Ask any outdoor enthusiast about favorite brands and a handful come up over and over. Patagonia. REI. The North Face. Others are more specialized. Orvis for fly fishing, hunting and dogs. Camelbak for portable hydration. Atlas for Snowshoeing. But there is one brand that makes the pursuit of the great outdoors possible for many urban and suburban dwellers alike:
Even if you’ve never heard of Thule, you’ve probably seen their products. They make the roof rails and boxes, bike carriers and trailers that enable people to transport their gear from the suburbs to the slopes.
Chances are that next to the Honor Student bumper sticker on your neighbor’s Canyonero, minivan or Mini is a Thule trailer hitch or bike rack.
Founded as a family business in 1942, and now owned by private equity group Nordic Capital, what keeps this company headquartered way up in Malmö, Sweden on top of the global marketplace? We believe part of the answer is Thule’s success in creating a culture of shared purpose across the organization. The company, which has 4400 employees but only 17 working at the home office, calls the glue that binds them all together the “Spirit of Thule:
“People within Thule share the same passion as our customers – the passion for an active life, and outdoor activities. We understand customer needs, because we are consumers ourselves . . . . The Thule culture breeds this active involvement – to make smart, stylish and safe solutions to enable consumers to do the things they want to do. No problems, just load your gear and off you go. This freedom is valuable to our customers, and it is valuable to us working at Thule.”
The company’s Swedish origins and headquarters also play a central role in guiding the Thule culture - they’re so integral to Thule’s operation that it has incorporated the word “Sweden” into its logo. That word evokes “the inherent values of a Scandinavian-based company, namely solid quality, timeless design, continuous innovation, and respect for nature and all co-workers.” The company calls its approach “Management by Objectives,” stressing open communication and decentralized decision-making, which it sums up simply as “no nonsense.” And if that isn’t progressive enough, Thule notes: “Going on vacation is as important as exercising together with colleagues during working hours or being involved in activities for the kids.”
This all might seem hopelessly utopian, but for one fact: Thule has been consistently profitable throughout the last 60 years.