HELGE LUND TENDS to skim-read files on Friday, reading the contents more thoroughly on Saturday and Sunday mornings before the family wakes up, preparing in earnest for the week ahead on Sunday afternoon.
Not one single weekend has passed without him working since he took over as CEO of Statoil eight years ago. In principle, he does nothing else during the week either.
“My wife would probably come with a riposte if you write that I’m often at the cinema or go to concerts. There are clearly some leaders much better than I am, training five times a week and making dinner on three of them. It can’t manage that. I try to incorporate exercise into the travelling. Otherwise, I train on Saturday and Sunday,” says Statoil's CEO in a portrait interview with Aftenbladet.
Both you and your wife have career-oriented jobs. How do you get this to work? “I couldn’t have had this job if my wife Else-Cathrine hadn’t taken most of the responsibility at home. I must be honest and say that it has been quite challenging at times, especially for her.”
Do you do anything to compensate?
“I try to do my portion under the “odd jobs” category and never lie on the sofa. Nobody in the family cheers when I’m in charge of dinner. In return, I'm a fast bread baker. I've also done everything I can to share a game of football with the children, but there are things I've missed that I wish I could have joined in on. One cannot live two lives. It has brought its costs with it. And by this, I’m thinking most about those who haven’t chosen it themselves.”
“Respect more important than popularity”
“It’s important to initiate measures when we can, not when we have to,” says Mr Lund.
Helge Lund explains "normalising" Statoil has been completely necessary. 2001’s stock exchange listing and the strong international commitment Helge Lund himself has eagerly strived towards mean that Statoil has to compete itself to opportunities in an entirely different way.”
“Competition becomes increasingly ruthless in a globalised economy. The demands for change, improvement and technology development become increasingly stringent, meaning Statoil must also constantly evolve in order to remain competitive. We need to do this faster than circumstances require. Nonetheless, I strongly feel that my main task is to ensure that we are competitive; not only today, but also in about five, ten, and fifteen years. We can’t justify restructuring with that we don’t earn money like other companies do.”
Statoil’s combined pre-tax profit has amounted to NOK 982.7 billion (about USD 173.6 billion) in the years Helge Lund has been at the helm. Statoil contributed NOK 130 billion (roughly USD 22.96 billion) to the community through taxes, fees and dividends to the government last year alone.
“Our profitability means masking a lack of improvement is easy. Statoil has to do these things just to create a better business in the future. Leadership is about doing things when you can, not when you must. It’s often too late when you have to. Not all the decisions we’re going to take will be as popular as others, but I think it's important for a leader to seek respect rather than to trying to be popular.”
Helge Lund says he believes in purifying, meaning one has to go through a difficult process in order to come out stronger on the other side. Refining is to strengthen Statoil’s international competitiveness. We are moving towards a responsible capitalism, which not only takes the shareholder's best into account. One is also forced to show employees, suppliers – the community — that business is positive.
Would it not also have been right to look at leaders' pension plans in light of this?
“The restructuring also applies to managers. Then there are some people at Statoil whose contracts already contain pension agreements. Statoil doesn’t wish to rescind pre-agreed deals. Statoil must have competitive conditions and stand by them. I understand that people are concerned about this, and it's a difficult issue to communicate. There are things I could have done better here.”
Helge Lund spends NOK 100 billion (approximately USD 17.66 billion) a year of Norwegian taxpayer's money. Maybe it is not so strange that he endures constant turmoil.
He would have seen the yards and boathouses and functionalist houses northwest of Flesland through a veil of low pressure this morning had he not closed his eyes.
The EC225-type helicopter was finally airborne following a delay caused by a thunderstorm. Mr Lund would soon see the orange flames from the Kollsnes processing plant in the distance. Yesterday, the gleam of light was so intense, it led to full emergency service deployment.
Helge Lund is on his way to Troll A.
