Stories

At fifteen, Thorhild Widvey was the conductor of the children's and youth choir in her native village on Karmøy. Now, Statkraft's new chair aims to strengthen the company's voice in the green shift.

Knut Fjerdingstad

POWERTALK: Knut Fjerdingstad, press spokesperson in Statkraft, interviews Thorhild Widvey, chair of the board in the company.

Since her appointment in June 2916, Thorhild Widvey has spent a lot of time getting to know Statkraft. The former top politician, with a number of Norwegian private sector positions on her CV, has visited several Statkraft locations and met many employees.

"I am very impressed by the activity in the different business areas and the high level of expertise of the people who work here. Statkraft is one of Norway's most important companies," says Widvey. "We have a very solid position, especially in Europe, but also internationally."

"What are your ambitions for the company?"

"Statkraft will drive the green shift here in Norway and will have a stronger voice in the international debate."

I have been a politician since 1979 and am accustomed to controversies now and then. I can live with that.

Breakthrough

A high level of community involvement is a common theme throughout Thorhild Widvey's professional life and is what led her into politics at an early age. However, this was not a planned or obvious career path. After studying sports education in Denmark, Widvey returned home to Karmøy in Rogaland County and became a sports coach for the physically challenged.

"It was a very exciting and interesting job, which taught me a lot about making breakthroughs," she says. "Together we achieved the impossible time and again."

Her efforts were noticed and she was soon recruited into local politics as a representative for the Conservative Party. This was the start of an extensive career. Widvey has been a member of parliament for eight years, state secretary in two ministries, and has held two ministerial posts. As petroleum and energy minister she was responsible for the oil, gas and power sectors in Norway in the early 2000s.

Many years of experience from the boards of large public and private enterprises, a lot of them in the energy sector, was a key factor when the Ministry of Industry appointed her board chair of Statkraft in June this year. However, it was the alleged friendship between the two former government colleagues, Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæland and Thorhild Widvey, that stole the headlines following the announcement of the new chair. 

Stormy start

"How did you experience the media coverage around the appointment?"

"As I understood it, the debate revolved mostly around how the case was handled, and not about me as a person or my qualifications. The minister has explained this, and according to the Public Administration Act, she was not in a conflict of interest. We've known each other for many years through politics, but have never had a close relationship. I have been a politician since 1979 and am accustomed to controversies now and then. I can live with that."

"In Norway there is an ongoing political discussion about privatising Statkraft. Some believe it is time to take the company public, partly because the government last year changed the announced dividend exemption for 2016 to 2018. What is your position on this?"

"It’s not part of my role to have an opinion on whether or not the company should be privatised. I follow the state ownership policy and the owner. Determining the dividend is the owner's prerogative. But of course we as the board will offer advice to the owner, also regarding dividends," says Widvey and adds:

"It’s important that Statkraft has a capital situation that allows it to reinvest, both in Norway and internationally. So I look very positively on the ongoing improvement programme in the company. It's not just about cutting costs, but also about improving our operations in the different business areas. This will lay the foundation for new growth."

Thorhild Widvey
A solid strategy is vital in times of uncertainty with many challenges related to the industry in general and to our company in particular.

Troubled times

The new chair beleives in growth in new and existing markets.

"A solid strategy is vital in times of uncertainty with many challenges related to the industry in general and to our company in particular. The new board will review the strategy and continue to look at how Statkraft should develop in the future."

"Politicians who are critical of Statkraft's ventures abroad claim that they are loss-making projects. How do you respond to that?"

"I'm proud of what Statkraft have achieved, but there is always risk associated with overseas investments. One thing is to find good projects that are profitable; another thing is dealing with possible political instability, corruption and different HSE cultures, to mention a few examples. So thorough preparation is needed before a board can make an investment decision. Regarding the claim that the international ventures are loss-making projects, it’s also important to present accurate information and all the nuances. Some projects have ended in the red, but overall it has remained in the black. The average return on overseas projects since 2001 is nine per cent."

"How will you avoid write-downs in the future?"

"Risk analyses are vitally important, and we work systematically on all types of analyses – including financial and market analyses – and look at trends in power prices. The Group prepares such analyses, which are presented to the board, and we spend a lot of time on these. But it’s impossible to guarantee that no wrong investments will be made in the future," says Widvey.

"Several of the Board members have experience in international investments, and this is something Statkraft will benefit from."

In addition to Thorhild Widvey, Statkraft appointed three new directors in June: Peter Mellbye, Helene Biström and Bengt Ekenstierna. Mellbye has long experience from Norwegian Statoil, and the Swedes Biström and Ekenstierna have backgrounds from companies like Vattenfall and E.ON Sverige.

Thorhild Widvey

Thorhild Widvey

> CURRENTLY: Statkraft's new chair of the board.

> AGE: 60

> COUNTRY: Norway

> BACKGROUND: Long political background including terms as minister of culture and minister of petroleum and energy.

> FAMILY: Married, two children.

Productive break

Networking is a key word for the new chair. In addition to all her roles and positions in politics and business, which have given Widvey a large international network, her family life has also been important for networking.

In the late 1990s, she moved with her husband Osvald Bjelland and their two children to London. She took a break from politics to focus on their children's education at an international school with students from around 50 different nations. She considers this the wisest choice she has made in her life.

She quickly became head of the international group at the school and experienced in practice, how important it is to teach tolerance irrespective of nationality, religion, skin colour and language. Over the years in London, Widvey built up a global network from which she still derives a lot of benefit and enjoyment today.

"It was very instructive to be overseas, and through my involvement in the school I met many wonderful and interesting people from around the world, she says."

When Thorhild Widvey returned home with her family in 2002, she took on new roles in politics, first as state secretary and then as petroleum and energy minister. Under Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Widvey served as minister of culture until the end of last year.

She has no plans for a new comeback in politics.

"No, it's the job as board chair of Statkraft that matters now," Widvey says.

Text: Knut Fjerdingstad
Photos: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen
The article has also been published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 3/2016.