Curt Bergfors – an entrepreneur and philanthropist

Curt Bergfors (1949-2022) was an entrepreneur but foremost a philanthropist and built an empire rooted in empathy and concern for the wellbeing of both humans and the Planet. Already at 15, he knew he wanted to help the vulnerable and recognized that he needed financial independence to do so. Four years later, he founded MAX Burgers AB in the northern Swedish town of Gällivare. The restaurant would grow into a small fast-food chain and become a local favorite. Gradually, it expanded across the country, even outperforming a couple of ubiquitous global franchises. Whereas the latter focused on the “fast” part of flipping burgers, MAX fixated on quality, fresh and healthy ingredients, and a well-designed environment. It paid off. Today, MAX operates 170+ locations worldwide. Its success afforded Curt the satisfaction of fulfilling his lifelong goal.

A vanguard on many levels, Curt was an environmentalist long before the word became a catchphrase. In 1969, he launched an ecological agenda that included recycling cardboard and banishing certain single-use packaging. The initiative grew from there. In 2008, MAX became climate neutral, offsetting its entire carbon footprint through reforestation projects in Africa. A mere ten years after that, MAX emerged as the world’s first climate-positive company by overcompensating for its greenhouse gas emissions across the value chain – measuring them from farmers’ land to guests’ hands and including their waste, travel to and from the restaurants, and more. MAX received the UN Climate Change Action Award for this work.

Curt became a wheelchair user after a 1986 diving accident. It did not stop him from leading a full life. His disability inspired him to pursue projects that promote accessibility and diversity in the workplace. From the start, Curt had ensured that MAX was an inclusive company, employing people of all origins and providing a safe workplace for employees with disabilities. Since 2006, MAX has cooperated with Swedish government-owned Samhall to increase employment among people with functional diversity.

Under Curt’s leadership, MAX has supported numerous projects in underdeveloped countries. To guarantee continuity, he donated 9% of the shares in MAX’s parent company and established the foundation Stiftelsen Rättvis Fördelning (Fair Distribution) on MAX’s 40th anniversary. So far, the foundation has secured and built healthcare facilities in poverty-stricken regions of Africa and Haiti and restored infrastructure and local economies in areas hit by natural disasters. The foundation’s creation was, in Curt’s own words, “not an act of charity, but of a human responsibility.” He carried out his responsibility away from the public eye, as his mission was to make a real difference in the long term, rather than garnering attention and accolades.

Notwithstanding, Curt received “HM The King’s Medal of the 8th size with the ribbon of the Order of the Seraphim for significant contributions within Swedish industry” in June 2019.

That same year, he established the Curt Bergfors Foundation. Thus, the visionary entrepreneur who embraced a sustainable business model over 50 years ago widened the scope of his environmental work to take on the Planet’s greatest threat – our global food system. Through the foundation and the founding capital he provided, Curt acknowledged that our current ways of producing, distributing, and consuming food are causing significant damage and that we must urgently and drastically change our modus operandi to save both human and planetary health. The foundation supports the transition to sustainable food systems through research grants, awards, and information campaigns. Its primary tool is The Food Planet Prize. With an annual award of two million USD, it is the world’s most significant environmental endowment. The Food Planet Prize rewards innovative initiatives that will improve the global food system within a ten-year period while supporting a resilient biosphere and feeding a growing world population. It is Curt’s brainchild and his greatest legacy. He wished to contribute to a better, more bountiful Food Planet and was confident that it could be nursed back to health.

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