The LEGO Story

The history of LEGO and how we can learn from it today

Everyone has seen and played with LEGO bricks at some point in their lifetime. Have you ever wondered how it all started and who was behind the company that created one of the most recognisable toys in the world?

The story of LEGO is a remarkable one. Read this insight to see how the family who founded LEGO tackled the challenges they faced throughout their journey to becoming one of the most reputable toy companies in the world.

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Ole Christiansen, a skilled carpenter, was struggling to make ends meet and had to let go of his last employee. Just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, he also lost his wife. Determined to provide for his four sons, he began inventing wooden toys. Despite slow sales, the quality of his craftsmanship eventually caught the attention of a wholesaler, leading to an increase in orders. One of his sons, Godtfred, started helping out after school and together they just barely managed to keep up the production. They were persevering to get the toys in the shops ready for Christmas.

About half way through the production, Ole received a letter stating that the wholesaler had filed for bankruptcy and couldn’t pay for the toys. Unsure what to do at first, Ole decided that he was going to personally go and sell the toys despite not being a very good salesman. He managed to sell the toys although sadly not for as much money as he’d hoped, most shop owners offered him trades instead. Luckily, he received enough food to keep his family fed over the Christmas period.

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Time continued to pass but the toys still weren’t selling as quickly as expected. Ole knew he needed to change something. This brainstorming led to him coming up with the name “leg godt,” which in Dutch means “play well.” What he hadn’t realised at the time was that in Latin the word LEGO means “I put together”. The name was very well received and the company began to grow, with more orders and more money coming in.

With new machines, the quality of the toys improved further. Godtfred took some time to help create some toys himself and focusing on profits, decided he wanted to cut some corners. Ole found out and made sure that Godtfred went back and made the toys correctly, to the high-standard they always provided for their customers. Ole wanted to show Godtfred that they were creating a brand where every detail matters and only the best is good enough.

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In the late 1930s, LEGO was making a profit, even when the war broke out. But then disaster struck again. When a fire destroyed their workshop, Ole had to rebuild the company once more and began experimenting with plastic moulding machines. A newfound success with plastic toys led to the creation of the LEGO system of play, which revolutionised the toy industry. Despite setbacks, including another fire and the decision to stop producing wooden toys, LEGO continued to grow under the leadership of Ole’s son Godtfred. Today, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen continues his family’s tradition of encouraging children to explore, experience, and express their creativity through the world of LEGO.

How can we use this inspiring story to become even better leaders?

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  • Tackle the challenges – they are inevitable in business and it’s what you do after that is going to have the biggest impact. Be optimistic and try to get the best out of any situation. Never give up. Persevere through the hard times with your head held high so you can go on to celebrate the good times.
  • Remember your standards – even when money may be tight, don’t lose sight of your standards. Focus on continuing to provide a product or service of the highest standard. Be clear and concise about these standards so your whole team don’t lose sight of them either.
  • Pivot your company when new opportunities arise – pay attention to the wants and needs of your customers and don’t be afraid to divert down another route if that is what is necessary for your company to continue to grow and be successful. Be flexible and encourage your employees to be too.
  • Solve problems – chances are, you have a strong team around you with a breadth of knowledge, experience and expertise. Encourage collaboration and use your team wisely to help come up with innovative and creative solutions to problems. Always look ahead – think of how you and your team can take ideas further.
  • Prioritise employee satisfaction – this will help to increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction, retain your company’s reputation and reduce overall costs due to minimising staff absences and recruitment.