On the road in Norway



Norway/Oslo

The most obvious difference between Sweden and Norway is the terrain. Sweden's mixture of flatlands and hills gives way to a very hilly and mountainous Norway.

Oslo, with a population of 500,000, is Norway's largest city and capital.


Aker a.s.

Every city has its hot spots for eating and hanging out. In Oslo it's Aker Brygge (brygge means; port). The downtown waterfront site is a former Aker shipbuilding facility. A few years ago the company took a huge risk and redeveloped the site into a mixed-use complex of offices, restaurants, retail shops and condominiums.

The walkways are packed with tourist/locals as I make my way to Aker's nine-story headquarters building. Must be about a dozen buildings in the Aker Brygge complex, all with varying shapes and designs (some square-shaped, others zigzag) and all containing lots of glass. Aker's is easy to spot because their name sits atop the side of the building.

Forde Geitvik, Senior vice President-Corporate Communications, answers questions and gives me a tour. Why is CEO Tom Ruud on the 6th floor instead of the ninth? The top three floors are condos. Still, Ruud has a terrific view of the harbor from his middle office.

Walking around we pass a display case containing a steel money box used by the 154-year old company back in 1841. There's also a logbook from 1854 and it's opened up to a page listing the owners of the company's shares.

Sales in 1994 were NOK 16.5 billion, income NOK 751 million. (One US dollar equals 6.2 Norway kroners) Approximately US$2.7 billion in revenues. Aker's two main businesses are: cement and cement-related building materials (Aker is the only cement manufacturer in Norway) and, oil & gas technology. Aker is one of the world's largest suppliers to the offshore oil and gas industry.


Dyno Industries A.S

Did you notice in the heading of the Aker story the "a.s." is in small letters while the heading for Dyno Industries is "A.S"? The AS is equivalent to the "Inc." used in the USA. Though it means the same and they're all legal, companies in Norway use the AS in a variety of ways: AS, A/S, A.S, a.s, a.s. and a/s

The bronze bust of Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite) in Dyno Industries' lobby tells me the company isn't above acknowledging the man responsible for creating the business they're in. Dyno Industries, founded in 1865 by Alfred Nobel's associate Carl Wennerstrom and a group of Norwegian businessmen, is the world's second largest manufacturer of commercial explosives and detonators behind ICI, the big British chemical company.

Built in 1961, the company-owned, 8-story structure in downtown Oslo is home to 130 employees. Tove Gjerdrum, Corporate Communications Manager, answers questions and walks me around the functional, no-frills offices. I'm disappointed in not finding any product displays on dynamite.
Revenues in 1994 were NOK 10 billion, income NOK 418 million. Explosive represents 46% of Dyno's revenues, plastics 21% and chemicals 33%. (For more information: DYN)


Norsk Hydro a.s

A half-mile from downtown in one of Oslo's ritzier neighborhoods stands the 14-story tower of Norsk Hydro, Norway's largest publicly owned industrial concern. Founded in 1905, with the Norwegian government owning 51%, Norsk Hydro, is Europe's largest fertilizer manufacturer and one of the world's largest producers of light metals aluminum and magnesium. The company's also big in the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and gas. Revenues in 1994 were NOK 71 billion, income NOK 3.9 billion.

Well, with a government owning the majority of the company I guess I can blame my lackluster reception on bureaucracy. Seems no one knows where my advance letter to the CEO went so, without any advance warning Tove Veirod, Corporate Public Affairs, gets the call to meet with me. My visit with Veirod is short and the extent of my tour consists of walking to her office and that's it.

Over 800 employees work in the building. The CEO's office is on the 8th floor instead of the 14th. Why?, Veirod doesn't know.

The 14-story structure was built in the 1960's and boy is it ugly. The brown pebble exterior on the concrete clad tower gives the effect of the building crumbling. Four varieties of cactus punctuate the lobby area.

