Business Week e.biz -- Special Report -- Leaders
Europe's Top e.business Leaders
Here they are--the pioneers of the Old World. They represent several countries and many industries, but these 10 people, in outfits ranging from Internet access providers to Web site designers to venture-capital firms to Germany's mighty SAP, have one thing in common: They're transforming Europe's economy, fast.Return to top
Ola Ahlvarsson: Result Venture Knowledge International
Don't be fooled by Ola Ahlvarsson's baby face, curly dark locks, and slight 154-pound frame. The 29-year-old Swede studied karate for 15 years to earn a black belt, then overcame Russian and other more experienced Asian fighters to win the 1997 Kickbox World Champion title in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. "I'm a determined guy," he says.
Instead of knocking opponents out in the ring, though, these days Ahlvarsson's considerable punch is focused on becoming Europe's leading e-commerce entrepreneur. He has helped create 20 Web businesses, from an online sports-equipment shop called sportus.com to a business clothing site called dressmart.com. The first of his projects, Sweden's online music CD retailer Boxman, ranks No. 1 in Europe and is planning a highly anticipated initial public offering this year.
Ahlvarsson's ambitions don't end there. This year he expects to help open 20 more sites through his firm, Result Venture Knowledge International, an idea-generation venture that comes up with Web business plans, helps line up funding, and participates in the launch. In return, he gets an equity stake. "When you go to dinner with Ola, there are always hundreds of ideas that pop out, and you have awesome fun," says Johan Sievers, an old friend who is marketing director for ISP Scandinavian Online.
Sweden couldn't be a better market to incubate Ahlvarsson's fledgling Web empire. The tiny country is embracing the Net faster than almost anywhere else on the planet--48% of its population is hooked up, vs. 43% in the U.S. But because of the small home market and obscure language, Ahlvarsson presses the startups to expand quickly. Boxman is already in eight countries including Germany and France.
Ahlvarsson had better hustle. From U.S.-based CDnow to Fogdog Sports, an online sports-equipment venture featuring hockey's Wayne Gretzky and basketball's Michael Jordan, online retailers from across the Atlantic are gearing up in almost all of Ahlvarsson's markets. "The Americans, with their secure positions at home and incredible market valuations, can take over almost anybody they want in Europe," says analyst Therese Torris of Forrester Research Inc. in Amsterdam.
The kickboxing champ isn't fretting. For now, Ahlvarsson is counting on his European roots and his headstart. Boxman has been online since 1997, two years before rival CDnow crossed the Atlantic. "Although the Americans have formidable market caps, they may lack the local touch," he argues. His favorite example: an American site called Getgift.com. "That means goat poison in Swedish," he says.
Ahlvarsson comes from entrepreneurial stock--of sorts. His father, originally a plumber, rose through the ranks of the Social Democratic Party to become Stockholm's deputy mayor. Recently, the son persuaded his father to run one of his new ventures--selling services and goods to city governments. Who says old Europe can't learn new Net tricks?By William EchiksonReturn to top
Ola Ahlvarsson, Result Venture Knowledge InternationalPosition
Founder and CEOContribution
Helped Sweden lead Europe's Net revolution by creating top pan-European e-tailers such as music shop Boxman and sportswear vendor Sportus.comAmbition
To turn back the impending American invasion of EuropeReturn to top