A Living Story: Ole Kirk Kristiansen and the LEGO® Company
The LEGO® Bricks We Love
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If you are like me and have a son or daughter who loves to build, you will be buying some LEGO® products this Christmas. If this is not you, then I bet you already own something. Am I correct in my assumption?
These days, nearly every big box store carries LEGO® merchandise. They have even made multiple LEGO movies in the past couple of decades! Globally, it is a giant of a company.
But many giants have humble beginnings.
Nearly a century ago, we face a young man who is staring down a decision. The year is 1929. The stock market in New York City crashes. The effects, as we know, reach beyond the U.S.
A man in Denmark is staring down decision. The prices of major Danish exports, butter and bacon, plummet. Having known the agrarian life as a child, this grown man has marketable carpentry skills. He had been an apprentice under his brother and loved working with birchwood. He has his own carpentry business, but the farmers who suffered economic loss can no longer afford his carpentry work.
A man in Denmark is staring down a decision. In 1931, Ole Kirk Kristiansen lets his last worker go. He ventures out into the unknown.
The National Association for Danish Enterprise is there to help. Established in 1908, the association promotes Danish manufacturing and the sale of Danish goods domestically and abroad. Ole is a member. As he opens up the pages of the association’s magazine and scans the advice column, he stops. He looks more closely at the words. Readily marketable products – step ladders, ironing boards, toys – wait. Toys? These products are the wave of the future, the hope for economic recovery, and Ole Kirk Kristiansen can see that future. Hope washes over him.
A man in Denmark is staring down a decision. It is not made for him. He has to step out in boldness, tuning out the critical voices of his relatives. The din of the uncertainty does not make him relent in his march toward a new business venture. Scary? Of course.
“… I looked to the future with hope. But within two months my world was tumbling. There was a crisis in farming but as we owed our living to the smallholders and farmers, we were also affected. We were in a difficult time – but it was as well that we could not see what lay ahead. During the summer we were asked to make toys for Jens W. Olesen, Fredericia, and as we had no other work, we looked on it as a gift from God.”
(from Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s 1932 memoirs)
Toys On the Horizon
The year is 1935. Up until this point, our Danish friend had been refining his toy-making skills, but had not been focusing exclusively on toys. Furniture and buildings were a large part of his repertoire. (I sometimes imagine being a chair that Ole Kirk Kristiansen fashioned. If chairs had feelings, how proud I would feel!)
A man in Denmark is staring down a decision. He knows he would have to either drop his old craft, or extinguish his dream of toymaking. He can not have both toys and his old craft. It is an either-or decision. And he makes that decision. The rest is history. Or is it?
Ole Kirk Kristiansen would go on to make his LEGO business one of the most successful companies in the world.
What I love about Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s story is his tenacity in the midst of adversity. He had so much hope, but had so many reasons to give up. His wife died when the four children were young. He had the task of raising four boys, all the while pouring into his business. Yet, this family’s story is deep and long. The legacy Ole left his sons is indescribable. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen is the son who carries on the legacy. His innovation is undeniable. Yet, it was his father, “Far” as the Danish would say, who modeled the standards of excellence, innovation, and hope. He had plenty of sayings that we all could think upon, one of them being, “only the best is good enough”. He was truly a man of principle.
Living Ideas, Living Stories
This story is just a mere example of the kind of living ideas I want my children to feast upon. There are plenty of good stories out there, if we dig for them. The living ideas in these stories captivate the heart. They fire the imagination, stoke the emotions. They are written to convey universal truths and point to the light and truth that God has given us.
If you are interested in learning more about the LEGO® story, watch this short film on the company’s site.
Have you ever wondered how certain companies were founded? On which principles did the founders build their businesses? I challenge you to look up these stories. They might surprise, even captivate you.