

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