SIDEBAR: So, what do Ottawa-Canada, Canberra-Australia, Wellington- New Zealand, Helsinki-Finland, Stockholm-Sweden and Oslo-Norway have in common besides being the capital of their respective countries and my having visited each city? In every instance so far, embassies are ALWAYS located in the wealthiest part of the city. That's the way it is in Oslo. Embassy row, with mansion after well-manicured mansion being home to this ambassador or that consulate, sits several blocks from Norsk Hydro's offices. What's really amazes me is how many supposedly "poor" countries always seem to have fancy digs. Rules of thumb I've learned: The US embassy will physically be on high ground and usually has the biggest office/mansion. Iran, Egypt and Russia always seem to have big compounds, with the later having the heaviest security. Will keep you posted on this as I progress through Europe.


UNI Storebrand

I'm in my hotel room reading the International Herald Tribune newspaper when I come across a full page color ad listing around 25 annual reports of Nordic companies you can send away for. The page shows the front of each company's 1994 annual report and right underneath is a small blurb. I immediately peruse the page to see if all the companies are on MY list to visit. Yep, they're all on my list or else their revenues are too small (must have at least $500 million). Hey! what's this? doing my research I never came across UNI Storebrand, an insurance company based in Oslo. The blurb says the company has assets of USD $16 billion, revenues of USD $2.4 billion and is Norway's largest private insurer. Jeez, how did I miss them?

It's the next morning and I'm in the reception area of UNI's 11-story, 400,000 square foot, bulky headquarters in downtown Oslo hoping to meet with someone with no advance warning. Turns out Jack Frostad from the information department is more than happy to meet with me and show me around the place.

Built in 1963, over 850 employees work in the place. The company's name is the result of a merger in 1991 between a non-life insurance company (UNI) and a life insurance company (Storebrand). Nothing special about CEO Age Korsvold's 10th floor office. I note the fake plant, computer and lack of family pictures. Seems Norwegian executives fall in line with Finnish and Swedish executives in not displaying pictures of family .

UNI gets an A+ for displaying flexibility in meeting and granting requests to a guy who shows up unannounced on a bicycle and asks, amongst other things, to see the CEO's office, boardroom and corporate art collection.


Orkla A.S

It's a pretty unassuming headquarters location for Orkla, the largest supplier of branded consumer goods in Scandinavia. Located six miles from Oslo, the small five-story, yellow brick building with maroon trim sits in an industrial site.

Halvor Stenstadvoid, Executive Vice President-Corporate Staffs, says a company chemical plant was formerly on the site. Fifteen percent of the company's revenues (NOK 3.2 billion) comes from Orkla's chemical operations. Total revenues in 1994 were NOK 21 billion, income NOK 1.1 billion.

Actually the site isn't as bad as it sounds--a little creek runs alongside the building and several picnic tables are nearby allowing the 55 employees to have a relaxing place to eat outside. There's no cafeteria but, a break-room.

Orkla is Norway's largest supplier of beer, carbonated soft drinks (has Coca-Coca license) and groceries. The company also owns newspapers and has long-term equity investments in quite a few large Norwegian companies.

The present Orkla is the result of two major mergers: in 1986 between Orkla Industrier and Borregaard and in 1991 between Orkla Borregaard and Nora Industrier. (For more information: ORK)


Hafslund Nycomed AS

The hilly neighborhood surrounding Hafslund Nycomed's headquarters consists of large stately turn-of-the-century homes and since theirs blends in so well I assumed it was a former mansion turned into a head office. Wrong. The two-story structure was specifically built in 1918 to serve as Hafslund Nycomed's head office.

Nancy Thingstad, Senior Officer-Corporate Communications, gives me the low-down as well as a tour of the place. No language problem here with Thingstad, she's an American-who moved here 20 years ago with her Norwegian husband.

A glass display case in the lobby area contains pharmaceutical products which doesn't quite tell the whole story of what Hafslund Nycomed does. Operating in 30 countries, Hafslund develops and manufacturers pharmaceutical but, is also the world's largest manufacturer of diagnostic imaging contrast agents. The majority of the company's revenues comes from the above-mentioned segments but, in one of the most unusual business combinations I've encountered-13% of revenues comes from its Hafslund Energi division. The company generates, transmits and sells electrical power. It owns 10 power plants in Norway and three in the United States (all in Maine).

