Ulla Murman was an entrepreneur and a business executive. She founded what is now considered to be the first modern staffing agency.
Ulla Murman was born Ulla Malmgren in Trehörningsjö, Ångermanland in 1926. She was the seventh child born to the Malmgren family which came to number eight children. When she was four years old her father went bankrupt and abandoned his family. Ulla Murman was then sent off to a children’s home in Gnesta. Despite her scholastic aptitude she was not given the chance to sit her lower-school certificate exam. Instead, at the age of thirteen she was sent to live with her mother in Stockholm where she was expected to contribute to the family income.
Ulla Murman spent her evenings studying various subjects, including Swedish and English, and she also attended a type-writing and stenography course. In 1953, when she was 27 years old, Ulla Murman set up Stockholms Stenografservice. This was a traditional typing office where clients could get their own texts typewritten for a fee. However, it was not long before Ulla Murman also began to send her staff out to perform secretarial work at the clients’ offices. In doing this she had exceeded what she was legally allowed to do. The law had stipulated, since 1936, that it was illegal to run a private employment agency in Sweden. Staff leasing services were also considered a form of employment agency.
In 1955 a lawyer from Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen (AMS; Swedish Board of Trade) telephoned Ulla Murman to inform her that she was engaging in illegal staffing services. Ulla Murman was pulled up before the courts on several occasions during the ensuing decades and in both 1962 and in 1989 she was sentenced by the Swedish Supreme Court.
The demand for typewriting personnel from both the business world and government authorities was immense. Often the services requested involved the high-speed supply of a secretary to a particular office needing temporary staff or needing cover for an absent regular employee. Following a state-sanctioned investigation it was proposed in 1966 that the temporary supply of staff from type-writing agencies should be permitted as they fulfilled a specific service and were not causing a serious problem. The legal courts also seemed to agree that this form of transaction was not a serious crime as any sentences pronounced never exceeded low-level fines, even though the option of incarceration had been introduced in 1971. That same year the recruitment of staff from type-writing offices became a punishable offence.
At a government level, within AMS and Tjänstemannens centralorganisation (TCO) (Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees), opposition towards the staffing agencies continued. However, when the prosecutor general brought a suit against Ulla Murman at the Supreme Court in 1989 it became apparent that both the Supreme Court and the office of the prosecutor general had hired staff from type-writing service companies despite this being a criminal offence since 1971. Indeed the Department of Justice was itself also a client of these companies.
Ulla Murman was one of the instigators behind setting up the first organisation within the recruitment services, Svenska kontorsserviceförbundet (Swedish office services federation), founded in 1967 (later known as Bemanningsföretagen, now known as Kompetensföretagen). Ulla Murman was also a driving force within the efforts to get the organisation recognised as a legal and serious part of the Swedish labour market.
It was not until 1992 that staffing agencies became completely legal in Sweden. Six years prior Ulla Murman had sold her company to her son, Lars Murman, and Michael Haglind. They renamed the company Teamwork and sold it to the American firm Manpower in 1996. Subsequently it became the largest staffing agency in Sweden.
Ulla Murman died in 2019, the day after her 93rd birthday.