Wants to meet the staff
The CEO wants to meet those who are out there doing the job; smelling the aroma in the bakery, as he describes it. He puts in an offshore trip twice a year. Nevertheless, Mr Lund could certainly have timed the visit better if his goal was to be welcomed with open arms.
The news Statoil is removing the so-called golden pension came this spring. Up until then, this scheme meant that employees could retire with a full pension at 62. It has been an especially good arrangement for the toilers in the ranks.
At worst, the consequences of the change could mean NOK 150,000 (just under USD 26,500) less per year, the unions calculate. Others have made calculations about Helge Lund’s own retirement pension. He may come away with NOK 4.5 million a year (about USD 795,000) as a 62-year-old if having built up full entitlement. These types of things lead to strikes and unrest.
This autumn brought renewed hullabaloo. In an article in connection with Statoil’s 40th anniversary, Helge Lund wrote that the Continental Shelf is changing and global competition is becoming tougher . "We shall be facing challenging processes and major changes ahead. It would be bad management to shy away from thi,s and not in line with our mandate."
Business daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN) thought this seemed important. What lay between the lines?
The newspaper attributed Helge Lund with the statement "Wants to replace workers with robots” and printed this on the front page. The newspaper apologised the following day for this having suggested Mr Lund had said this. Helge Lund had spoken in general terms, and pointed out that, "automation is part of the picture." Trade unions reacted strongly to the spread in DN. Some went as far as demanding Helge Lund's resignation.
A few days previously in London...
“A famous comedian said: I’m leaving London. The weather has become too nice. I hate London when it's not raining.”
Anders Hegna Hærland can constitute the joke worked as intended from his preferred seat at the back of the auditorium.
We are at the venerable Royal Geographical Society in London. The chuckling inside the brick building from 1830 no longer belongs to [Sir Henry Morten] Stanley and [Dr David] Livingstone, [Robert Falcon] Scott and [Sir Edmund Percival] Hillary, It is not the response to stories from the Congo River or the Himalayas.It is emitted by suit-clad oil executives and diplomats, top politicians and bureaucrats – mostly British and Norwegian. Delegates at the energy seminar organised by the Norwegian Embassy have just consumed a light social supper in the foyer. Now they are listening to Statoil’s CEO.
“I’m happiest in London when the weather is bad, because it means more revenue for Statoil,” Lund continues from the stage, with his characteristic humour.
Anders Hegna Hærland is head of the CEO's office. One of his tasks is to write speeches. The political scientist is a former Norwegian Labour Party (Ap) advisor. Now he follows three steps behind Helge Lund and glides, as now, seamlessly into any assembly involving the CEO.
“After a while we know which words he uses and how he likes to express himself. He likes to use a little humour in the speeches where appropriate, a little self-irony as a rule.”
Mr Hærland is humble when it comes to humour. He insists the comedian in the family is his sister, Anne-Kath Hærland.
100 words per minute
Mr Lund and Mr Hærland went over the piece at Statoil's London office this morning, also calculating its length. Mr Hærland knows that his boss speaks 100 words per minute.
“He tends to challenge us about whether we are clear enough; if the rhetoric could be better. He is concerned with language; that the message comes across clearly enough. He always puts his own mark on it in the end,” says Anders Hegna Hærland.
“It’s important to understand the significance of the impact regarding what the head of Norway’s largest company is saying when writing for Helge Lund. We are conscious not to provoke unnecessarily or create doubt.”
Helge Lund receives more than 1,000 inquiries annually. The Statoil CEO’s executive staff plans his diary for 6 to 12 months at a time. The group prepares Mr Lund’s meetings, items, and travelling in close cooperation with other units in the company.
Every Friday, Mr Lund receives a folder from his staff containing next week’s plans. It typically contains a few speeches, a number of meeting briefs, presentations, and articles or analyses his advisers believe he should read.
“Our job is largely to ensure that the CEO is as well-prepared as possible,” says Anders Hegna Hærland.