Checking out CEO Svein Aaser's first floor corner office I touch the fake tree, eye the model sailing ship in a glass display (he likes to sail) and note the lack of computer in the room.

Thingstad peeks in the boardroom on the second floor and finds it occupied with senior management (including CEO Aaser). It's no problem though, as she utters something to them in Swedish and then waves me in for a quick look about.

The 108 employees have some great recreation perks: two tennis courts, squash and a solarium. The company also has the first child care facility I've seen in Scandinavia. The facility, in a quaint little red house behind headquarters, used to be a former company president's home. (For more information: HNB)


Kvaerner a.s

Though they're the largest shipbuilding company in Europe, it accounts for only 43% of Kvaerner's 1994 revenues of NOK 26 billion. Kvaerner's five business areas are: Mechanical Engineering (hydropower), Pulping (manufactures huge machines and systems for the chemical pulp industry), shipping (has interests in 28 gas carriers, eight reefers, three chemical carriers and a tanker), oil & gas (major supplier of oil and gas installations in the North Sea) and of course, shipbuilding.

Boy, these Norwegian companies sure know how to make use of former company factory sites. As with Aker and Orkla, Kvaerner has turned what used to be a company manufacturing facility into their corporate offices. It's a complex of three red brick, three-story structures located four miles from downtown Oslo.

Since the executives are all ensconced in one of the buildings, Rolf Maehle, Vice President-Public Affairs, concludes corporate headquarters consists of the 90 people working in THAT building.

The lobby, besides having glass display cases showing off scale models of various ships built by Kvaerner, contains a huge 7 foot by 20 foot National Geographic map on a wall. The map's title says it all, "Map of World Ocean Floor".

This is a surprise, I find no ships in CEO Erik Tonseth's second floor middle office but, Tonseth has not one, but two computers. The boardroom on the third floor isn't worth mentioning. (For more information: KUI)


Hakon Gruppen AS

Rule of thumb: headquarters for grocery store chains will be plain vanilla and located near one of their distribution centers. That's not the rule here at Hakon Gruppen, the largest integrated grocery store chain in Norway. I'm four miles northwest of downtown Oslo in a combination office park/light industrial/residential area and their four-story, orangish-brick headquarters looks brand spanking new.

There's a thick chain wrapped around the perimeter area of the front entrance door that I guess is to keep vehicles and bicycles from parking in the bricked-in area. I'm very picky about where I lock up my bicycle so it's around the chain we go. I end up locking my trusty steed right next to the door. But hey, evidently I'm not the only one's who picky because someone has illegally parked his brand new big red BMW K1100 motorcycle next to the front door.

Entering brings you to the reception area and a four-story atrium. Off to one side is a bowl of fruit (apples, oranges and bananas), coffee and cookies. Hanging on a far wall is a huge 15x15-foot tapestry with a Medieval scene designed on it. In front of the tapestry sits an impressive-looking Schimmel piano. But, the strangest sight is the larger than life-size bronze statue by Per Ung (1982) in the center of the atrium lobby. It's of a well-built nude male holding above his head a nude woman-who's upside down with her feet in the air.

Are Skindlo, Marketing Director, answers questions and gives me a tour. Art pieces are everywhere; on hallway walls, in offices and most of it seems to be modern. I ask, "Does the company have a corporate art collection?". Skindlo replies, "No, it all belongs to the owner of the company". Founder Stein Erik Hagen owns 55% of the company and the other 45% by ICA Handlarnas AB of Sweden (I visited Handlarnas earlier in Stockholm and gave up trying to meet with someone after several unsuccessful visits).

Founder, Chairman and CEO Hagen took over his dad's grocery store chain in 1986, which at the time consisted of 30 stores. Through acquisitions and rapid expansion there're now over 944 retail outlets with 1994 revenues of NOK 14 billion. Add another NOK 4.8 billion in revenues for its company-owned distribution network, one of the largest in Norway.

