When Hennes & Mauritz launched its first store in London in 1976, Stefan Persson stood on the pavement outside handing out Abba records in an effort to drum up interest among passers-by.
Last year, when he presided over the Swedish fashion retailer's launch in New York, crowds laid siege to the store and the doors were closed to prevent the crush becoming dangerous.
It is an extraordinary transformation that has seen the group become one of the world's leading international clothing retailers, seemingly able to cross borders effortlessly in a business where such moves often end in failure.
For Mr Persson, H&M's majority owner, working chairman and former chief executive, it is not just the company that has changed but also global fashions. Back in the 1970s, styles differed strongly from market to market. Now the company's assortment is 95 per cent the same wherever you go.
The UK was the group's first step outside Scandinavia but by the time of the US launch H&M had 600 stores in 11 countries, spreading its concept of fashionable clothes at low prices throughout northern Europe.
Mr Persson says he is entering the US market with “respect” and “humility” but with the emphasis on fashion setting H&M apart.
There are the high costs of expansion into the US, where 85 stores are planned by the end of 2003. The move comes at a time when H&M is growing rapidly in other new markets such as France and Spain.
H&M is often compared to another Swedish retailing giant, Ikea, set up by Ingvar Kamprad. Ikea is unlisted and it is hard not to feel that Mr Persson envies Mr Kamprad's freedom.
Mr Persson says H&M was listed in 1974 for inheritance tax reasons and since the initial public offering it has never used the market to raise funds; expansion has been self-financed. To take the company private would be “unrealistic”, he says, adding that there are benefits, including the constant scrutiny that keeps management on its toes.
So what is H&M culture? According to Mr Persson, it is informality. Everybody can speak with each other, no formal meetings, common sense, business sense, a gut feeling of what is right, flexibility and speed.
Which is why the appointment in 1998 of the 33-year-old Fabian Mansson as chief executive came as a surprise. The former skateboard champion had a solid background in H&M but left to become involved in internet retailing.
Mr Mansson's resignation just two weeks before H&M's US launch forced Mr Persson to return to a more traditional candidate, Rolf Eriksen, who has been with the company for 16 years. Leif Persson, the recently appointed chief financial officer, has been there for 27 years.
Mr Persson does not seem too concerned about his rivals. H&M is constantly balancing the advantages of fast supply, which often means production in Europe, against cheaper but more time-consuming production in east Asia.
Mr Persson worked for many years in the shadow of his father, Erling Persson, who started the company in small-town Sweden in 1947, it is Stefan who is credited with turning the company into an international chain. He was helped by his experience in the UK, where the company has struggled with high rents and swings in the economy.