Helge Lund has consciously opted out of company-related entertaining from the outset.
“I stand firm here. I don’t do dinners, travel that just involves social functions that are to serve purely as networking. I only do what is critically important for Statoil.”
Dinner at the Norwegian ambassador's residence following the energy seminar falls under the latter. Helge Lund and his companions are picked up following the sitting and driven to Norwich, where they are scheduled to check into a hotel at around midnight.
In this way, they will be in position for the next day's big event: the opening of the large Sheringham Shoal wind farm.
“This is obviously something very special for you Norwegians,” comments Viscount Tom Coke. His position in the British nobility is superior to Baron and subordinate to Earl, which he will become when his father ceases to be the eighth Earl of Leicester. We are located on his property.
Two red, white, and blue-coloured helicopters are just about to land simultaneously in the vast park surrounding the aristocrat’s estate.
Estate and windmills
A herd of about 100 tame doe draws apprehensively together beside the monument to Coke family ancestor Thomas William Coke, the agricultural innovator, which is placed on a ridge.
From there, a straight line goes to the centre of the main building and out on the other side – through the garden with trimmed maze bushes, a pond with knight sculptures and fountains – to a smaller monument standing at the entrance to the woods, and on to where pheasants and the imported red deer stags confine themselves.
The entire estate took the 30 years between 1734 and 1764 to build.
HRH Crown Prince Haakon, Petroleum and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe, Trade and Industry Minister Trond Giske, Statkraft's CEO — and Helge Lund – now clamber out of the helicopters, all with their entourages of advisors and deputy ministers.
They inspected the 88 wind turbines that Statoil and Statkraft have joined forces to set up from the air The Crown Prince will now officially open the NOK 10 billion (roughly USD 1.76 billion) Sheringham Shoal project.
The Norwegians have hired Holkham Hall for the occasion. The carefully orchestrated opening ceremony will take place in what is called the marble hall. In reality, the hall is made of Derbyshire alabaster, a softer and more translucent mineral.
The beautiful columns, which currently have representatives from both the British and Norwegian security services lined up along them, are true copies of what support Rome’s Fortuna Virilis temple. In Latin, Fortuna Virilis means "manly fortune".
Helge Lund will see that this is a true copy of the ceiling in the Pantheon, the temple consecrated to all gods, if he gets a chance to look up at the ceiling from his front row seat – in between the speeches and cultural items.
Had to prepare dinner at home
Helge Lund’s parents bought an old farm in the 1960s, just as Asker was beginning to evolve from an agricultural community into a suburb.
“It was a fantastic place to grow up,” Helge Lund describes it as being.
The children, who gradually became five siblings, had to muck in at home as both parents – his father a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, and his mother a principal – worked fulltime.
“My sister, the youngest, got cancer when she was just eighteen years old and became blind as a result of the disease. We older ones wanted and felt obligated to help allow her live as normal a life as possible. We wanted her to play football, cycle, and go skiing like other children.”
The children also had to make dinner one day each. The family baked their own bread. His mother made a list of 20 tasks every Saturday. The one who rose first got to choose first.
“This worked well until my brother, who is one year my junior and much cleverer than I, got up very early, selected the tasks, and went back to bed.” He smiles.
“We were like every other family,” Helge Lund points out, “we argued about matters just like anything – but we grew up with an underlying expectation about contributing. We learned that we should respect others and the obligation to use the capabilities we had towards something positive. It has helped shape me. Sometimes, I think why do I stand this year after year. I believe the answer is here,” says Helge Lund.
Do you think we mollycoddle children too much today?
“I think today's parents are much closer to their children, which is positive. Nonetheless, our generation could probably have been better to give children more responsibility. I think children like responsibility; they grow because of it.”
A born captain
Helge Lund has always sought responsibility. Those who played football with him in Asker remember him as one everybody had respect for, a born captain. He was not behind the most breathtaking tackles, but was still the one who took charge of matches. He controlled things from centre midfield, was fast and skilful with the ball.
