Åsmund Lærdal was an innovator.
He had a unique ability to spot needs, and develop products and systems that met those needs in the best possible ways. This ability enabled him to create niches and become a market leader, also through continuous improvements. Quality was an absolute demand in the company which he developed via 'Åsmund S. Lærdal. Paper and Plastics Industry' to 'Laerdal Medical'. «When people trust us, and want to exchange their money for our products, the exchange should always benefit them», he said.
Throughout 25 years, such exchanges related to children's joy. «Remember that good toys are vitamins for children» he told his employees.
Understood the power of advertising
At an early age he knew that in addition to doing something for himself and his family, he wanted to help others. Working out his methods, and recognizing the potential of advertising, Åsmund Lærdal spent a year studying this new subject, together with marketing, at the Copenhagen School of Economics. His quickly established pictograms reflect his grasp of the power of advertising. The clog with mast and sail, and the Tomte 'nisse' carrying a sack full of surprises and joy, were clear signals.
We can see this grasp equally in advertisements that appeal directly to the groups in question, whether parents and grandparents or dealers. Drawings of happy children ensure an immediate appeal which is reinforced by arguments. The company's books and toys 'have lasting value, as popular in years to come as they are today.'
Having developed his company into Norway's largest supplier of picture books and wooden toys, Åsmund Lærdal was the first in Europe with the attractive Anne dolls, and quickly became the market leader. He was an expert in what we today call implementing – spreading the new and having it used widely. In this sense, his greatest success was the Tomte cars. Even today, when we are used to international products that 'everyone' wants, 100 million cars, to children all around the world, appears impressive.
Sustained effort to promote life-saving
Åsmund Lærdal's strengths were equally decisive when he moved his goal from delivering children's joy over to promoting life-saving. Leading specialists immediately recognized the Resusci-Anne training manikin as an important innovation. However, their enthusiasm was not enough to have her adopted; during the first year he sold one single manikin in the US, at half price. Untiring effort and investment of resources were needed to make a break-through for instruction. He persuaded savings banks to donate 650 manikins to Norwegian schools, supported research that confirmed that children also could learn to master the mouth-to-mouth method, printed manuals and guidelines, organized symposia, and was a central force in making Norway a pioneering company in life-saving.
When Åsmund Lærdal died in 1981, at the age of 68, he left behind a unique legacy: a solid company that led the world in its increasingly high-tech niche, renowned for innovation and quality. Employees and collaborators trusted him so fully that they, like him, kept striving to make the impossible possible.
A man of deeds rather than words
He was a listener who always let action and deeds become greater than words. Most of all, he was a man of duty. The core of what others might see as idealism was a strong feeling of responsibility. He had been given his capacity and abilities in order to use them.
The trust which he inspired also related to his ability to gather bits and put them together, discern important connections and links to the future, and communicate in easy-to-grasp ways. Precisely this ability to communicate is a key element of implementing: developing new insight, and ensuring that it is spread widely and adopted, in places where it may be truly useful.
Written by Nina Tjomsland
Translated by Piers Crocker