Norsk Hydro ASA

Norsk Hydro, with over $13 billion in revenues and over 39,000 employees, hold's plenty of sway in Norway. Though it's the country's largest publicly traded company there's a big catch: the Norwegian government owns 44%. What does that mean? Well, it means if the company's management were to screw up big time it's a safe bet the government will step in and bail it out. Many companies in France have this cushion.

Founded in 1905, Norsk Hydro is one of the world's biggest fertilizer manufacturers as well as one of the world's largest producers of aluminum and magnesium. Throw in its extensive interests in the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and gas and you've got yourself an 800-pound gorilla.

Being the heavyweight in Norway probably explains why my return visit doesn't fare much better than the first. The reception four years ago was lackluster at best and I could sense a certain amount of arrogance and bureaucracy in the air. The tour of the place consisted of walking to my contact person's office.

Located a half mile from Oslo's city center, the 14-story head office tower is just plain ugly. Built in the 1960's, the brown pebble exterior on the concrete clad structure gives the effect of the building crumbling. It's even more noticeable because this is one of Oslo's tonier neighborhoods with many embassies nearby.
It's raining heavily when I arrive and the tiny outside overhang barely provides cover. It makes stripping off the rain gear a tricky business. In the lobby are two different large slabs of concrete (each 20-foot by 20 foot) and evidently they're pieces of art since someone has drawn on them. Visitors can relax on six couches or two cushioned chairs. I check in with the receptionist and after making several phone calls she says no one knows anything about the introductory letter sent a month ago to Egil Myklebust, company president. Hmm, this is the same story I heard four years ago. More calls are made and Else Systad from Corporate Public Affairs steps out into the lobby. I explain what I do and how I was here four years for what turned out to be a not very insightful visit. Systad leaves and returns several minutes later saying if I could come back tomorrow Ragnhild Sohlberg, VP-External Relations and Special Projects, will meet with me. It sounds good so I quickly agree

I'm back again the next day for my 3:30 PM rendezvous with Sohlberg. We meet in her office and she mentions going to and looking up the story of my first visit. Sohlberg was surprised to read there were cactus in the lobby four years ago. Hey, what can I say I collect corporate trivia. Besides working for Hydro, Sohlberg also teaches at the Norwegian School of Management.
About 700 people work in the building. The company's corporate art collection is limited to young Norwegian artists and parking is free for employees. It's a 40-minute drive by car to Oslo's new airport. The old airport was very conveniently situated being only a few miles and minutes from the city center.

Like last time, it isn't possible to see the boardroom or CEO's office ("too busy") and like the previous visit I ask if there's any reason why the CEO's office is on the eighth floor instead of the 14th. Sohlberg doesn't know if there're any special reasons. A quick look at one of the guest dining rooms is the extent of the tour.
Any special company perks? No, not unless you have young toddlers and call the adjacent kindergarten a perk. I remember visiting a fertilizer company in Mississippi and instead of being giving the usual T-shirt or pen to commemorate my visit I received a small package of fertilizer (thankfully enveloped in a see-through container). Nothing of the sort happens here as Hydro manages to reinforce my generalizations of Norwegian companies: not very open, friendly or receptive to outsiders especially those on bicycles.