I don't quibble with Skindlo over Hagen being called the founder of the company instead of his father. Surprisingly, the privately held company puts out an annual report and in it, Stein Erik Hagen is referred to as the founder of the company. Did I forget to mention Hagen's only 40 years old?

Walking into Hagen's corner office on the third floor gives me a jolt. On his table sits a motorcycle helmet and there's a pair of knee-high black leather boots. Well, I just figured out who owns the illegally parked BMW cycle out front. Skindlo says Hagen also occasionally rides his other motorcycle (a "Harley") to work. It's a pretty casual set-up in Hagen's office. He sits at a table that looks more like a card table. I count six family pictures, spot a computer, smell the flower arrangement and check out the scale model oil tanker in a display case (he owns 50% of the tanker).

The building was built in 1993 but, the fourth floor was recently added. Over 140 employees work here.

The boardroom on the second floor contains three fake plants and a large oil painting by contemporary Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum. The painting is definitely unique, almost bizarre. It's of a dead knight lying on the ground. I've seen Nerdrum's work at several other companies and it's always entertaining.


Tiedemanns

I'm several miles from downtown Oslo and can tell I'm getting close to Tiedemanns's offices because the smell of tobacco is in the air. Yep, just as I suspected, head offices are adjacent to a company cigarette manufacturing facility. Over 20% of the company's 1994 revenue of NOK 4.9 billion results from tobacco sales, with the company enjoying a commanding 82% of the Norwegian domestic market. The majority of Tiedemanns' revenues though, comes from its food packing systems. It's one of the world's largest suppliers of total packaging systems for the dairy industry.

The 4-story headquarters has the 1960's look to it and upon entering I find the receptionist smoking away on a cigarette. A cigar store wooden Indian stands guard at one end of the lobby and lining one wall are four bronze busts of various past members of the founding Andresen family (all male).

A glass display case contains an interesting collection of 10 antique smoking pipes and antique tobacco tins. Several pipes are over two feet long with ivory ends. Without a doubt though, the neatest one is the pipe with the wood carving of a six-inch tall lion's head at its tip.

My visit is for naught as Anne Skettingland, secretary to Jorgen Walle-Hansen, who's head of Public Relations, steps out to the lobby and says her boss isn't available.


Statoil (Den norske stats oljeselskap a.s)

Leaving Oslo (southeastern Norway) I following the shoreline 300 miles to the westcoast and the city of Stavenger, population 100,000. One only has to walk around town and look at the signs on buildings to understand why Stavenger is nicknamed the "Oil Capital of Norway". All the "big boys" have their own office buildings here: Amoco, British Petroleum, Shell, Mobil, Exxon, Elf and Conoco to name a few.

Back in the 1970's when huge oil finds were discovered off the Norway coast in the North Sea, it set up a stampede by the oil companies-all wanting in on the action.

The biggest player in all this though, is Statoil, owned by the Norwegian government. Last year revenues were NOK 83.6 billion, income NOK 5.4 billion. As operator for about half of the country's oil production, as trader of 1.6 million barrels of oil each day from the Norwegian continental shelf and as operator of transport systems carrying Norway's gas to continental Europe; Statoil has clout. Norway is the world's second large net exporter of crude oil.

Riding eight miles from downtown brings me to Statoil's headquarters, a large complex of three-story buildings in an office park-like setting. While checking in with the security guard/receptionist I notice people keep walking up to a box filled with coins at the counter, grabbing one-then walking off. "You guys giving away money?", I ask. "No, they need a token to get out of the parking lot", the guard answers. When the tokens are deposited, the exit gates open.

Berit Slaattelid, Information Officer, answers questions. Over 2,000 employees work here. The first building was built in 1979 with the last addition in 1994. What's a side benefit of a huge complex like this? You can choose between four cafeterias.

Boy, it's really easy to tell where the executive offices begin and the offices for the rest of the help ends: we go from plain old carpeting to spiffy wood floors as I check out where CEO Harald Norvik's hangs his hat. Nice double-sided desk, one real plant and a computer in his corner office. Neatest item is the framed stock certificate for a 100 shares of Standard Oil, dated 1887 and signed by that famous oil kingpin J.D. Rockefeller.