Mr Lund is described as non-materialistic, someone who keeps to the friends he has always had.
Helge had a plan for his life, as a friend puts it.
“When he was 14, I told his mother: Helge will become Prime Minister one day.”
“I don’t think I was so wide of the mark.”
Mr Lund graduated with a degree in Business Administration from the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen and later with a Masters of Business and Administration from Insead in Paris.
He would have become a political advisor to the Conservative Party (H), a consultant with McKinsey, and CEO of Aker Kvaerner had he not been offered the job of taking over as Statoil’s President and CEO from Olav Fjell following the corruption scandal.
“I was actually sceptical, mainly because one is extremely visible as CEO of Statoil. Nevertheless, I accepted anyway because of the size of the challenge. The societal aspect appealed to me, the international dimension, developing leadership in such an important and complex business.”
“I’ve never regretted that choice. I never dreaded going to work.”
The general meeting on Troll A is not particularly well attended. On the notice board hangs an article by professor Gudmund Hernes, former Minister of Education, entitled “The colonial masters”, which may explain the slightly subdued nods Mr Lund gets from some people.
Here, the former minister writes that Helge Lund others in the premier league’s pension schemes must follow the same norms that apply to the rest of working life. “We actually don’t have two types of citizenship in this country.”
Is there to be increased automation offshore or not?
“I don’t think anybody at Statoil today fears automation. It’s not on the agenda, but us constantly introducing new technology is. We’re constantly engaged in reducing costs, utilising our fields more, improving our working processes. I think of improvement as more of a state. We’ve achieved a lot at Statoil and I’m enormously proud of what the skilled workers achieve. We’ve made significant discoveries on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. We’ve quintupled production internationally for ten years and we’ll now be doubling it again for the next eight.”
“Nevertheless, I think we can learn a lot from sport. It’s immaterial whether one studies cross-country skiing, football, or jumping: The really good ones are those who constantly want to go further, those who learn from others, learn from their own mistakes.”
“You understand that hard work and a winning culture is important when you see how many top quality engineers with tremendous work ethos that are trained in China, India and elsewhere today. We’re not more intelligent than others by definition, and cannot just ride on expertise.”
Is there not a danger that you will become fed up: You have accomplished much of what you have set out to do. You have internationalised the company, made it competitively orientated, and made major discoveries on the Norwegian Continental Shelf due to active involvement in exploration.
“I’m not put together in this way. We invest more than NOK 100 billion (about USD 17.66 billion) a year. It's other people's money. I feel it’s a huge responsibility. It’s my responsibility, ultimately. We have 40 large factories that produce hydrocarbons involving high risk at all times. This is something I think about increasingly. It’s my responsibility to ensure that we have the right systems, the right expertise and the appropriate safety culture. I’m constantly uneasy. The company changing so fast means I also need to change. I must make sure I don’t become the bottleneck at Statoil. I’ve still got a lot to do.
“Doesn’t want to be carried out by Statoil”
The sun shines here and there through the clouds on the way towards land.
Next on the programme for Helge Lund is the annual platform chief conference. At it, he will be urging to the delegates to maintain a high ethical standard. He will be reminding them that society places very different demands on their business today.
Emissions that would have not even been mentioned in local paper Firdaposten a few years ago will now end up on CNN and in the Washington Post. We leaders have to be open and honest and direct, even if it is difficult. He will be saying that the answer to almost any problem is good management.
“I also believe it’s a leader’s responsibility to consider whether he or she is the right leader for the challenges facing the company,” says Mr Lund.
“I must feel that I can get the organisation with me, that I have the energy and find it fun to go to work. I’ll tell the board at once the day I don’t.”
A rainbow appears right by the helicopter as we approach land. It is almost as if it is following the aircraft – pulling its way through the charcoal grey sea.
“I don’t want to be carried out by Statoil as a leader.”
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