The impossible entrepreneur

Olle Larsson. Photograph: Carl Lemon

How would you like running a business partly based on the mythological character Sisyphus? Condemned to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration? Olle Larsson is the entrepreneur and business man who says ‘Sure, let’s give it a try’.

Well, it would be harsh to suggest that Olle Larsson, founder and owner of Sisyfos Group, is a modern version of Sisyphus. In fact, he’s quite the opposite in one very important aspect; his endeavors have been nowhere near as fruitless or futile as that of Sisyphus. However, the self-proclaimed political entrepreneur’s whole career has been characterized by the belief that impossible tasks – or at least reallydifficult ones – are worth pursuing. He has wholeheartedly embraced that idea, and it seems he’s on to something.

His company – named after the Corinthian king – buys and develops property that could easily be described as hopeless. One of their more recent developments is Wenngarn Castle, just one hour from Stockholm. When the company acquired the property, the castle was run-down and the surrounding buildings housed not only members of the Russian mob, but also a brothel and some 128 stolen and abandoned cars. To top it off, a building was set on fire on the same day they gained access to the site, with the Russian mob demanding ‘several millions’ in order to leave the property.

“I try to find the projects that no-one else dare to take on.” says Olle Larsson, explaining that Wenngarn is a perfect example of the kind of projects he’s built his company on. It’s a project characterized by the fact that the road to success is both challenging and bumpy. Perhaps it’s not the most typical way to build a business, but then Olle Larsson is not your typical business man. He acknowledges, however, that he is a fairly typical entrepreneur, driven by an eagerness to show that almost anything is possible.

That eagerness has proven successful, but it’s still just one aspect of Olle’s approach as an entrepreneur. He attributes just as much of his successful approach to his sense of justice, and the notion that companies can – even should – be a positive force in society. “I think everyone is driven by some kind of justice. Personally, I get really frustrated when people don’t seem to care about parts of society that doesn’t work as it should.” says Olle continuing, “A lot of people have a basic assumption that problems are too difficult to solve.”

That frustration aside, Olle Larsson sees himself as a positive person. He says part of what has made his business successful is that positive attitude – an approach that sees him go head first into projects with a positive and progressive vision, rather than drawing up meticulous plans with a predefined solution. According to Olle, the ideal way of working is instead by trusting your vision and using your energy enough to eventually find a solution along the way. “In all of our projects, we use our energy, lust and pride – the same things that drive me as a person – to gather momentum. We use that momentum to get everyone – local governments, neighbors, media, colleagues, ourselves – more involved and excited about being part of a vision.”

Olle private life is also characterized by that attitude. He and his wife have four teenage daughters and he describes himself as a ‘yes man’. Sometimes, he says, people might see him as “a bit too much”, but it’s a part of his personality that he tries to embrace: “The only way of learning is by trying. And you know what? If you want to have a fun, you sometimes have to be the one that makes the effort and throws the party”.

Perhaps the French author Albert Camus was right about Sisyphus when he famously wrote: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”