This is the first boardroom in Norway where I've seen the Norwegian flag displayed. Matter of fact, the room has two. Also in a glass display case sits a pair of flintlock boxlock pocket pistols from the 1800's.

SIDEBAR One of my favorite pastimes involves checking out the wares of local grocery stores. It's fascinating. I miss walking into supermarkets and seeing familiar names and brands but, several USA products have made it big here such as: Coca-Cola, Heinz Ketchup, Wrigley's gum. Mar's, the secretive candy manufacturer, is big with its Dove ice cream bars as well as its Uncle Ben's brand rice and line of candy bars. One of my favorite candy bars is the Mar's bar but guess what?, when opening up the familiar Mars bar package here you bite into a Milky Way. They substituted the crummy Milky Way in place of my chocolate and almond friend!
Anyway, I'm walking down the aisles of this grocery store in downtown Stavenger I come across A&W Root Beer. Frito-Lay corn chips and Nabisco Ritz-Crackers. Wow!, it's the first time I've seen these all-American brands over here. What gives? The store manager says the flood of American oil companies here when black gold was discovered in the North Sea brought an influx of American employees and their families. The store started carry these products after receiving so many requests from these foodlorn Americans. Of course there's a price for having access to these goodies and it ain't cheap. That 16 oz. A&W root beer goes for $2.50.



Paul's Bumpy Ride

Bergen (population 200,000) lies about 150 miles due north of Stavanger. I elect to take the four-hour ferry ride to Bergen for two reasons: (1) I'll have a chance to see scenic fjords along the way and (2) it'll save me two days of riding. The ship, a large 300 passenger catamaran-type craft, sets off and about 15 minutes into the trip we hit choppy seas. Kids on the boat squeal with laughter each time we hit a wave. Me, I start to break out in a cold sweat and within 10 minutes I grab a nearby trash can and start throwing up.

It's probably about the longest three and a half-hours I've ever spent. How bad was it? One of the crewmembers suggested I go out to the small deck on the back of the boat because "fresh air helps". He walks me out there, brings out a chair and a plastic grocery bag for you know what. Before I can open the bag I start throwing up again ALL OVER the bag. It's very windy and I lose the bag to the wind. The railing catches the bag and guess what?, The dripping bag covered with you know what is blown back into my face!!!


Rieber & Son AB

You know, I was just thinking. I've been to over 1,700 companies and not once have I come across a company named Smith & Daughter or Smith & Daughters or Smith & Son & Daughter. Isn't it strange? Especially when you consider that half the population of the world is female.

The head offices for Rieber & Son hug the waterfront in a former company food factory. Built in 1931, the square-shaped seven story building was recently given a new facelift inside and out. While in the elevator on the way up to meet with Lise Redfern, analyst, I look down and note they use ugly brown Astroturf for the elevator flooring.

Rieber & Son has four main business groups: Foods (the production and sale of dehydrated soups, sauces, chocolates and spreads), Packaging (production and sale of corrugated board), Roads (asphalt production) and Building Materials (sale and distribution of building materials). Revenues in 1994 were NOK 4.2 billion, income NOK 282 million.

Working for a food company does have its perks. Every Friday the 200 employees in the place get free waffles and soup for lunch. "Yeah, but who's brand of soup is it?", I ask Redfern. This leads to my being led to the kitchen in the cafeteria to make sure there aren't any cans of Campbell's soup hidden away. The cafeteria has a nautical feel to it with the entry doors having portholes.

Nothing special about the CEO's corner office on the sixth floor. Though a meeting is in progress in the fifth floor boardroom, we walk in anyway. The table is natural stone with the letter "R" embedded in the middle. The two plants are fake.

The top floor houses a kitchen testing center for soups and it predictably contains quite a few working kitchens areas. Men and women wearing white doctor-like smocks are hard at work trying to develop new soups. Redfern says employees in the building get to volunteer to sample the new concoctions. (For more information: RIE)