Union Bank of Norway and Gjensidige Group

Originally the plan was to visit Union Bank of Norway but when showing up at their headquarters in downtown Oslo I change my mind after meeting with Ole Harald Gilbo from the bank's corporate communication department. According to Gilbo, Union Bank (Norway's third largest bank and the country's largest savings bank) and Gjensidige Group (one of Norway's biggest insurance companies) recently announced plans to combine operations. "Oh, you mean it's a merger?", I ask. "No", answers Gilbo. "Oh you mean it's a takeover?" I ask again. Gilbo answers with another "No". Somewhat confused and at the same time bemused at how carefully Gilbo chooses his words I ask where's the head office going to be for this "combined "company. "It will be at Gjensidige's" replies Gilbo. Aw jeez, that's not the answer I wanted to hear. Why? Union Bank's head office is a former main banking branch and it's a gorgeous 150 year old listed building with a beautiful green marble atrium and majestic former banking hall.

Since Gjensidige is where the Big Cheese for this "combined" company hangs his hat I decide to ride over for a visit. Helpful Gilbo says he'll call and arrange for someone to meet with me. Before leaving, the accommodating Gilbo whisks me around for a quick look at the place. It's a real beaut.

The combination of Gjensidige Group and Union Bank of Norway forms Norway's second largest bank and second largest insurance company with a total of over 8,000 employees.

In the good old days (meaning before the brand new airport was built and the hour drive it takes to get out there) you could hop in your car in downtown Oslo, slip onto the freeway and be at the airport in 10 minutes. Many companies, never expecting or suspecting a new airport would be constructed, built offices along this freeway leading to the (old) airport. Gjensidige was one of those.

Headquarters is a good-looking six-story building built in 1991. The building's size is deceiving from the front side because it's built against a small hillside ands comes within 100 feet of the noisy passing freeway. Go around to the backside and you get a completely different perspective: the building is huge with the grounds reaching to the water's edge of a cozy inlet.

It's raining hard when I arrive and with no awning or overhang for cover I duck around to the side of the building where trucks make deliveries. Thankfully the security guard gives me permission to lock my bike up near the trash compactor. I normally don't like to take off my rain gear in the lobby (especially since it looks like I'm doing a striptease) but making the mad dash from the side to the front entrance sans the rain gear would leave me completely soaked. Though wearing rain booties over my shoes, rain pants, rain jacket, Australian rain hat and a carrying a backpack encased in a plastic shopping bag may look funny-I'm dry.

Who ends up answering questions and being my tour guide? It's Toril Dahl, secretary to CEO Sverre Hoegh Krohn. Besides being head of Gjensidige (a mutually owned concern), Krohn's also the man who'll head the "combined" companies. It's a treat having Dahl show me around, not so much because she's been with the company over 30 years and knows the history but, she's fun with a good sense of humor.

Smoking is allowed in the facility, there's parking for over 700 cars and everyone (including) executives eat in the cafeteria whose food according to Dahl is "good". Company history is remembered here with the names of past companies used to name meeting rooms. There's a fitness center (including soccer field) and even ATM machines. The company's website is primarily in Norwegian with some of the press releases translated into English. Employees perks? They receive a 1% discount on loans.

Dahl says the company's logo of an old man carrying a walking stick (a night watchman), is one of the best known in Norway. CEO Krohn's top floor middle office on the backside affords him a great panoramic view of the inlet.